A week ago, the NCAA Division I basketball tournament reached its apex. And the University of Connecticut won. Nope, not the men's game, which was fantastic, sure, but the women's game. It was truly historic, and not just according to the wonks at 538, the newly minted sports blog from famed statistician Nate Silver. While there have been undefeated teams ostensibly playing for a national championship before—in college football at least—that's never been the case in basketball.
Many say the latest victory for the UConn women represents an endorsement of their coach, Geno Auriemma. With long-time rival Pat Summitt retired, it seems as though almost no one can stand in the way of the Huskies and their long-running records. Notre Dame fought valiantly for their place as the spoiler, and maybe if they'd had Natalie Achonwa or Ace playing alongside her senior teammates, things could have gone differently.
There's no shame in losing to this UConn team, but there are definitely columnists who have wondered if all those Husky wins piling up are leading to Geno and Co. fatigue. While Mechelle Voepel argues that UConn's winning ways are good for women's basketball overall, there's definitely room for disagreement. Kate Fagan reasons that games are better when they're truly competitive and if Notre Dame represents the best team that UConn had to face, things are getting into a bad place. The bottom line: We need a multitude of better teams, not just UConn.
The takeaway a week later, with almost no one talking about the women's game, despite the WNBA Draft already occurring, is that NCAA Division I basketball is still all about the men's game. March Madness, to most people, means men's games exclusively. Even if—or rather, when—two undefeated teams play, something that has never happened in the sport before, there's very little attention for the women. Something needs to change.
When UNM was tossed from the NCAA Tournament, the Big Dance didn't stop. Last weekend, the tourney was whittled down to the Final Four. The University of Florida Gators, the Wisconsin Badgers, the Kentucky Wildcats and the Connecticut Huskies are the the last four teams left in Division I college basketball. Of these last four teams, there is only one number one seed left: the top team overall, Billy Donovan's crew.
Kentucky has proved the pre-season hype to be justified, defying the odds of an 8 seed. Coach Calipari has coaxed the most out of his powerful, notably Aaron Harrison. Harrison knocked in a 3 ball with 2.3 second left to upset 2-seed Michigan on Sunday night. The Wildcats entered the season with hefty expectations but failed to live up on them for the majority of the slog. With 10 losses, the season could have been seen as a letdown; until March Madness began. After knocking out previously unbeaten Wichita State and intrastate rival Louisville, the team seems to be playing their best ball at the perfect time.
The Connecticut Huskies, on the other hand, may have also been ranked for much of the beginning of the season, but never had the expectations of Big Blue foisted upon them. UConn, content to fly under the radar for much of the season, dominated trendy pre-Tourney pick, Michigan State on Sunday. While the final margin was only six points, UConn seemed to be in control of their destiny for the majority of the game. This has been the case since they needed overtime o take out St. Joe's in the first round of the Tournament. Shabazz Napier, the senior guard from Storrs, has put the team on his back, and his free throws seemed to clinch the game.
The aforementioned, overall number one seed Florida cruised past the previous upset-minded Dayton Flyers. This is nothing new for the Gators, who won it all in 2007 and have been to the Elite Eight for the last three years in a row. Florida's coach, Billy Donovan, has been here before and seems poised – at least mathematically – for a run to the championship.
However, the team that the majority of the nation has rallied around by far is Wisconsin. The Badgers have shown tremendous tenacity and the play of Frank Kaminsky is a big part of their overtime victory against the West Region 1 seed Arizona Wildcats. Although Wisconsin entered the post-season as a 2 seed, most pundits overlooked the team in their predictions of who would be left standing at this time of the year.
The semifinal matches will be played on Saturday night, with both games televised on TBS. The final matchup, for the national championship, will take place on Monday, April 7. If your bracket is busted, take comfort in the knowledge that so is everyone else's and enjoy some quality basketball.
Kendall Williams hits a deep (unadvised) three that pretty much seals the game.
The University of New Mexico men's basketball team is going dancing. There was never any doubt. Not after winning the Mountain West tournament. Not after the automatic bid that comes with that win. The only question was one of seeding. And what of the moment on Sunday afternoon when it was revealed that UNM received a 7 seed and will have to play in the South Region and face a potential match-up with 2-seed Kansas in the second round? Well, it seems like feelings in the land of Cherry and Silver are running high.
New Mexico's first game against 10-seeded Stanford is no walk. And after flaming out against Harvard last year, there's plenty of emotion about facing yet another school known primarily for its academics. Stanford finished their season with a 21-12 record, as opposed to the Lobos' 27-6. The Cardinal plays in the vaunted Pac-12 Conference, where they ended up a pedestrian sixth—but every team that finished ahead of them in their conference wound up in the NCAA Tournament as well.
In fact, spurned Lobos fans, still bitter about many events from last year, are looking way past Stanford. Some are even looking forward to a potential Elite Eight matchup with UCLA—the team that ex-head coach Steve Alford bolted for after New Mexico was bounced in last year's Big Dance.
However, that's putting the cart way before the horse. Stanford will want to make waves by taking out the back-to-back-to-back Mountain West champs. No team goes into a game hoping or expecting to lose. But should the Lobos get past the Harvard of the West, they'll face stiff competition in a Kansas team that many were shocked to see fail to garner a 1 seed. The bit of good news for New Mexico fans is that the Lobos have already played Kansas. The better news is that Kansas was only up 1 point, 39-38, at halftime of that game. The horrible news? The Jayhawks ran away in the second half, finally winning 80-63.
If the Lobos can make it through opening weekend, the tournament doesn't get a lot easier, as they're in the same grouping as overall number one seed, Florida. However, the talent on this team believes they're capable of making a deep run; let's not forget all those #UnfinishedBusiness tweets from the beginning of the year. This is when that follow-through gets to the proving time and first-year head coach Craig Neal continues a proud tradition.
The post-game semi-scuffle between UNM and SDSU begins.
The University of New Mexico Lobos men's basketball team has had a great month. February, with one minor aberration that might come back to haunt the team, was a good time for Coach Neal and his squad. That hiccup—a loss to Boise State University on Feb. 12—was followed up by two quick and easy wins over Mountain West Conference also-rans Nevada and UNLV. However, on Saturday, February 22, things picked up a notch.
San Diego State University—then ranked #6 in the nation—came to visit the Pit, expecting to walk all over the unranked Lobos. The cherry and silver squad, though, quickly ran away with the game. UNM led by as much as 9 in the first half and opened up the second on a 21-2 run that hammered the game out of the Runnin' Rebels' reach. While UNLV did make a run at the end of the game to keep it respectable, it was a huge showing for the Lobos on national television on a Saturday night. The game ended with UNM up by 14, winning the game 58-44.
That win was marred, however, by some pushing in the post-game handshake line, and from there, things got worse. It appears from the video footage that some Lobo fan (or fans) threw something at the UNLV players as they were leaving the court. Coach Neal was unhappy and the Lobos faced plenty of bad press over the ugly incident.
The great game was almost overshadowed by the poor reactions, but on Monday, Feb. 25, the Lobos got the good news they were waiting for: a return to the Top 25. At #25, UNM entered the night's match-up with Utah State heavily favored. The Lobos proceeded to play some terrible first half basketball. When the first 20 minutes expired, Utah State was up one, 27-26. However, in the second half, Coach Neal called upon his son, sometimes-maligned Cullen Neal, ex-Eldorado standout, for a key three pointer. Neal's bucket began a 23-5 run that put the Lobos up for good, stamping out the chances for an upset by the Aggies. The Lobos wound up with a win, 67-58.
inally, as the calendar finally flipped over to March, the Lobos headed up to Nevada on Sunday night. Once again, things looked ugly in the first half. Against a 13-15 Wolf Pack, the Lobos trailed by 4 at half and appeared sloppy at many points. The second half rally got UNM through a middling Nevada squad, but the Lobos have more to worry about than a 72-58 win over a team that is now .500.
In two of the last three games, Cameron Bairstow has scored more than 20 points, but the Lobos have also trailed in two of those last three games at halftime. With a game against Air Force in the Pit as the last regular-season home game, the Lobos need to build some serious momentum on Wednesday night. Why? Their last regular-season game of the season isn't at home emdash it's at San Diego State on Saturday, March 8. The Aztecs, currently sitting at #10, will be sure to have revenge on their minds.
With only those two games left and the Mountain West Conference occurring in Vegas in a mere week and a half, the Lobos are playing great second-half ball, but will need to be able to put together a complete and solid game in order to make the splash that all of Albuquerque wants in the NCAA Tournament.
Witness testimonies begin to pour in on Zimmerman case.
I spy a new James Bond plot: Senior Vatican accountant accused of plotting to sneak $26 million in bags of cash into Italy by stashing them away on a private jet, with the help of a former Italian spy.
The NBA Finals begin Thursday night when the San Antonio Spurs play in Miami against the Heat. The Spurs, idle for nine days after sweeping the Memphis Grizzlies will fight against the idea that they've had too much time to rest. The Heat, who rested only for a third of that time,after grinding out a game seven victory over the Indiana Pacers, look to repeat after winning the Larry O'Brien championship last year.
There are tons of potential plot lines going into these finals, but there's little concrete evidence to aid in a prediction. The teams played only two games during the regular season and they both have enormous asterisks next to their results. Coach Gregg Popovich—himself one of the most interesting subplots insofar as his brusque interview style during games—sent most of his starters home, without notifying the NBA in due time, before the Spurs' visit to Miami on November 29. Then, the JV lineup for the Spurs nearly beat the Heat. And Pop, officially for not giving notice in time, but ostensibly for throwing a nationally broadcast game with the reigning champs, was fined $250,000. David Stern, commissioner of the NBA, said the Spurs organization did a, "disservice to the league and our fans." Fans of the Spurs, on the other hand, saw their second-stringers nearly beat the best team in the league, on their court.
Given the hubbub surrounding their previous match up, when the Heat visited San Antonio four months later, the national media's interest was piqued. This time, the Spurs were near full strength, missing only Manu Ginobili, who sat out with a strained hamstring. The Heat, however, were not. With LeBron James and Dwyane Wade both out, the Heat still managed to eke out a two-point win in the AT&T Center. It's worth noting that James and Wade were definitely hurt as they had played in the previous game but did not play in the Heat's next, at New York. Coach Pop, feigning surprise and hostility at the news of James and Wade missing the game, was gracious enough to not comment on the fact that the Heat were not fined when their players missed the game.
So, the regular season games are tossed out the window, if not taken with an enormous chunk of salt. What does that leave prognosticators with? James has faced the Spurs in the Finals before. In 2007, when he was still with the Cleveland Cavaliers, his team was swept by the Spurs. He has acknowledged that he'd love revenge for the loss that came so early in his career. But James was a completely different player and these Heat are not only geographically different from those Cavs - the presence of All-Stars, in Wade and Chris Bosh, a former Finals MVP, again Wade, and the small ball revolution that the Heat fully embraced during last year's championship run - the past history seems just as invalid.
Looking at the paths both teams took results in just as much confusion. The Western Conference was seen as vastly more competitive. But the Spurs swept both their first round opponents, the Lakers, and their Western Conference Finals opponents, the Grizzlies. The Heat were far and away the best team in the East, almost universally assumed to come out on top. After sweeping the first round against the Bucks, though, they gave away a game to Chicago and fought for a five-game victory in that series. Then came the Pacers, who took the Heat to seven games, and had some pundits believing in Indiana's ability to take the series.
So what does it actually come down to? The Heat have the best player in LeBron James. There can be no denying that. But Tim Duncan, the rock of the Spurs for the last sixteen years, is just as good now as he was in the early championship days. The Heat have home court advantage, but the format shifts in the Finals to a 2-3-2, wherein the lower seed gets three games in a row at home. It's a matter of debate who this actually benefits. The Heat will look to run more than they got to against the Pacers, but Tony Parker, point guard for the Spurs, has looked incredible at all speeds. The Heat have the Vegas odds on their side, as well as the majority of the expert picks. They won last year and are a mere four games away from repeating. The Finals start tonight at 7 MST and all games are broadcast on ABC.
With the Lobos' victory over the Valparaiso Cruisaders last weekend, they improved to 10-0, their best start since going 12-0 back in 2009. Fans are extremely happy because there is a high chance that they can at least match that opening record this season.
This Lobo team is just as deep as last year's and possibly even deeper. Alex Kirk sat last season out due to an injury, but has started this season off with some exciting play that has helped earn the Lobos the number 17 spot in the Associated Press top 25.
"They are being mentally challenged right now," head coach Steve Alford said in the post-USC victory radio interview in reference to the final exams that the players were focusing on. But he admitted that they would also be physically challenged in attempt to keep their undefeated record alive. Challenging the players during finals week paid off with another victory, and we'll just have to wait and see how it affected them academically.
The next three games that the Lobos play are games against unranked opponents that should add more victories to their impressive resume. In fact, the next game that should pose any challenge will be when they face the 11th ranked Cincinnati Bearcats on the road. Starting with this game on the Dec 27th, the Lobo's schedulewill increase in difficulty as they move into conference play soon afterwards.
This year, the Mountain West Conference is arguably the most competitive it has ever been. While the Lobos are definitely one of the best teams in the conference, there are several teams that would like to take the conference championship away from them this year.
San Diego State is currently rankedjust below the Lobos in the AP top 25. This makes sense considering last year the Lobos were able to win two out of three matches against the Aztecs. There are also the UNLV Runnin' Rebels and the Wyoming Cowboys who are going to give the Lobos tough matches. While Wyoming is not currently ranked, there is a good chance that they will be because they are receiving votes in both the AP top 25 and the USA Today Coaches polls and have also started out with a perfect 10-0.
With high expectations this year, the Lobos are going to have to practice hard and show some true resilience as they face the stiff competition of conference play.
The US women are dominating like it aint no thing ...
While the USA men's basketball has been making headlines with its blowout win over Nigeria and the relentless stream of questions about whether this team could beat the 1992 Dream Team, there's been a steady storm of wins accumulating on the women's side that very few people have talked about.
On Tuesday, the women put up nearly twice as many points as their opponent, Team Canada. Team USA slaughtered Canada so effectively that only two players—Chelsea Aubry and Kim Smith, both D1 talents during their college days in America—scored in double figures.
Aside from demolishing Canada, Team USA has now won 39 straight Olympic games. The last time the women's basketball team lost was in 1992, when that storied men's Dream Team was unveiled to the world.
Since '92, however, the men's game has teetered back and forth between nonchalant dominance and embarrassingly lackadaisical effort, resulting in a disappointing bronze medal in the 2004 Olympics in Athens. While the men's team recommitted after those Athens games, the women's team never needed to; they never stopped winning. They haven't lost a game in the preliminary rounds of the Olympics since 1976—the very first time women's basketball was even a sport in the Olympics.
Team USA faces a tough challenge on Thursday, going up against an Australian team that made waves of its own in the publicity field, and has played some mean games of basketball, to boot. The Opals will challenge the Americans inside with strong post play, but might have trouble with the way Team USA likes to get out and run on the break.
More importantly, the mainstream press is doing its quadrennial look at women's basketball: seemingly impressed, ESPN even featured a story about how the US women are the real Dream Team. That being said, it's troubling, as with so many other professions and occupations, what kind of disparity the women will come back home to, regardless of whether they medal or not, gold or otherwise.
While the league minimum in the NBA—where every player on the men's team has a job after the Olympics are done—is at least $473,604 dollars, depending on whether it's a rookie contract, women in the WNBA cannot earn more than a $103,500. Anthony Davis has trademarked his unibrow, just in case he needs to supplement his income. Meanwhile, female greats like Candace Parker, Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi barely have name recognition.
It'd be wonderful if the Olympics rewarded the best play with the most money or the most fame, or whatever it is that society decides is the way to reward these people who dedicate their lives to excellence. Unfortunately, it seems the thing we value most is a good story.
In 2008, the United States basketball team was on a mission to restore our title as the best basketball nation in the world. Named the “Redeem Team,” Team USA showed dominance resembling the classic Dream Teams of the past en route to the gold medal. They were under massive pressure from the nation to deliver following the disappointment of the 2004 team. This year’s team is more worried about bragging about upstaging the 1992 Dream Team and dunking exhibitions than defending the title. Despite being lead by LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, key players like Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose are injured.
But before the Olympics, America will play some tune-up games to get ready for London. They already passed their first test by embarrassing the Dominican Republic 113-59. John Calipari lent his services to the Dominican but it was no match for the athleticism and talent of the United States. However, the victory was bittersweet as L.A Clippers star Blake Griffin was injured in practice prior to tip-off. Now Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski must depend on No. 1 pick Anthony Davis to play big minutes against difficult international competition. Most basketball fans are assuming Team USA should destroy the competition, but with a limited time to gel as a unit and injuries, international teams should feel optimistic to pull off the upset.
Spain failed to capture the gold against Team USA in Beijing in 2008, but they pose the biggest threat to America's gold medal chances. NBA veterans Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka will dominate the middle and should give them an advantage over every other team in the Olympic tournament. Pau Gasol, Rudy Fernandez and José Calderon round out the rest of the pros to give Spain a combination of speed and experience. By avoiding the Americans in group play, Spain shouldn’t have in trouble make it to the medal round. When they final collide with Team USA, the only advantage Spain will have is their inside presence. Without injured point guard Ricky Rubio and the lack of a true superstar, they will have to hope America gets cocky and overconfident in order to prevail.
Similar to Spain, Argentina is on the quest for revenge. In ’08, Argentina went 4-1 in group play but fell to America in the tournament round. Manu Ginobili led fellow NBA pros Carlos Delfino and Luís Scola on one of the most experienced teams in the tournament. Even though Argentina finds themselves in the same group as Team USA, they shouldn't feel intimidated as they defeated the United States in the 2004 Olympic Games. They may lack the number of pros compared to other top international teams, but their success in international competitions make Argentina a contender to win gold in London.
Up 3-1, the Miami Heat have a commanding lead on the Oklahoma City Thunder. And the Heat are on the cusp of victory with game five kicking off tonight at 7 p.m. in Miami. In the history of the NBA, no team that has gone down 1-3 in a Finals series has ever come back to win that series.
So, with history on their side, it's time to start assuming that the Heat have won the championship, right? Well, not quite so fast. The Thunder are a more than capable team, and they won the first game in the series in a manner that most pundits termed convincing at bare minimum.
The Thunder's core of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have traded off between dominating performances, but the third member of their triumvirate, James Harden, has been lackluster—to say the least—for the duration of the Finals. His defense has been relentless, which perhaps explains the anemic performance on offense, but that doesn’t justify much, at least in the eyes of Oklahoma City fans.
Winning in Miami has not been an easy task for the Thunder, which had a significant lead in game three—nine points, on two separate occasions, but lost a wire-to-wire outing in game four. They'll have to muster the strength to not only hold a lead, but to do so at the end of the game in Miami at least once, in order to squeeze out a return home for the possibility of game six—much less force a game seven.
The statistical possibility of the Thunder mounting a comeback aside, there are serious repercussions to the idea of LeBron James winning his first championship. The laughable which critics love to throw in his face upon his yearly exit from the playoffs will stop being evidence of his supposed crimes and will start to look like eerie prescience from a phenomenal talent. The collection of superstars in South Beach will no longer look like greedy millionaires, but rather basketball players mature enough to put ego aside and play together. Most importantly, LeBron James will no longer have the strike of, "He doesn't have a ring." Most all-time greats in the NBA have championship rings, and it’s bizarre to think of the most talented player of our generation as not having one, not being capable of getting one.
That time period is almost through. Maybe the Thunder have a last gasp in them. Maybe they pull together. Maybe James Harden comes out and plays the game of his life. But even given the best possible outcome for a Thunder fan in game five, the odds and the historical record both say that the Heat will win the NBA Finals. Get ready for the reign of King James.
The NBA Finals have begun in an emphatic manner. After the Oklahoma City Thunder roller over the San Antonio Spurs, who were looking as near-invincible as any team can, they awaited their Eastern Conference opponent. And while it took seven games, the Miami Heat eventually triumphed over the Boston Celtics. This presents, of course, a sort of dream match-up for basketball fans. Commissioner David Stern has got to be giddy over the ratings prospects of the Heat in the Finals for a second year in a row, especially against some of the NBA’s youngest, most marketable stars. Old school purists must find something delectable about the way the Thunder have taken on characteristics of the Spurs after dispatching them, passing the ball in that crisp manner, and always deflecting individual praise in deference of the team concept. Finally, the drama-seeker in all of us craves LeBron James in almost every situation. Win or lose, love him or hate him, he presents compelling viewing.
Game 1 showed the tenacity of the youngsters in Oklahoma. The Heat poured on the points in the first half, but the Thunder hung on, and changed the game in a significant manner in the second half. Eventually winning by 11, it seemed as though the Thunder had heavy momentum heading into Game 2, at home.
On Thursday night, however, the Thunder came out flat. They came out uninspired. They came out looking like a team that thought, perhaps, the road to the trophy would be a bit easier than it turned out to be. They fell into an 18-2 hole, with just over seven minutes elapsed in the first quarter, and the game almost seemed out of reach by halftime, when the Thunder trailed 43-55.
However, after tying the second quarter, the Thunder proceeded to win both the third and the fourth quarters, eventually pulling within two points in the final minute.
The aforementioned hole, however, ultimately proved to be too much. In conjunction with the five fouls that Kevin Durant was playing with—having picked up that dreaded fifth foul only a minute and a half into the fourth quarter—the Thunder simply could not get the job done. They now face the daunting task of going into Miami and playing three straight games in South Beach.
The pressure now shifts from Miami to the young Thunder. Coming into the series, they were seen as slight favorites. Of course, it'll be very difficult for Miami to win all three in a row at home, but the Thunder have got to consider their backs to be up against the wall. Coming back home for the final two games of the series, and needing to win both, is a terrible place to be. On the other hand, there are worse options, such as Miami sweeping these middle three games, and closing the series out in Florida. The Oklahoma City Thunder have responded thus far in the Playoffs every time they've needed to, and the truth is, they need to now more than ever.
Dallas traded up to take cornerback Morris Claiborne with the sixth pick.
While some football fans think the NFL Draft resembles the male version of “America's Next Top Model,” most cannot contain their excitement whenever they see the commissioner give his awkward handshake to the new recruits of the league.
The Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins took the suspense out of their first two picks in selecting Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III (respectively), but the draft still contained some surprises. Cleveland Browns General Manager Tom Heckert chose to overhaul the offense by selecting Alabama running back Trent Richardson and Oklahoma quarterback Brandon Weeden in the first round. Current Browns starting QB Colt McCoy showed some promise last season, but the Browns needed to make some power moves to make sure they’re no longer an afterthought. Another surprise was the Dallas Cowboys moving to sixth pick of the first round to select LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. Even though the Cowboys had to give up 14th and 45th overall picks to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it was a necessary sacrifice to ensure Dallas improve its much-criticized defense.
As for the University of New Mexico, no Lobos were selected in the draft, but three defensive players have signed free-agent deals to play at the next level. Leading the pack is Carmen Messina, who shockingly wasn't selected but signed a contract with the improved Detroit Lions. All-Mountain West safety honorable mention Bubba Forrest was selected by the Cincinnati Bengals and defensive end Jaymar Latchison used Twitter to state he signed a contract with the Green Bay Packers.
Chicago Bulls vs. Philadelphia Sixers
D. Rose is out for the season with a torn ACL.
Everything was working perfectly for the Chicago Bulls in game one against the Philadelphia Sixers. The Bulls bench was performing well and the starters were showing why they were the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Derrick Rose's triple double was almost in sight with 1:22 remaining in the fourth quarter. Then the unthinkable happen: Rose drove in the lane and tore his ACL. Pain and fear was written all over Rose's face as he was helped to the locker room. The Bulls went on to win game one, 103-91, but it seems their title hopes have all but disappeared. An 18-9 record without Derrick Rose in the regular season means Chicago has reacted well without their captain. Now its up to Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Richard Hamilton to step up and prove the Bulls are still a serious threat to win the title.
Memphis Grizzlies vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Blake Griffin and the Clippers overcame a late 27-point deficit to edge the Grizzlies.
It was a party in Memphis as the Grizzlies had a dominate 27-point lead in game one. With the Clippers down by 21 in the fourth, head coach Vinny Del Negro removed point guard Chris Paul from the game. But Paul pleaded with Del Negro for one more shot to at least gain a moral victory. Instead, Paul had seven assists and hit two clutch free throws to take a 99-98 lead with 23.7 seconds left. Rudy Gay had a chance to be the hero but missed a fade-away jumper to give the Clippers the stunning victory. Now Los Angeles has stolen home court and the momentum of the series. To make matters worse, rumors have now heated up regarding tension between Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph. The Grizzlies have tons of potential and have good fundamental skills to make a respectable run in the playoffs. But if they can't put a stop to their issues, the Clippers will embarrass the Grizz.
With college basketball over, it’s time for the NBA to take the hoops spotlight. Even though everyone picked the Miami Heat to finally capture the title, the playoff field is wide open for any team to become champion. Here’s a breakdown by conference:
The Big Three might have one last championship push left.
Both the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat have been fighting injuries since the All-Star break and have been mediocre in the month of April. And the struggles of the Eastern Conference’s best have opened the door for an old favorite to have one more run at the title.
When the boston Celtics put together its Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, it was with the expectation that the group wouldn't last forever. But along with Rajon Rondo, the Celtics have captured an NBA championship and have become a tough defensive opponent for any league team. So it was puzzling when the organization was aggressively trying shop Rondo around the league. Luckily for the Celtics, it kept him and the result has been Rondo quietly putting together a 17-game streak of 10-plus assists. His point guard play has turned into victories with the Celtics going 7-3 in their last ten, including a dominant performance against the Philadelphia 76ers. Despite having four superstars (albeit a few of them dwindling), the Celtics have dodged additional pressure from the national media. If the playoffs started today, Boston would face the dangerous Atlanta Hawks in the first round. Even though it’s not considered one of the league top contenders, the Celtics bench and veteran leadership could lead them to a surprise playoff run.
Dwight Howard—a hard guy to get along with.
What would be the equivalent of oil and water in the NBA? It would probably be the Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard and head coach Stan Van Gundy. They've never had the best relationship and now it’s reached a boiling point with Van Gundy confirming rumors he heard Howard requested he be fired. It's unfortunate the Magic are falling apart because they have one of the most effective offenses in the league. Its three point shooting combined with Howard dominating the paint should have made Orlando a lock for the conference finals. Instead, trade rumors, injuries and the turmoil of Howard and Van Gundy have turned the Magic into the most disappointing team in the association. Despite Orlando Magic General Manager Otis Smith publicly denying the rumors about Van Gundy, he has to determine either to fire his coach now and please Howard or keep Van Gundy and salvage the remainder of the season. If the Magic continues to side down the playoff ladder, it may be best to cut ties with Van Gundy and convince Howard to sign a long term extension with free agents and a big name head coach.
Under the Radar:
When Reggie Miller retired, the Indiana Pacers had to begin a search of a new identity to ensure the future of the franchise. It's been a long rebuilding process, but the Pacers have finally returned to respectability and have quietly made its way into the third seed in the East. Former-Lobo Danny Granger has been the star for the majority of his tenure in Indiana, but now he doesn't have to bare the burden alone with the additions of Roy Hibbert, David West and Tyler Hansbrough. Last year the Pacers pushed the Chicago Bulls to the limit in the first round with their lockdown defense on Derrick Rose. Now if Indiana can hang onto the third seed, they're most likely to receive a favorable first round matchup.
Tim Duncan and the aging Spurs are still sharp.
From 1999 to 2007 the San Antonio Spurs won four NBA title titles, but got little love from media or fans. Even though they have arguably the greatest power forward ever in Tim Duncan and consistent All-Star players with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, they are always overlooked. Granted last year the Spurs performed well in the regular season but suffered an early elimination by the Memphis Grizzlies. In 2012 the Spurs have managed to earn the best record in the Western Conference without attracting scrutiny from the mainstream media. Head coach Greg Popovich has managed to keep his four main stars and surround them with quality roles players who are non-selfish and focused on winning. With the OKC Thunder barely behind the Spurs for the top seed, San Antonio cannot afford any injuries. The Western Conference is now going through a transition of younger teams dominating the playoff picture, but if the Spurs are healthy, it can use its experience to make a run to the conference finals.
Before Blake Griffin, the L.A. Clippers were considered the laughing stock of the league. Whenever the Clippers would be lucky enough to gain any talent, they would trade it away in order to make the organization profitable. Finally for Clippers fans,the organization has renewed focus on winning and playing exciting basketball. The acquisition of Chris Paul has enabled the Lakers’ 'little brother' to be fan pleasing while moving towards the top half of the playoff picture. But its loss against the Lakers should be a red flag for “Lop City” fans. Blake Griffin has morphed into a human highlight reel but fails to play consistent defense or make mid-range jumpers. The Clippers currently hold the fourth seed and would face the underrated Memphis Grizzles in the first round. If the Clippers plan on purely outscoring its opponents en route to an NBA title, the only thing the Clippers would be lobbing is their heads against the wall.
Under the Radar:
Yao Ming's sudden retirement from the NBA left the Houston Rockets reeling. But, like the Indiana Pacers, the Rockets have quietly formed an effective combination of veterans and newcomers to currently gain the sixth seed. Head coach Kevin McHale has turned a potential bottom feeder into a respectable playoff team. The major Achilles heel of the Rockets is its ability to win games on the road. Its 11-17 road record will not translate into success in the playoffs. But the Rockets recent victory over the Lakers in the Staples Center should give them a much needed confidence boost. If the playoffs started today, the Rockets would face the troubled Lakers. The Rockets are unlikely to win the series, but considering the recurring Laker drama, Houston has the ability frustrate the Lakers into a long seven game series.