NBA Finals Features Plenty of College Stars

Posted by EJacoby on June 12th, 2012

The 2012 NBA Finals between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat begins tonight in a dream matchup of star-studded teams that is sure to draw huge viewer ratings. The major media narrative of the series centers around the two superstars — LeBron James and Kevin Durant – and all basketball fans should enjoy watching them battle at the highest level. But digging deeper, diehard college hoops supporters are in for a real treat as each team features veteran players that were once stars at the collegiate level for Final Four-bound squads. Thought the Fab Five was a distant memory? Juwan Howard, former Michigan star from 1992-94 and current Miami reserve forward, thinks otherwise. Before the current John Calipari era, Kentucky’s last run of glory came in the late 90s, during which Nazr Mohammed was on the star-studded 1996 championship team before playing a much bigger role on the 1998 championship team. Fans surely remember Mario Chalmers‘ performance during the 2008 National Title game as well, featuring arguably the biggest shot in recent NCAA history. Chalmers is Miami’s starting point guard who will have to knock down some more big shots in order for the Heat to win. There are plenty of other players in this championship series that will bring college fanatics down memory lane.

Nick Collison and Cole Aldrich were stars for Kansas before being drafted by Oklahoma City (C. Landsberger, The Oklahoman)

The rosters of the Heat and Thunder combine to feature 12 (!) different players that once played in a Final Four during their college careers. Oklahoma City’s Final Four attendees include Cole Aldrich, Nick Collison (twice), Daequan Cook, Royal Ivey, Russell Westbrook (twice), and Mohammed (three times). Miami, meanwhile, features Shane Battier (twice), Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller, Howard (twice), and Chalmers. These 12 players combined for five National Titles. Miller and Haslem were teammates at Florida for the 2000 Gators team that lost in the Championship Game to Michigan State. And this list doesn’t even include Durant, who won the National Player of the Year award in his only season at Texas (2007). Battier was also a NPOY winner at Duke during his accomplished college career. March Madness fans probably remember Derek Fisher, Eric Maynor, and Norris Cole, too, each of whom led small schools to the NCAA Tournament through leading point guard roles. Now they are all valuable reserves for potential NBA champions, though Maynor has missed this season with an ACL tear in his knee.

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NBA Playoffs – JV Conference Preview

Posted by nvr1983 on April 18th, 2008

It seems like the general consensus among NBA analysts is that this will be Boston vs. Detroit in the conference finals unless Lebron goes off for an entire series. I’m hoping to provide a little more insight than that with a preview of each opening round series and brief predictions of what I think will happen for the rest of the conference playoffs. I won’t expound upon the later rounds in great detail as I’ll probably mess up my first round picks making the subsequent previews meaningless.

First Round
#1 Boston vs. #8 Atlanta: This series looks like the biggest mismatch in the 1st round. Boston won all 3 games this year including the last when they sat the starters for the 4th quarter and still managed to win handily despite the fact that Atlanta actually needed the game to help get them into the playoffs. I don’t think there is any question that Boston will win the series easily. The only question I have seen by any analysts will be whether the Hawks will manage to win a game (most analysts don’t think they will). The more interesting thing is the individual match-ups:

PG: Rajon Rondo vs. Mike Bibby: This will be our first good look at Rondo against a quality PG in a playoff series. While Bibby isn’t the same player he was back around 2000 when he was the only Sacramento King who would take (and hit) big shots against the Lakers. It seemed like Bibby was ready to become a star at that point, but he never did. Rondo should have his hands full in this match-up individually, but the Celtics overall advantage is so great that it should actually serve as a great introduction to the playoffs for Rondo. If he struggles, the Celtics should be able to overcome it that night and if necessary they can always rely on Sam Cassell for short periods of time.

SG: Ray Allen vs. Joe Johnson: This match-upprobably has the most star power with 2 All-Stars battling. Johnson, who started his career in Boston before being traded during his rookie season, could give Allen a hard time throughout this series. If Atlanta is going to win a game, Johnson will have to dominate Allen for a night (along with Bibby winning his match-up against Rondo/Cassell).

SF: Paul Pierce vs. Josh Smith: Pierce is certainly the better player in this match-up (he deserves consideration for one of the All-NBA teams), but Smith’s length and athleticism make this an interesting match-up. Smith may also have to help on KG, who will be killing Marvin Williams.

PF: Kevin Garnett vs. Marvin Williams: To be honest, I haven’t seen Williams play much since his days at UNC. He seems to be putting up decent numbers, but this is a really bad match-up for him against Garnett, a MVP candidate. KG’s team playoff troubles and inability to hit the big shot has been well-documented, but that won’t come into play this series.

C: Kendrick Perkins vs. Al Horford: This is probably the only match-up that Atlanta has a decided advantage in with Horford, who will likely finish 2nd to Kevin Durant in ROY voting. Even though he is still the weak link in the starting line-up, Perkins has evolved into a decent NBA center, which might say more about the level of NBA centers in the league than it does about Kendrick’s game. I’m interested to see how Horford’s game has changed since he left Gainesville.

-Prediction: Celtics in 4. None of the games will be close.

#2 Detroit vs. #7 Philadelphia: The veteran Pistons team should win this series pretty easily in 4 or 5 games. The Pistons match-up well against the Sixers 2 best players (Andre Miller versus Chauncey Billups and Andre Igoudala versus Tayshaun Prince). The only real question is how intense the Pistons will be as they have a tendency to take games off even in the playoffs.

-Prediction: Detroit in 5. Philadelphia has a surprisingly tough team, but Detroit is too good to blow this series especially since the Sixers don’t have a Lebron-type player to win the series by himself.

#3 Orlando vs. #6 Toronto: Although the NBA experts have been ripping the Eastern Conference first round match-ups, I have to say that this series and the Cleveland-Washington series could be very interesting. Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh are obviously the marquee stars here, but both teams have good players at the other positions. It will be interesting to see which of the other players (Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson, T.J. Ford, Jose Calderon, and Rasho Nesterovic) in this series step up and make themselves household names (outside of basketball junkie circles).

-Prediction: Toronto in 6. In such a close series, I’m tempted to go with the home-court. However, in this case I’m going with the relative experience of the Raptors to win a couple of the close games and close out the series in Toronto.

#4 Cleveland vs. #5 Washington: It appears like this is the only first round series in the Eastern Conference that the mainstream media cares about. It seems like the media is focusing on the Wizards (DeShawn Stevenson and Gilbert Arenas) calling out Lebron. However, there are a bunch of other interesting things about this series: (1) Can Washington finally beat Cleveland having lost to them the last 2 years in first round? (2) Can Agent Zero control his ego enough to play a supporting role? (3) Can Lebron win another series with a horrible supporting cast? Our answers: No. No. Yes.

Prediction: Cleveland in 7. I think that Washington is the better team, but Cleveland has Lebron. Ever since the Detroit series it appears that Lebron has decided to start taking over games (not counting the Finals last year that nobody watched). In the end, it will be Lebron (and David Stern’s refs) pushing the Cavs into the 2nd round.

I’ll make longer posts for the later rounds when the match-ups are set. For now, I’ll just stick with predictions.

Second Round
#1 Boston vs. #4 Cleveland: Celtics in 5.
#2 Detroit vs. #6 Toronto: Detroit in 6.

Conference Finals
#1 Boston vs. #2 Detroit: Celtics in 7.

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NBA Playoffs – Varsity Conference Preview

Posted by rtmsf on April 18th, 2008

What a crazy season out west this year. Much has already been written about it, but the mere fact that we came into the last two games of the year with six teams having a shot at the #1 seed is remarkable. And every Varsity Conference playoff team won fifty games for the first time since the playoffs expanded to eight teams from each conference. Think about that. The Golden State Warriors won 48 games (good enough for 4th in the east), and they finished two games OUT of the playoffs this year. Insane.

Since this year’s Varsity Conference playoff matchups are so juicy, delicious, wonderful and otherwise enchanting, we asked our buddy MO-Sack to draft a couple of these previews. Since he’s usually spot on with his picks and can sniff out a lock from a light year away, (“it’s a LOCK“), pay particular attention to his drops of wisdom.

#1 LA Lakers vs. #8 Denver (h/t MO-Sack)

Is Denver this year’s Golden State Warriors? The photo-finish for the eighth and final seed in the West represents all that is right about the Varsity Conference and all that is wrong about the JV. Both Denver and Golden State are playoff-caliber teams, or were until geography intervened against Golden State. But we give Denver a lot of credit for entering hostile Oracle arena on April 10 and dominating the home team throughout the entirety of the game. Denver earned it, and Baron Davis could learn much from AI’s ability to carouse late into the night and still perform at the highest level the following evening. In this respect, Baron’s no AI.

Overcoming Golden State was the first challenge, but what approaches is an almost impossible task. The Lakers are the best team in the Western Conference and have proved it all year, especially after stealing Pau Gasol from Memphis. Don’t believe the orgy of pejorative anti-Lakers blather currently spewing forth from ESPN; in our view, only San Antonio and Boston have a realistic chance of beating the Lakers.

Denver does not. The more difficult question is: how many games in the series will the Nuggets win? One? Two? Zero? Let’s just say that if the o/u on Denver wins against the Lakers in this series was 0.5, we’d take the under. This has nothing to do with Carmelo’s intoxication; he and Iverson will put up big numbers in this series, and AI could do so even with a hangover and one hand tied behind his back. Our reasoning focuses on the rest of the team: Denver lacks size underneath, Kenyon Martin is over-rated, Anthony Carter is Denver’s starting point-guard, and Marcus Camby takes as long to shoot the ball as it takes NASA to launch a shuttle into space. Initiate countdown now… in seven, six, five, four… Houston, we have lift-off into the next round. Lakers in 4.

Disclaimer: LA is a cesspool of narcissism, so please don’t confuse us with Lakers fans.

#2 New Orleans vs. #7 Dallas

Old vs. New. One of the better stories of the year has been the transcendent play of Chris Paul for the Hornets, who statistically had one of the best seasons by a point guard in the history of the league, leading NO to the third-best record (56-26) merely one year after finishing 39-43. This will be CP3′s first year of playoff basketball, however, and there are serious questions as to how the Hornets will handle their first taste in his regime, especially when playing as the favorites.

A story that hasn’t been discussed nearly as much this year has been the confounding drop of the Mavs from last year’s 67-15 record to monumental first-round losers and a subsequent 51-31 year. It’s apparent to us that the Mavs never really recovered from the embarrassing smackdown that the Warriors laid on them in last season’s playoffs, but this is still a very good team. Dirk Nowitzki has been playing lately like he did in his MVP year, and there is a surplus of playoff experience on this squad between J-Ho, Jason Terry, Stack and Kidd.

We think this will be a very competitive series, but Dallas tends to play better when the bullseye isn’t on their backs. We have no idea how New Orleans will respond to playoff intensity, although we’re certain that Paul will be superb. Still, the NBA playoffs come down to the equation talent+experience, and we actually believe that Dallas has New Orleans on both counts here, although their window is closing fast. Mavs in 6.

#3 San Antonio vs. #6 Phoenix

Champs Slipping? Believe it or not, but the Spurs were the #3 seed as well last year, when they pretty much steamrolled through the playoffs (with a little help from Stern’s suspensions) en route to their 4th title in the last 9 years. Still, we have a sense that people are sleeping on them a little bit this year (perhaps it has something to do with five of the six ESPN experts picking Phoenix). This first-round matchup doesn’t help. In fact, it’s probably the worst matchup that SA could face in the entire bracket of the Varsity Conference. Not only did Phoenix enjoy a 3-1 advantage in the season series, but the last two games (w/ Shaq in the lineup) were Suns blowouts. Then there’s that whole residual resentment that the Suns are surely feeling based on last year’s debacle with Nash’s bloody nose and the bench suspensions. So Phoenix is the obvoius pick, right?

Not necessarily. Like the Pats in the NFL, the Spurs are the boring team that people are sick of seeing win, but veterans like Duncan, Ginobili (Mr. Clutch) and Parker know that the regular season is just for staying healthy and treading water. When serious, there still is no more efficient team in the league (witness the thrashing Utah took on Wed. night when the Spurs could have lost home court in the first round). It’s true that the team is getting older and the role players (Horry, Barry, Vaughn) especially are showing their age, but they still have one weapon nobody else has, and he’s historically been pretty darn effective in April through June.

Tim Duncan has never lost in the first round of the playoffs – it won’t start this year. Spurs in 7.

#4 Utah vs. #5 Houston (h/t MO-Sack)

Sweet Jazz Tune or a Rocket Blast? Whatever happens in this series will not detract from the story of the year in the Association: the Rockets’ 22-game win streak during all of February and most of March. And remember, these were Varsity Conference teams that the Rockets were defeating, not their inferior JV counterparts.

But this is the playoffs. And in recent history, the playoffs have not been kind to Houston. At least this time they have home court advantage, and the best player on the court at any time in Tracy McGrady. And they would have had the two best players were it not for the loss of the big fella, Yao Ming. When the Rockets fall in this series, it won’t be because of McGrady. We expect great things from T-Mac – his superstar status is unquestionable – but his surrounding cast leaves us with some doubts. Can Shane “Mr. Ruffles” Battier continue to shine in the playoff spotlight? Is Skip 2 My Lou for real? Luis Scola is less consistent, but can Mutumbo shoulder the playoff load?

In the end it will be difficult for the Rockets to overcome that sweet Jazz tune. It’s hard enough beating those guys at sea level, but forget it at 4000 feet. Although Utah lacks home court advantage, they can and probably will beat Houston on the road. But Houston won’t beat Utah at home – their diminished lung capacity won’t allow it. Utah advances for the same reason that high-altitude Kenyan athletes dominate marathons, and because they have Jerry Sloan, one of the best coaches in the business. Jazz in 6.

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Does March Madness matter in May and June?

Posted by rtmsf on May 31st, 2007

Mike Wilbon 

Wilbon, as usual, is up in arms. 

Today we wanted to take a moment to examine an idea put forth by the inimitable Mike Wilbon in Monday’s Washington Post.   Wilbon’s essential take (written after game 3 of the Detroit-Cleveland series) was that much of Lebron’s struggles in late-game situations of the NBA playoffs is directly attributable to his lack of “big game” experience, which his predecessors (Magic, MJ, Bird, etc.) honed and developed during the crucible of March Madness.  He wrote:

LeBron’s bigger problem is never having learned how to play these kinds of high-stakes games in college — and now having to learn against a recent champion. Most every iconic player in NBA history, particularly the triumvirate of Magic, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, learned to play big games during March Madness. For every Kobe (who had Shaquille O’Neal), there’s an Isiah Thomas or Dwyane Wade or Richard Hamilton, guys who learned how to deal with the enormous pressure of big games in college, then successfully transitioned into the NBA playoffs. It’s no coincidence that Tracy McGrady and Kevin Garnett, who also skipped college, struggle so mightily in the playoffs. Without Shaq, Bryant is 0 for 2 getting out of the first round of the playoffs.

Since the high school-to-NBA era began in 1995 with Kevin Garnett, there have been 28 first round picks used on US kids a month removed from their high school graduations.  It’s too early to say for many, but early returns suggest that only seven were definitely worth the pick – KG, Kobe, Jermaine O’Neal, T-Mac, Amare, Lebron & Dwight Howard.  Others such as Shaun Livingston, Al Jefferson, Andrew Bynum and the two Smiths – Josh and J.R. – may end up being stars in a few years, but for now it’s too early to tell.

Of that group of high school-to-NBA superstars, and with the very notable exception of Kobe as first lieutenant second banana to Shaq, how many of that group have led their teams to postseason NBA success?  The struggles of KG (2 playoff series wins in his 12-yr career) and T-Mac (0 series wins in 10 yrs) are well documented, although Jermaine O’Neal (3 series wins in 7 yrs as a starter in Indiana) may soon also warrant inclusion on that list.  Still, Amare (5 series wins in 5 seasons in the NBA - assist to Steve Nash) and Lebron’s (3 series wins in 4 seasons) rather quick starts confound Wilbon’s blanket theory a bit.  It’s too early to say with Dwight Howard.

For now, we think there is some validity to Wilbon’s theory, but it’s not as clear-cut as he suggests.  The NCAA Tournament’s knockout format eliminates pretenders from contenders very quickly, and the teams with gamebreaking talents who can keep their cool and make plays at the end of games are usually the ones last standing.   But where we feel Wilbon’s argument fails is that it’s very difficult to go deep in the NBA playoffs for just about anyone, whether a four-year college player or one who skipped it altogether.  During the era of which we’re speaking (96-07), only five franchises have won NBA titles (Chicago, San Antonio, LA Lakers, Detroit, Miami), and it appears that one of those same franchises will win again this season (SA or Detroit).  History tends to show that only age and collapse from within creates a vacuum by which a different NBA franchise can rise to the top of the heap.

Shaq Graduation Laettner at Duke

Shaq & Laettner have had different degrees of success in college and the NBA.   

With so few historical opportunities for superstars to elevate their teams to the highest level of the sport, we find it somewhat unfounded to correlate the amount of time spent playing in March Madness as an indicator of future NBA playoff success.  After all, didn’t Shaq (4 NBA titles and 123 playoff wins) flame out early every year at LSU, winning a grand total of two NCAA Tournament games in his three seasons in Baton Rouge?  Conversely, Christian Laettner won 21 NCAA Tournament  games at Duke, but his NBA teams only won 11 playoff games where he was a significant contributor (note: he also averaged 2.2 ppg in 11 more playoff wins with the Heat in 2005).  There are undoubtedly other examples that will support both viewpoints.  We tend to believe that the those who are destined to become superstars will ultimately use their talent and drive to work their way to that level, and whether those players learned how to do that in college or on the job in the L  doesn’t really matter.  Tonight Lebron will have his biggest opportunity yet to prove us right.      

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NBA Playoffs – Varsity Conference

Posted by rtmsf on April 20th, 2007

 NBA Western Conf Logo

(1) Dallas vs. (8) Golden State

Nellie’s baaaack.  This is probably the most interesting 1 vs. 8 matchup in many years.  Why?  For one, the Warriors have simply owned the Mavs over the last two seasons, winning five in a row between the clubs - and no other team beat Dallas twice this year.  Secondly, they’re hot, winning nine of their last ten, and finishing the season on a 16-5 run, no doubt sparked by the midseason trades of the Bonehead Brother and Troy Murphy, allowing the Warriors to play Nellie’s preferred smallball style.   Still, the Mavs have great players up and down their lineup, and didn’t win 67 games as a fluke.   Due to both teams looking to push the ball, this should be a tremendously entertaining series, but the Mavs’ experience will be the ultimate difference.  Make no mistake, though, they will get a scare here. 

The Pick – Dallas rides Nowitzki to a closeout win at home in Game 7.  Mavs in seven.   

(2) Phoenix vs. (7) LA Lakers

Over/Under on Kobe 50s?  1.5.  See, this is why we love the Varsity.  Another juicy matchup.  Since Kobe has decided that the only way LA has a chance to win games is by going medieval on his opponents, watching just to see the Mamba pursue Jordan’s record 63 vs. the Celtics is worth the time.  We also love the subplot of Raja Bell firmly implanting himself in Kobe’s head (and shorts) - perhaps this will be the year that Kobe remembers “that kid.”  Even so, despite last year’s close series until Kobe decided to “set up his teammates,” the two teams are further apart this time around.  Phoenix has Stoudemire back patrolling the middle, and the Lakers have regressed at key non-Kobe positions (particularly Smush Parker and Lamar Odom).  Phil Jackson will have to find a new Zen mantra in order to inspire enough confidence into those guys to beat the Suns this year.  Not gonna happen.         

The Pick - Kobe as The Man?  Zero playoff series wins in two seasons – make it three this time around.  Suns in five.   

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NBA Playoffs – JV Conference

Posted by rtmsf on April 19th, 2007

 NBA Playoffs Logo

We at Rush the Court don’t really get why so many college hoops fans do not appreciate the NBA playoffs, which features unquestionably the highest level of basketball played in the world.  Sure, the school spirit and passion of the fans isn’t the same, and the endless regular season often renders some players joyless and methodical.  But the playoffs are a different story.  The players defend better, fight through screens harder, and the very best of the bunch – Bird, Magic, Isiah, Jordan, Hakeem, Duncan, Shaq - rise to the occasion time and time again.  With the young guard of Wade, Lebron, Melo, Bosh and D. Howard ready to take the game to a higher plane for its generation, we find it compelling drama again this spring. 

The JV (Eastern, in common parlance) Conference has been so mediocre for so many years that it took us a while to remember when it was truly competitive with the West.  The last time you could say that the East was marginally on par with the West was 1999, immediately prior to the ascent of the Lakers (Phil Jackson arrived on the scene in 2000) and commensurate with the slow and steady descent of the mid-late 90s stalwarts Knicks, Heat, Pacers and Bulls (not so slowly or steadily).  In that lockout-shortened year, the West had five thirty-win teams, while the East had four – although their Finals representative was the 8th seeded and 27-win Knicks, perhaps already belying the weakness among the top eastern teams.  The very next season, in 2000, the West had six fifty-win teams, while the East only managed three.  Over the course of the next five years, arguably only one eastern team (Philadelphia in 2001; New Jersey in 2002-03; and Detroit in 2004-05) would have broken into the top six of the West.  Since Shaq came to Miami in 2005, the Heat along with the Pistons can be considered elite.  No other team in the East deserves that consideration.        

So here are the picks for the JV Conference: 

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