2015 NBA Playoffs Matchups

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2015 playoffs

NBA.com

 

The graphic above displays the final seedings for this year’s NBA Playoffs.

Making the Case for Curry, Harden, LeBron and Westbrook as MVP

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Is this the most polarizing MVP race in NBA history? While that may be a tough question to answer, this year’s sprint towards the greatest individual accomplishment in hoops is coming down to the final weeks of the regular season. And it seems that most people have a legitimate opinion on four candidates (potentially five if New Orleans center Anthony Davis had been healthy all season). Here’s a look at the frontrunners and the cases for each one as Most Valuable Player.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Stephen Curry | Golden State Warriors:

76 GP, 23.6 PTS, 4.3 REB, 7.7 AST, 2.0 STL, 48.2 FG%, 43.8 3P%, 91.4 FT%, 11.1 +/-

As arguably the game’s best shooter and most gifted ball-handler, Curry has led the Warriors to a league-best 63 wins and locked up the Western Conference’s top seed in the playoffs. Not only has Golden State locked up home court advantage in the postseason, but they’re also in the midst of a historic season. Since expanding to 82 games, only five teams have eclipsed 64 victories in a season. Golden State is on the brink of being No. 6, and actually has a chance at tying the 1991-92 Chicago Bulls (67-15) for third on that list.

Clay Thompson has been the perfect running mate, but it’s been Curry’s brilliance that has the run-and-gun Warriors as a legitimate NBA Finals choice. He holds a sizable margin in 3-pointers made (268) and player +/-, while also leading the league in total steals (153) and free throw percentage. In terms of effective field goal percentage, Curry is third in the League at 58.7%. Golden State’s margin of victory is +10.2 points, which could be the only downfall to Curry’s case for MVP. He ranks just 41st in the NBA in minutes per game (32.8), while Harden (2nd, 36.9 mpg), LeBron (4th, 36.3) and Westbrook (26th, 34.2) are ahead of him.

James Harden | Houston Rockets

76 GP, 27.7 PTS, 5.7 REB, 6.9 AST, 1.9 STL, 44.3 FG%, 38.1 3P%, 86.5 FT%, 4.4 +/-

The scoring race is going to come down to Harden and Westbrook, with the former currently holding a .2 advantage. But that’s not all Harden is built upon. In fact, the Bearded One ranks ninth in assists and fifth in steals per game. He’s also the leader in Value Over Replacement Player (7.5) and win shares (15.7). On the contrary, he does rank first in the League in turnovers (304), minutes played (2,806) and field goal attempts (1,390).

But despite some of those numbers—like his league leading 304 giveaways—Harden gets somewhat of a pass for being Houston’s bread and butter all season. Dwight Howard has missed more than half of the Rockets’ game this year, and point guard Patrick Beverley and power forward Donatas Motiejunas are out for the season; Harden, however, has Houston slotted in the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed just as the team is regaining form. Howard is finding his way back into the regular rotation, and Terrence Jones is back on the court. Keeping Houston alive in the extra competitive West certainly boosts his case.

LeBron James | Cleveland Cavaliers

66 GP, 25.6 PTS, 6.0 REB, 7.3 AST, 1.6 STL, 49.0 FG%, 35.4 3P%, 71.5 FT%, 7.9 +/-

For a man that is more well known for his first name rather than his last, LeBron is right again once in the mix. Remember that 5-7 start and 19-20 stint nearly halfway thru the season? It was a similar beginning to the one the Miami Heat ‘Big Three’ encountered in their first season, and much like the boys in South Beach, Cleveland eventually got it together. Since then, the Cavs went on a 12-game winning streak and are the East’s No. 2 seed at 50-27. They haven’t lost at home since January 7 against Houston. LeBron has been the main reason for that rise to the East’s elite.

LeBron has won the award four of the past six seasons, and because of his all-around versatility, he’s in the conversation every year. Perhaps the biggest knock against The King is that he’s already been there, done that. The League is itching for a new face at the top of the MVP standings. LeBron could arguably be aiming for his sixth straight crown if it weren’t for Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose. Still, the 11-year veteran (despite posting the lowest point and rebound averages since his rookie season) is in the top 10 in points, assists, Player Efficiency Rating (26.0), Offensive Win Shares (7.2), Win Shares (10.0) Box +/- (7.3) and Value Over Replacement Player (5.7).

Russell Westbrook | Oklahoma City Thunder

63 GP, 27.5 PTS, 7.2 REB, 8.6 AST, 2.1 STL, 41.9 FG%, 29.3 3P%, 83.7 FT%, 3.2 +/-

Ever since Thunder fans received the devastating news of Durant’s season-ending injury, Westbrook has become a triple-double wrecking ball. Since Durant’s last game on February 19 against Dallas, Westbrook has nine triple-doubles and 13 30-point performances (in 23 games). He’s the only player in the top four in points, assists and steals; his clip of 7.2 boards per game is by far the highest of any guard. Now that’s an MVP-esque season, one that has people questioning whether or not the former UCLA Bruin could actually average a triple-double in season.

OKC, however, is on a four-game losing skid and on the outskirts of a playoff berth with just four games remaining. Whether or not the Thunder grab the No. 8 seed out West will be a key factor for voters, despite not having Durant for over 50 games. The Thunder sit a game-and-a-half behind the Pelicans with meetings against Sacramento, Indiana, Portland and Minnesota to close the regular season slate.

Ball before All’s pick: james harden | Houston Rockets

Statistics gathered from NBA.com, BasketballReference.com, SportingCharts.com and ESPN.com.

The Biggest Deals on Deadline Day

With the NBA’s trade deadline set for 3 p.m. on Thursday, teams were left scrambling to make any final roster moves for the remainder of the 2014-15 season. Below is a list of the top transactions coming just hours before deadline.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Photo Credit: Getty Images

  • Ex-Suns Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas find new teams; Brandon Knight to PHX: The carousel of point guards in Phoenix continues to take a wild turn. With the trio of Dragic, Thomas and Eric Bledsoe all seeing time in the Suns’ backcourt, Phoenix figured to be on the trading block with one or a number of those pieces. With Bledsoe being the team’s unquestioned future, Dragic was sent to the Miami Heat for two future first-round picks and Danny Granger. Other pieces were involved from both sides. The Boston Celtics acquired Thomas, giving the Suns Marcus Thornton and a draft pick. Filling some of that time in Phoenix’s backcourt will be Brandon Knight–the fourth year veteran from Milwaukee who is averaging 17.8 points, 5.4, assists and 4.3 rebounds.
  • Philly makes plenty of moves: Sixers GM Sam Hinkie isn’t one afraid to make a splash. He certainly didn’t let the trade deadline approach before sending shock waves amongst Philly fans. Michael-Carter Williams apparently wasn’t the answer at point guard for the 12-41 Sixers. He’ll now call Milwaukee home as a part of the Brandon Knight three-team deal, but the Sixers’ real focus has been to pile up on draft picks. They got a top-five protected selection in this year’s draft from the Los Angeles Lakers, and Philly got another second-round choice from Houston after sending K.J. McDaniels the Rockets’ way. The question of what the Sixers will do in the upcoming draft has become the centerpiece of their franchise. Go point guard? Shooting guard? Another big to compliment Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid? Your guess is as good as mine.
  • Thunder-Jazz-Pistons complete three-team deal: Reggie Jackson provided plenty of key minutes for the Thunder, but he figures to get more opportunity in Detroit in the second half of the season. Kendrick Perkins (Utah) and Enes Kanter (Oklahoma City) are switching squads, while the Thunder also nab D.J. Augustin, Kyle Singler and Steve Novak in the deal.

Kobe and Dwight Howard Talk Smack

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Former teammates, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard went at each other during the season opener tonight. Howard finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds tonight, along with an easy 18-point win over the Lakers. Bryant shot 6-for-17 from the field for his 19 points, as the Lakers struggled for most of the game.

Lakers’ Rookie, Julius Randle breaks leg in NBA debut.

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randle

As if things couldn’t get worse for the Los Angeles Lakers, tonight they lose their seventh-overall pick to a dreadful leg injury during the fourth quarter of their debut against Houston. Randle had to be carted off the court after indicating serious pain after the fall. The 19-year-old rookie from the University of Kentucky has plenty of potential and was ready to find a place within the Lakers’ rotation as they head into what could be a rough season. The full details of Randle’s leg injury have yet to be released,

Is this Preseason?

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NBA’s preseason exhibitions haven’t been this feisty in years. With new starting lineups and megastars looking to prove they’re back healthy from their injuries, the league is already sizzling with highlights. Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving went toe-to-toe on Monday night, putting together a show in Columbus, Ohio. While Kobe Bryant morphed back into the killer he’s always been in the fourth quarter against the Suns last night.

 

Why LeBron James is the Most Polarizing Superstar In NBA History

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Why LeBron James is the Most Polarizing Superstar in NBA History

Photo Courtesy of NBA.com

It’s official. “The Decision, Part II” has passed though the wire, this time through the print medium. The biggest free agent in NBA history summed it up in three simple words: “I’m coming home.” Cleveland’s favorite son is returning to his roots. The return wasn’t exactly predestined, but the allure of a potential roster consisting of himself, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Dion Waiters and Andrew Wiggins was too enticing for James. Who could blame him? The King now has a court that is potentially even stronger than Miami’s.

The backlash and reverberations in Miami have already begun. First off, the Cleveland Cavaliers are relevant again, and have subsequently gained millions of new fans. One man alone has turned a low-end sports city into a top-ten market, and the new “witness the forgiveness” shirts are already in production. Fans have developed short-term memory loss about “the decision” and a few PR moves have non-verbally mended the fence between James and owner Dan Gilbert.

On the contrary, Heat fans aren’t burning their number 6 jerseys in effigy yet, but already have a symbolic depiction of how James literally defaced the franchise by covering up his face on a mural of the Heat roster that took years to make.

In wake of the news, the Twitter-verse exploded with an amalgam of memes and vehement diatribes, which shows that some angry Heat fans may have caught some retrograde amnesia regarding the two championship banners hanging in the raptors of American Airlines Arena. The move makes it look like James used the Heat to ensure he would win his first title, and then return to Cleveland. He confirmed this theory in his statements released on SI.com.

“I always believed I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when,” James said. The quote hinted that James used the Heat as a vacation spot, get his bling and make a hero’s return. However, fans welcomed him with open arms as if he never left.

James subliminally created a new genre of superstardom with his volatility, and that isn’t exactly a good thing. He carried the “bad guy” tag ever since he took his talents to south beach. James turned face with the move, and for the first time in his young career, he was the antagonist in 29 of the 30 NBA arenas.

His self-indulgent publicity move turned himself and the rest of his teammates into the most divisive team in that decade, even though it only just begun. His haters often cherry-picked on his failures in his first year in Miami, and after their crushing loss in the NBA finals, fans had much more to demean James about than his hairline.

James is scrutinized so heavily because with his skillset and pure ability are second-to none when compared to NBA greats. The association has never witnessed a player like James in its entire history. If Dr. James Naismith ever were to mold a perfect basketball player, it would be James, who is built like a Hummer, but runs like a Ferrari.

Despite five NBA finals appearances, two championships, four MVP trophies and two finals MVP’s, James somehow finds himself in the critic’s crosshairs every year. Despite his accomplishments, I have never seen someone take more condemnation than James this past season, which was the year after he won back-to-back championships nontheless.

The Jordan comparisons may be the pressure point that damages James mental stability. Who could blame him; holding the title “the chosen one” comes with a lot more pressure than many realize. However, James doesn’t even fit into the parameters of a player of Jordan’s stature.

He didn’t exactly embrace the label, and didn’t really ignore it either. He forgot that as the poster boy of your sport, you are in the sights of the press and paparazzi 24/7. The postgame press conference after the 2011 NBA finals loss was where his tolerance for inflammatory probes got the best of him.

The comparison is a heavy burden to carry, but in a sport like the NBA, a substantial emphasis is placed on individual achievements. That is the nature of the NBA. There is no other sport in the world that is boiled down so succinctly to one-on-one play. The weight of that label proved too much for James.

Unlike Jordan, James is a passive-aggressive player who lets his game talk. Sure Jordan made a living off of his talking, but he backed it up. James faces evisceration from media outlets based off of his potential alone. Many think he defers to his teammates and does not trust himself enough under two minutes. James somehow disappears during the closing seconds of games, and seems to lack trust in himself in the moments that make players legendary.

His most infamous stunt is when he suffered from somatization in his legs during the climax of game 1 of the 2014 NBA finals. Yes, I know about heat exhaustion and the effect it has on the leg muscles, but everyone else in that arena was sweating profusely. Maybe LeBron should have tried some of the Powerade he is paid millions of dollars in endorsements to use. Gatorade certainly thought they could have remedied his hindering limbs.

Jordan may have missed his fair share of late-game shots, but at least he attempted them. Wayne Gretzky famously said you miss 100 percent of the shots you never take, right?

Jordan also wins in the competitive category as well. Losing precipitated an unfathomable pain for him, which pushed him harder than ever to take the reins and avoid that feeling as often as possible. Even nearing the age of 50, Jordan never backed down from a challenge. A prime example of this is when then-high school hotshot OJ Mayo challenged him to a game of one-on-one. Jordan shut down the entire camp and made it abundantly clear to Mayo that he may be the best high school player in the country, but he is “the greatest that ever lived.” Jordan is the paradigm of pure competitive embodiment, and will challenge anyone who thinks otherwise.

The ultimate deciding factor here is his off the court actions. Jordan spent his off-the court TV time in inspirational ads, while James spends a majority of his time on TMZ/Twitter blogosphere. I know James plays in a different era with the internet and social media, but his actions are still a personal choice.

James has also developed a habit of flip-flopping. As of now, he has jumped ship for the second time in five years to a team more conducive towards winning a championship. This is antithetical behavior of Jordan. He encountered his fair share of struggles early in his career, but he never fled to a more talented team as a shortcut to winning.

As the best player in the league, you don’t go join other players, other players come join you. The best player in the league should be a leader, and a leader doesn’t go flee to another team for the sake of winning an NBA title. That is the definition of a follower. Granted, James played for the Cavaliers before, but this year’s team is much more promising in comparison to the team he left in the summer of 2010.

LeBron James uses a very unconventional approach to success, and in turn, is the antichrist of the NBA, and possibly the sporting world as a whole. The Jordan comparisons only worsen the situation.

The Crown Jewel of the NBA is home, and it looks like he is there to stay. Time to break out your charcoal-covered number 23 jerseys. In order to avoid the pending disappointment of not living up to MJ’s success, LBJ must write his own hall of fame story. Instead of trying to be the next Jordan, he should become the first LeBron.

 

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