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Tag:Oklahoma City Thunder
Posted on: December 29, 2011 4:55 pm
Edited on: December 29, 2011 9:17 pm
 

Coach Brooks: Thunder altercation was 'healthy'

Posted by Ben Golliverbrooks-westbrook

Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks says that an extended verbal altercation between his two All-Stars is not a big deal.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook reportedly got into an extended "altercation" after Westbrook reportedly scolded Thabo Sefalosha for failing to shoot with an open look during a Wednesday night game against the Memphis Grizzlies

The Oklahoman reports that Brooks believes the situation was "healthy" and not something to get too worked up about.
“When you have an intense game, you're going to have arguments,” Brooks told The Oklahoman. “I have no problem with it. I think it's healthy. I think you learn from it and you get better with it. That's just part of an NBA game. We have it and other teams have it. Good teams, bad teams and average teams. I have no issues with how our guys compete. At times they get frustrated. But it's always about the team.”
Brooks sticks perfectly to the script here. One thing no NBA coach has ever said: "Gee, my locker room is torn apart because my players hate each other's guts. We're doomed."

This early in the season, and given the chippy Westbrook's chippy personality, he said exactly what needed to be said. If there's a legit argument between the two players, it will be become more apparent before for too long and nothing Brooks says now will matter. If it winds up being something that does blow over, then Brooks handles this correctly by preaching unity and backing his two stars.

Using the word "healthy" alongside "intense," "compete" and "frustrated" was a particularly good choice. The most damaging scenario for the Thunder is that the often-emotional Westbrook gets written off as not being a part of the team concept or, worse, he gets labeled a "hothead" who is out for self. Brooks' word choice works to defuse that thinking which is critically important, because Westbrook refused to take questions from the media after the game.

Handling this thing in-house is the best play for Brooks, but his public reassurances need to come with a private reminder to Westbrook of his obligations to the media and his team. Ducking out not only makes Westbrook look bad, it potentially complicates an already tense situation. A one-time allowance can be made given that Westbrook arguably had one of the worst games of his career, shooting 0-for-13, but much more is asked of stars in the NBA. At the top of the list is composure and accessibility, especially under the media spotlight.
Posted on: December 29, 2011 12:39 am
Edited on: December 29, 2011 1:30 am
 

Westbrook and Durant have altercation in Memphis

Posted by Royce Young



Russell Westbrook labored through maybe the worst game of his career Wednesday night in Memphis going 0-13 from the floor for just four points. But maybe there was a reason for it.

According to the Oklahoman, Westbrook had a second quarter confrontation with Kevin Durant that led to the two having to be separated on the bench.
Westbrook's frustration appeared to have started with just 3 1/2 minutes remaining in the second quarter when he drove into the paint and kicked the ball out to Thabo Sefolosha in the corner. Sefolosha passed up a wide open 3-pointer, which prompted Westbrook to yell at Sefolosha “shoot the (expletive) ball.”

Sefolosha and other teammates, including Durant and center Kendrick Perkins attempted to calm Westbrook down immediately during an ensuing trip to the free throw line. But the emotions spilled over to the bench one minute later.

Durant appeared to again settle Westbrook, but Westbrook appeared to take exception to how Durant delivered his message. The two began shouting at each other and had to be separated.

Throughout the rest of the game Durant and Westbrook appeared to communicate well after the dust-up, giving high-fives and with Durant patting Westbrook on the head.

“We’re going to disagree sometimes, like I’ve always been saying,” Durant said after the game. “But I’m behind him 110 percent, and he’s the same way with me. And you seen when we came on the floor we clicked and everything started to work from there.”

Westbrook didn't speak to reporters following the game, but before you get too excited about that, realize that it's routine for Westbrook to skip out of the locker room quickly. Even after really good games.

Durant has tried to dispel every story and rumor about an issue between him and Westbrook saying that the 23-year-old point guard is "the only point guard for him" and different things like that. Durant has maintained quite often that Westbrook and him have disagreed quite a bit at times but that's just the nature of being teammates.

Westbrook is a very emotional player that has admitted that's an area he wants to improve in. He reacts, yells and gets very frustrated at times. It's just who he is as a player. It's what makes him great, and sometimes not so great. And Durant, as the leader of the Thunder, has to take it upon himself to calm Westbrook down, which sometimes results in a reaction. Which is what happened Wednesday.

Following the game, NBA TV spoke with Durant who reinforced his good relationship with Westbrook.

"Russell makes me so much better," Durant said. "A lot of people may say this and that about our relationship, but we always try to get better, we're always the first two guys in the gym, we always bounce ideas off each other too."

There's a hotter and brighter spotlight on the two though because of the mumblings that originated in the playoffs last season. Every time something like this happens, people will use it as a lightning rod to illustrate how the two are the next Kobe and Shaq. It's not really true at all, but it makes for a great story.

Look, I've been in Oklahoma City's locker room a lot. I've watched practices. These guys get along really well, but they're all competitive and they get mad or frustrated sometimes with each other. It happens. You probably have gotten mad at your buddy playing pickup on a Saturday morning. You just didn't have a fanbases and media ready to pounce on it to drum up some juicy, divisive story.

But the facts are that Westbrook and Durant got into it Wednesday at Memphis. Definitely wasn't the first time and probably won't be the last.
Posted on: December 28, 2011 11:40 pm
 

Report Card 12.28.11: Spurs ground Lob City

Posted by Royce Young


A: San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs are too old right? THIS is the year it all starts coming apart for them, right? Yeah, right. The Clippers came to town bringing their lightshow of dunks and alley-oops, but the old, slow Spurs had no problems handling all that noise. San Antonio used a 38-point third quarter to pull away from the Clips and really highlighted a lot of issues Lob City has. They need a shooter and some depth, badly. The Spurs seem to have it all together once again, as long as the old guys can stay healthy. Doubt them all you want. Pay attention to the young, excited kids running and jumping and dunking. But the Spurs will just keep winning no matter how boring you may find that, thank you very much. The Spurs are 2-0 with blowout wins over Memphis and the Clippers. No big.

A: LeBron James and Chris Bosh

The Heat got a tougher than anticipated test from the Bobcats, but LeBron and Bosh were terrific for Miami. LeBron had 35 points, seven assists and six rebounds. Bosh had 11 of his 25 in the fourth. And he also had this incredibly awkward and awesome dunk.

B: Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder picked up a third straight win, beating Memphis 98-95 on the road, but it's a bit tainted as Mike Conley injured his ankle on the very first possession of the game. And on top of it, the Thunder shot just 37 percent from the floor and gave up 19 offensive rebounds. But winning is winning and it's always good. Especially when it's on the road against a contender. Kevin Durant dropped a beautiful 32 points and carried OKC down the stretch.

C: New Orleans Hornets

They beat the Celtics to start 2-0. And they did this one without Eric Gordon. That really deserves an A. But you're supposed to be doing bad, New Orleans! You're supposed to be tanking this season away! You're supposed to be setting yourselves up for the Anthony Davis sweepstakes! Each win will be bittersweet this season for that stupid reason. It's supposed to be about the future and every win hurts that a bit. It's a horrible thing, but reality.

D: Russell Westbrook

How's this for a line: Four points, 0-13 shooting, four turnovers. Yikes. So why isn't this an F? Because Westbrook picked up six assists, hit two very important free throws in the final seconds and his team won.

F: Boston Celtics

What can you say? The Celtics are 0-3 and just lost to the Hornets despite their best player sitting. And it wasn't even a close game as they lost by 19. Yeah, Paul Pierce is hurt. Yeah, it's a night after that tough game in Miami. That's not supposed to be an excuse for a team like the Celtics though.

E for Effort: Charlotte Bobcats

So, sooooo close to knocking off the Heat. Miami was dragging a bit and probably overlooked Charlotte a bit as the Heat were coming off a game the night before against Boston, but the Bobcats were ready to go. Charlottle held a one-point lead with a few seconds left and if not for Dwyane Wade being ridiculous, the Bobcats would've registered the upset of the early NBA season. Things to be encouraged about though if you're Paul Silas and the Bobcats though. Gerald Henderson, Kemba Walker, Bismack Biyombo and D.J. Augustin should give Bobcat fans something to be excited about.

Incomplete: Indiana Pacers

The Pacers are 2-0, but have wins over the Pistons and Raptors, with both games being relatively close. Are they good or just beating who they're supposed to beat? It's hard to know right now.
Posted on: December 26, 2011 3:34 pm
Edited on: December 26, 2011 3:45 pm
 

Stern admits new CBA will make it tough on OKC

Posted by Royce Young



OKLAHOMA CITY -- Commissioner David Stern had himself a double-header Sunday, watching the Heat pound the Mavericks in Dallas and then making a short trip north to Oklahoma City to check out the Thunder.

His formal address to the media was the usual stuff. He talked about OKC's chances of getting an All-Star Game (the city needs more hotels), talked about the new collective bargaining agreement and how wonderful it is and talked about the NBA's business.

But after he wrapped, a couple of reporters chatted Stern up some more (or listened, if you're me). Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman led the charge asking Stern about how this new CBA that's supposedly designed to help small markets like Oklahoma City could be what tears the Thunder apart.

First, there's the new "Rose Rule," which allows -- actually scratch that -- forces teams to pay a superstar more money if he meets certain criteria. That's already happened in Oklahoma City as Kevin Durant has qualified by being named to two All-NBA teams. Durant will make roughly $15 million more over the life of his extension and some $3 million more per year. A number that has actually put the Thunder over the cap.

The new luxury tax, which is more punitive than before, goes into action in two seasons. Right around the time the Thunder will have potentially locked up Russell Westbrook for big money along with needing to re-sign James Harden and Serge Ibaka. Plus, if Westbrook makes another All-NBA team, he'll qualify for the Rose extension, which would hurt the Thunder even more. So that's where the Thunder are at right now -- needing Russell Westbrook to NOT make an All-NBA team.

Stern disagrees with the idea the harsher luxury tax hurts small markets like the Thunder though.

“The idea that the luxury tax hurts small markets is ludicrous," he said. "It may impact a small market that's a great team and has to raise its payroll. But at the bottom, it's designed to eliminate the ability of teams to use their economic resources to distort competition"

He's right. Because that's a blanket statement. It doesn't hurt all small markets. But specifically applied to this Thunder team and its current roster structure, it absolutely does. Stern put it this way though: If you're good enough to have to be forced with making the decision to "go for it," as he put it, that's a good thing. At least that's the league's perspective.
And then he dropped this bombshell:

“People are saying to Miami, ‘Well, you're going to have a decision to make with respect to one of your big three.' And they may say the same thing to Oklahoma City, and that's a good thing. That means you've arrived and you're out there being competitive."

So David Stern thinks it would be a good thing if the Thunder are forced to give up either Westbrook, Harden or Ibaka because they can't pay to keep them all. The way Stern put it is that the new CBA doesn't just share more revenue, but shares more talent. He sees it as "player sharing."

A small market team like the Thunder, who have become the poster child for small market viability, could potentially be punished for their slick management and wise draft choices. Stern sees that as a good thing. I get his point -- if you're having to pay players lots of money that means you're doing something right. But at the same time, Thunder general manager Sam Presti has always preached on "sustainable success," which this new CBA makes a bit difficult to accomplish. You can have Durant plus either Westbrook or Harden. But not all three and definitely not all three plus Serge Ibaka. Something about that just doesn't seem right to me.

I wrote about this over the summer when the idea of a hard cap was floated. Build a team like Oklahoma City using the "Thunder model," as so many people like to call it, and you may be breaking it apart in just a few seasons. The irony here is that Presti might've done too good of a job assembling his team.

The idea with the new tax is that teams won't be willing to bust into it, large or small. Of course Oklahoma City can just choose to pay the harsh tax penalty. But are they really going to do that? Stern seemed extremely confident that not many would.

“They could, but they won’t," he said. "There are going to be very few circumstances where someone is going to go $20 million over to pay $65 million in total unless they’re sure this is their time and they’re going for it once.”

Basically Stern is banking on big markets shying away from paying the harsher tax. He could be right as it's possible the Lakers dealt Lamar Odom for virtually nothing to get away from paying so much of it. The Blazers, who once had a $57 million tax bill, won't be going into that territory again. But let's face reality: Stern talked about teams choosing to pay the tax to "go for it." Big market teams like the Lakers and Knicks will have the chance to "go for it" a lot more than the Spurs, Grizzlies or Thunder because they have a bigger slice of the pie. If they swing and miss, oh well, they can try again later.

No bother to Stern though. He's sure of this new system. Positive of it, in fact.

“You’ll see. It’s beauty,” he said. “It’s all going to happen and then we’ll look back at it rather than prejudge it. I happen to think it’s going to be good for all of us, and it’s going to hit small market and large market teams alike.”

Or destroy one like the Thunder. But whatever.
Posted on: December 25, 2011 11:48 pm
Edited on: December 26, 2011 12:42 am
 

Theory and Proof: Perk handles Dwight Howard

Posted by Royce Young



OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Thunder topped the Magic 97-89 behind 30 points from Kevin Durant. But that wasn't the story. It was the way the Thunder handled Orlando on both ends, specifically Dwight Howard.

THE THEORY: The new Kendrick Perkins makes Oklahoma City a title contender

THE PROOF: Dwight Howard: 4-12 from the field, 11 points

Perkins shed 32 pounds in the offseason and re-discovered a bit of his old athleticism and agility. But the question for Oklahoma City was if the new Perkins was going to make that much of a difference. Would a quicker, lighter, more agile Perk mean the Thunder could dominate the paint.

OKC's opener against Orlando came down to an essential, simple matchup: Perkins got the better of Dwight Howard. Howard was just 4-12 for 11 points, but here's the kicker: Howard shot just eight free throws.

That's one major improvement from Perkins because of his new body: He doesn't foul. He can move his feet much better and doesn't have to use his hands to keep someone in front of him. It's a big reason Howard only took eight free throws. Perk was quick enough to stop Howard off the dribble.

When Howard can’t roll inside, it completely limits the Magic’s inside-out game, which is what they’re basically designed to do. Orlando started the game 8-9 but went through a 5-30 stretch after that and shot just 37 percent for the game.

“I thought Perk was really good staying between Dwight and the basket,” Scott Brooks said. “That’s what you want to do.”

Perkins basically played Howard by always keep a body pressed against him, staying home and giving him a 12-foot jumper if he wanted it. Howard tried it three times, hitting one. After that, Howard never went near the paint without Perkins' barrel chest right up against him. That’s how he's going to play everyone and that’s why he can change the Thunder defensively almost all on his own.

At one point after Perkins was a little hot after getting tangled with Howard. Ref Bill Kennedy told Perk to chill and then even went over and told Brooks to calm Perkins down. Brooks didn’t look at all interested in that.

“We like him a little angry,” Brooks said. “We like him mad at his opponent.”

Perkins did pick up his first technical of the season though by scuffling with Howard later. That’s No. 1 for Perk, and because of the shortened season, he’s got 12 more until he faces a suspension.

“He told me he’d slow it down when he got to nine,” Brooks said. “I’m trying to talk him into six.”

While Perkins has a new body, he's still got the same old attitude. He's rough, mean and wants to play nasty. With that kind of interior defense, the Lakers won't be able to overpower OKC with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. Nene won't give the Thunder big fits. Memphis's duo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol shouldn't take down the Thunder inside.

By process of elimination, if that's what the new Perkins is going to do for the Thunder defense, that's championship caliber stuff.

Posted on: December 24, 2011 1:19 pm
Edited on: December 24, 2011 10:03 pm
 

The 12 Things of NBA Christmas



by Matt Moore


GAMES. Sweet merciful games.

The wait is over. Ol' Saint Nick has shimmied down the Christmas tree and that means the NBA has returned to our lives, kicking off with five games Sunday and a righteous quintuple it is. Boston tests an unsteady bench against the new-look Knicks (same old Knicks, except for a good rookie and one big exception down low). The Heat must watch the Mavericks' banner raised and then go toe-to-toe with the team that ousted them in the Finals. The Lakers will try to prove that Lamar Odom wasn't the whole team, Kobe Bryant's wrist is fine, and they are still the most dominant franchise in the West against the MVP Derek Rose and the league's best defense. The Magic try to pretend everything's fine while polishing silverware on the Titanic against a Western Conference favorite, the Oklahoma City Thunder. And finally Lob City premiers against the Golden State Warriors, who are looking for something new under Mark Jackson.

It's going to be fun. So on the night before Christmas, we're hear to stuff the stockings with what you need to know for each game. Here are 12 Things of NBA Christmas.

1. "Later on we'll conspire, while we lay by the fire..."

The Heat failed. And everyone pointed and laughed. After all the pomp and circumstance, the unbelievably arrogant approach to their formation and celebration thereof, followed by a somehow more outrageous backlash against three basketball players who decided to play for the same team through free agency, the Heat were left broken and tarnished by a Mavericks team which lacked neither star power nor confidence. Not that you'd know it by the storylines drawn out. Still, the Heat took a nasty fall. But during the summer and all the way through the lockout, we hardly heard a thing from them. A few appearances from Dwyane Wade. Some exhibition appearances by LeBron James. Chris Bosh went to ESPN for a day. That was it. Nothing outrageous, no outlandish proclamations or denials of the fact they had their tails kicked. Now they return to the scene of the crime, where everything started to turn for them on a warm June night in Dallas, when the series shifted on the back of their inability to stop Dirk Nowitzki.

When the Heat stumbled last season, the idea was that James, Wade, and Bosh needed more time together, and with their teammates. That chemistry couldn't be built in a day, and that even if they struggled early, it would come. Yet even in advancing to the Finals, there were so many moments where the Heat never looked like they truly belonged together, like they were thrust together without a core concept. We're still waiting for a Heat team that, for lack of a better term, makes sense. A mega-scoring, high-rebound-rate, gamble-defending shooting guard. A prolific do-it-all and rarely do enough, lock-down defender, brilliant vision in a Hummer-like body small forward. And a whisper-thin, mid-range joltin', defensively adequate power forward. It's just an odd combination. They had their trial season, and they fell only two games short of a title. But still short. This is their chance to show the world they've learned from their mistakes and that it was a rare combination of factors that led to their demise against the Mavs. With Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea gone, this isn't the same Dallas team that had the formula to stop what no one else could. The Heat can make a statement Sunday.

But we've heard that before.

2. "He's making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out who's naughty and nice..."

All this Lakers drama. You know what's lost in the talk of the Odom trade, of Kobe's wrist, of the Chris Paul trade that wasn't (and should never have been)? Derrick Rose is coming to Los Angeles and he's bringing all the fury a dissed MVP can bring. None of us have him repeating. Very few experts do. But Rose is consistently the most devastating single player in professional basketball and he's going up against a team still starting Derek Fisher, with Steve Blake backing him up. Blake defended Chris Paul admirably in two preseason games against the Clippers. But Rose's explosiveness is the stuff of legend. Plus, once he gets past his primary defender, there will be no Andrew Bynum, serving five games for being naughty in the worst (clubbing J.J. Barae in last year's playoffs in an all-time disgusting move). Rose instead will face Pau Gasol and Josh McRoberts at the rim. McBob is a good player and will pay well or the Lakers. But he ain't Bynum.

Rose sees no reason why he can't repeat as MVP. And after an offseason hearing about everyone else and how LeBron left coal in his ECF stocking by shutting him down, Rose likely has some motivation. I'm reminded of a line from "The Dark Knight." "Turn it off. He doesn't want to talk to us. God help whoever he does want to talk to."

3. "Deck the halls with boughs of holly, fa la la la LOB, la la la la"

Tis the season to be jolly in ... Clipper-land? When has that ever been the case? But Sunday means the debut of Lob City (pause for collective groan for people who quickly tire of memes and/or Lakers fans) against the Warriors. Is the pressure too high? Will they be trolled by Yuletide carols? I don't know what that means but it fits with the song; roll with it. The Clippers are facing a team that has been one of the worst defensively over the past decade or so. Mark Jackson is furiously trying to instill a new attitude, but this isn't a great place to start. Kwame Brown is a better interior defender than Andris Biedrins, but isn't good enough to defend two places at once. With Stephen Curry on a bum kneee, the Oop Outlet could be open on Christmas Day. All eyes will be on the Clippers to see if the newest superteam will live up to the billing or disappoint like so many others have. No pressure, there, Blake.

4. "I'll have a Blue Christmas without you..."

The Lakers need Andrew Bnyum. This is the first time you can really say that. They won the title in 2009 without him. They could have won the title in 2010 without him. He was the only thing really keeping them afloat for much of the last half of 2011. And now with Kobe Bryant injured for their opener vs. Chicago, Bynum's injury is even more in focus. It's his overwhelming presence on both ends that makes the Lakers more nasty and tougher to stop. Kobe Bryant can pull this game out, even with a torn ligament in his wrist. He's done it before, he'll do it again. But the Lakers are going to be sorely missing the young stud that holds the key to their future ... one way or another.

5. "All of the other reindeer, used to laugh and call him names, (LIKE PINOCHIO!)..."

I know, I know, I should have spit that one out for the Clippers. But this is also can refer to the Knicks, who for years have been dismissed first as a team terrible in every phase but recently because of their defense. But then one foggy (I don't know if it'll be foggy Saturday night in New York or not), Christmas Eve, Mike D'Antoni came to say, "Tyson Chandler, with your defense so bright, won't you dominate inside against a Celtics team which is paper thin inside tonight?"

The questions are going to continue about the Knicks. Chandler has been with the Knicks for a whole ... week. It may not work at all. But he's got a chance to help redefine what defense for the Knicks means, alongside Mike Woodson. And if things go right, the Knicks could go down in history. OK, let's just start with beating the Celtics in the opener.

6. "Please come home for Christmas."

So say Magic fans to Dwight Howard.

7. "And so this is Christmas, I hope you have fun, the near and the dear one, the old and the young"

The Celtics still have the talent, right? I mean, this is a league where older teams win. Dominate, even. Most of the champions are veteran groups. Yes, the Celtics are ... old. But Rajon Rondo's not. Brandon Bass isn't. They have some legs left. And it's not as many months. So on Sunday against the Knicks, it's not like the Celtics are going to be able to compete with the Knicks. In fact, in most of their games against the Knicks under Mike D'Antoni, the Celtics have used the same tactic employed by the Spurs against the Suns for years: They ran them out of the building. The Celtics actually are a great fast-break team, with Allen sprinting to the corner, Rondo running the break and Pierce a brilliant cherry picker.

So even if they're old, this is still likely a better overall team than the Knicks. But this first game could be relevant in showing us how big a hill both teams have to climb, and maybe who'll take early control of the division.

8. "The fire is slowly dying, and my dear, we're still, goodbye-ing. But as long as you love me so, let it snow..."

The Mavericks are going to fade off into the sunset. This is not a young team. Dirk Nowitkzi's game and condition should allow him to play until he's, oh, 60. But think about Petyon Manning. How quickly did this guy, who should have played at a high level into his 40s, see his career change? Granted, different sort of contact sport and all, my point is just that we never know when things change. And if Dirk does suffer any sort of decline because of age, the Mavericks dip too. Jason Kidd is nearly middle-aged, Jason Terry has a lot of frequent flier miles on him and Lamar Odom's no spring chicken. But on Sunday, they get to watch the banner raised in American Airlines, legitimizing Dirk's career and establishing the franchise as world champs. Yeah, it's getting cold, but the world will still love this team for their run last year and they've got enough in them to make another crack at it. Let it snow.

9. "Dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh."

Are the Bulls going to be a one-horse open sleigh, or do they have some help? Will Rip Hamilton help the Bulls space the floor against the Lakers? Can Carlos Bozer score on Josh McRoberts after struggling against McBob's Indiana Pacers last season? Can the Bulls score consistently? We know the defense will be there, but the Bulls wanted a scoring upgrade this season. The Lakers, even without Bynum and Odom, are going to be a great test of how far they've come. The Lakers will score. How much the Bulls score will determine if they start the season in a rush or a slide.

10. "Me, I want a hula-hoop..."

In this scenario, Mark Jackson is Alvin and the hula-hoop is a healthy-enough-to-play Stephen Curry. And a defense. And some consistent shooting. And smart basketball. It's a big hula-hoop.

11. "All I want for Christmas is you..."

Blake Griffin got the best Christmas gift possible. The Dunk-o-meter may get broken this season. The Clippers get to test out their new toy Sunday night. Chris Paul will make Blake Griffin the best player he can be. And that is terrifying for the rest of the league.

12. "And the boys of the NYPD choir were singing "Galway Bay," and the bells were ringing out for Christmas Day."

That's from a song about crushed dreams but sticking together because you've built your lives around one another. And after a vicious lockout that divided players, owners, fans and media, games are back. We're stuck with each other. Let's tip it off. Happy Holidays.
Posted on: December 23, 2011 1:32 pm
Edited on: December 23, 2011 9:46 pm
 

2011-12 official NBA season predictions

Posted by Eye on Basketball



The season is finally, mercifully, just around the corner. In two days the 2011-2012 season kicks off. For all the lockout, legality, and lost games, there will be basketball. But we find a dramatically different NBA than we left. The Lakers are in disarray, the Celtics are fading, the Clippers are a potential powerhouse, and the Raptors... okay, the Raptors are still terrible.

So how is this all going to work out? We bring you our predictions for the 2011-2012 season, along with some random predictions on how things will go according to our crystal ball. (Note: We got our crystal ball at a flea market in southern Missouri. It also says "Get 'Er Done" on it.)

Three Random Predictions from Eye on Basketball

Royce Young:
1. Monta Ellis will be the biggest name traded this season. You can probably read between the lines there. That means Dwight Howard isn't getting dealt. The Magic are going to spend the first two months of the season trying to convince Howard to go to free agency, mainly because there isn't a suitable package on the market at this point. The Warriors though have been dangling Ellis on the market for a while, coming close to trading him for Andre Iguodala last season. They want to turn the backcourt over to Stephen Curry entirely and moving Ellis is what needs to happen to both Curry and the organization's development.

2. Flip Saunders will be the first coach fired. The Wizards are sort of a mess. John Wall has a ton of talent and young guys like Nick Young, JaVale McGee and Jordan Crawford have potential. But they don't appear to be moving forward as a team. Saunders is a really good coach and him being fired wouldn't be an indictment on his ability to coach. Sometimes young players just need a new direction, a new voice to listen to. You can't risk stunting development with young players and if the Wizards start slow and more importantly, sloppy, Saunders will get the axe.

3. Kevin Durant will win a third straight scoring title. Only six players in NBA history have ever won three consecutive scoring titles (Michael Jordan, George Gervin, Bob McAdoo, Wilt Chamberlain, Neil Johnston, George Mikan). So it's not some small task. I could see Durant's scoring decrease a bit because of James Harden’s emergence as a legit third scorer. That doesn’t mean Durant won’t average 27 or 28 a game, but I don’t see him bursting into 33 or 34 points per game range. He’ll take another scoring title simply because he just can’t help it. Dude could score 27 a game if he was in a full body cast.

Ben Golliver:
1. The Lakers will land Dwight Howard. The Lakers have dealt from a position of power for as long as anyone can remember, but the last month's insanity has now pushed them into desperation mode. This group, even if perfectly healthy, can't win a title this year and there are so many dead weight contracts a handful of amnesty clauses still wouldn't be enough. Put that together with Kobe Bryant's increasing age and the Lakers have no choice but to swing for the fences and deal every last tradable asset for Dwight Howard. Magic GM Otis Smith has been taking his time, as he should, but there's so much writing on this wall it looks like a New York City subway car covered in graffiti. Gasol, Bynum and whatever else L.A. can muster will head East.

2. We'll have a tank-off for the ages. Given the weirdness of the shortened season and the absolutely loaded 2012 NBA Draft, there's never been a better time for below-average teams to write off a season in hopes of landing a top draft pick. The Charlotte Bobcats, Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers are your top-3 contenders for tankapalooza, but the Washington Wizards, New Orleans Hornets, Detroit Pistons and New Jersey Nets are one injury away from being in combustion mode too. The smart money is on the Bobcats but brace yourself for some truly hideous basketball.

3. Erik Spoelstra will win Coach of the Year. Miami enters the season on what feels like a perfect storm: they key players are in shape, healthy, motivated, focused and extremely, extremely talented. Importantly, they bring with them a mindset of "We've been through the worst of it and we know what to expect now" and also realize that the only team that stood between them and the 2011 championship, the Dallas Mavericks, lost its most important defensive player in Tyson Chandler. Add up all of those factors and we're looking at the possibility of Miami making a mockery of the regular season, running off lengthy winning streaks and only slowing down if they get to the point where homecourt advantage is already wrapped up. A 50-win season is well within reach and, if that benchmark is met, look for Spoelstra, who dealt with rumors about his job last season, getting tapped for Coach of the Year honors.

Matt Moore:
1. The Lakers will figure something out. This franchise does not rebuild. It reloads. And with the assets they have and under the urgent leadership of the younger Buss, something will go down. Maybe it's Dwight Howard, maybe it's a solution we can't see yet that comes out of nowhere. But the Lakers have been a dominant franchise since the inception of the league. They will not go down quietly, not with Kobe Bryant facing the end of his career. Something will shake out for the Purple and Gold.

2. One of the superteams will self-destruct. It's not that superteams are inherently flawed. On the contrary, they have an obscenely high probability of success. But they are not 100 percent proof. And the very problems that can help more complete team efforts topple the superteams (chemistry, selfless play, ball movement, defense) will spell a blowup of one of the juggernauts. Maybe it's the Heat who simply find that they can win a ton of games but never be truly great with the 1-2-3 of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Maybe it's the Knicks who find that they truly do need a creator to run an offense geared around front-court scoring. Maybe it's the Clippers and Lob City turns out to be the Wizards' Oz. Or maybe it will be the Nets who find that Deron Williams and Dwight Howard aren't enough with the horrible roster they have around them should they land Howard. But one team will find that their experiment with overwhelming firepower was a mistake.

3. Josh Smith or Andre Iguodala will be with new teams by year's end. I'm a believer that situations that reveal themselves as untenable will not hold. And both of those players have been on the trade block for far too long. Smith has wanted off the Hawks, the Sixers have wanted to move Iguodala for a scoring punch for multiple seasons. It's simply unlikely that both teams will elect to stay put the whole year through, especially since both teams are in direct competition for the mid-to-late playoff spots in the East. Where those two end up could have significant impacts on the playoffs.

2011-12 NBA Season Predictions
Prediction Ken Berger
Matt Moore

Ben Golliver

Royce Young
Atlantic Division Winner
Central Division Winner
Southeast Division Winner
Southwest Division Winner
Northwest Division Winner
Pacific Division Winner
Eastern Conference Winners
Bulls over Heat

Heat over Bulls

Heat over Bulls

Heat over Bulls
Western Conference Winners
Thunder over Mavericks

Thunder over Lakers

Thunder over Clippers

Thunder over Grizzlies
Finals Winner
Most Valuable Player
Dwyane Wade
Heat, SG

Kevin Durant
Thunder, SF

LeBron James
Heat, SF

Blake Griffin
Clippers, PF
Rookie of the Year
Kyrie Irving
Cavaliers, PG

Ricky Rubio
Timberwolves, PG

Ricky Rubio
Timberwolves, PG

Derrick Williams
Timberwolves, PF


Predictions: 2011-12 Eastern Conference Playoff Teams
Seed Ken Berger
Matt Moore

Ben Golliver

Royce Young
No. 1
No. 2
No. 3
No. 4
No. 5
No. 6
No. 7
No. 8


Predictions: 2011-12 Western Conference Playoff Teams
Seed Ken Berger
Matt Moore

Ben Golliver

Royce Young
No. 1
No. 2
No. 3
No. 4
No. 5
No. 6
No. 7
No. 8
Posted on: December 19, 2011 7:07 pm
Edited on: December 19, 2011 8:30 pm
 

2011-2012 NBA season: Northwest Division preview

Posted by Ben Golliver

kevin-durant-por

We're less than one week away from the start of the 2011-2012 NBA season. After an interminable lockout and a rushed free agency period, here's a first look division-by-division preview at how the league is shaping up. We continue with the Northwest Division.

2011 Standings

1. Oklahoma City Thunder, 55-27, lost in Western Conference Finals
2. Denver Nuggets, 50-32, lost in first round of Western Conference playoffs to Oklahoma City Thunder
3. Portland Trail Blazers, 48-34, lost in first round of Western Conference playoffs to Dallas Mavericks
4. Utah Jazz, 39-43, NBA Draft Lottery
5. Minnesota Timberwolves, 17-65, NBA Draft Lottery

Best team: Oklahoma City Thunder

The young, deep Thunder arguably bring the fewest questions to the table of any NBA team to start the 2011-2012 season. Are they in shape? All-Star forward Kevin Durant and key reserve guard James Harden stayed the busiest during the lockout, going on whirlwind streetball and charity game tours but guard Russell Westbrook kept busy and fit while taking classes at UCLA and big man Serge Ibaka played for Real Madrid. How will the Thunder react to the abbreviated preseason and condensed regular season? With a core that is essentially 25-years-old or younger they should be prepared to take it in stride.  

The biggest question for Oklahoma City is how they respond to being a target rather than a team on the rise. Having won two playoff series last year and entering this season with expectations of being a top-3 team in the West, their task becomes fighting off all the teams gunning for them rather than sneaking up on veteran teams or overwhelming average teams with their talent. Durant is as laser-like as superstars get so you can assume the Thunder will adjust smoothly, but that process is often easier said than done.  

Worst team: Minnesota Timberwolves

This might just be the year when Minnesota transforms from laughingstock from must-watch League Pass team. The addition of coach Rick Adelman has drawn considerable praise and he brings a level of professionalism and poise that's been lacking in the land of 10,000 lakes. He also gets a bunch of new talent to work with, including long-anticipated Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio, 2011 No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams and free agent signing J.J. Barea. The centerpiece is still All-Star forward Kevin Love, who doesn't have much help up front. The Timberwolves still aren't likely to scare too many teams this year, but they just might eke out some wins by catching people napping when in previous seasons teams were able to sleepwalk through them.  

Biggest surprise: Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets qualify as the biggest surprise because... who are they? Coach George Karl, point guards Ty Lawson and Andre Miller and re-signed center Nene Hilario are the known quantities, but otherwise it's plenty of question marks. Will new addition Rudy Fernandez finally evolve into an emotionally mature NBA player? Will any of the Nuggets trapped in China find their way back to the Mile High city? Karl is a master at pulling together difficult situations and he certainly has his hands full.

Three Best Players: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, LaMarcus Aldridge

Durant drew some MVP whispers last season and yet still had to fight off critics who believe he is actually the second best player on his own team, thanks to Westbrook, the NBA's most dynamic and explosive point guard. It's a potent 1-2 tandem and the pair have said all the right things about working together towards a title rather than competing for the limelight.

The third best player in this division is a bit up for grabs, with Aldridge, Nene and Love all making legitimate cases for consideration. Love beat out Aldridge for the final 2011 All-Star spot but Aldridge's athletic, dominant two-way play and Portland's winning ways over the balance of the season proved that was an oversight. For Nene, it's time to take a step forward in Denver's first full post-Carmelo Anthony year. His mega-dollar extension and the absence of Kenyon Martin demands it.

Biggest Question: How does Raymond Felton fit in with the Blazers?

New point guard Raymond Felton landed in Portland thanks to a draft day trade that sent Miller to Denver. Felton's higher-octane game will be a new look in the Rose City, where the Blazers have been most comfortable as tortoises in recent years thanks to the deliberate play of Miller and former guard Brandon Roy. Felton's desire to push tempo must mesh with coach Nate McMillan's demand to keep turnovers at a minimum and his desire to create his own offense must mesh with shoot-first guards Wesley Matthews and Jamal Crawford, while still ensuring that Aldridge gets plenty of touches. Felton is in a contract year so, while the demands are many, the potential rewards are great, too. 

2012 Projected Standings

1. Oklahoma City Thunder
2. Denver Nuggets
3. Portland Trail Blazers
4. Utah Jazz
5. Minnesota Timberwolves

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com