The game wasn’t close, but we’ve seen Memphis come back repeatedly after Game 1 losses, so we won’t make too much of this game. The question will be whether a young team like the Grizzlies can rise to the occasion in the conference finals against a veteran team like the Spurs. I Like the Spurs in this series, but game 1 outcomes can be deceiving. The Spurs have to hold the home court in this next game.
As we move into the second half of the NBA season, some unexpected teams are surging to the top of the ranks. Of course, nobody is surprised by the Miami Heat’s position at the top of the Eastern conference, but the wrong team from Los Angeles seems to be at the top, the Clippers. Many expected the Lakers to be the dominate team in the Western Conference, but they are not even in the picture right now. Here’s a quick look at where we stand as of right now:
1. Miami Heat
2. New York Knicks
3. Indiana Pacers
4. Atlanta Hawks
5. Chicago Bulls
6. Brooklyn Nets
7. Milwaukee Bucks
8. Boston Celtics
Biggest Surprises in the East
Probably the biggest surprise is the rivalry matchup sitting in the 2 and 3 seeds currently. Both Indiana and New York were expected to be in the playoff hunt, but not sitting right behind Miami with a legitimate chance to win the East. The Atlanta Hawks can also be thrown into this surprise group, as they are right behind the Pacers and not far behind the east leading Heat.
It’s going to be an exciting run to finish the season and snagging Indiana Pacers tickets for one of the final games, as they renew their historic rivalry with the Knicks, can lead to an exciting and memorable experience. All eight teams have winning records and the top four teams all have a real chance to win the conference.
1. Los Angeles Clippers
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
3. San Antonio Spurs
4. Memphis Grizzlies
5. Golden State Warriors
6. Houston Rockets
7. Denver Nuggets
8. Portland Trailblazers
Biggest Surprises in the West
The biggest surprise found in the western conference has to do with the team not in the playoff picture, as of right now. The 15-20 Los Angeles Lakers were picked to possibly win more games than any other NBA team in history, at the beginning of the season, but they currently sit 10 games back from the 8th and final playoff seed. Another huge surprise lurking even further back than the Lakers is the Dallas Mavericks.
Both of these teams have recently experienced quite a bit of success, but neither is even close to the playoff hunt right now. Without a long winning streak in the second half of the season, we may see the Lakers miss the playoffs for only the 6th time in franchise history and the first time since 2004-2005. We will most likely also see the playoffs played without Dallas for the first time since the 1999-2000 seasons.
With the two biggest surprises coming from the west, predicting the NBA finals teams isn’t all that easy. At the beginning of the year, many experts picked Miami and Los Angeles Lakers to make the finals. However, it’s necessary to re-evaluate the picture now and it’s very likely a team, such as the Indiana Pacers or the New York Knicks could build enough momentum to overtake Miami in the playoffs.
The west is all up for grabs and the most likely team to go to the finals is the San Antonio Spurs, simply because they know how to get there. Another team to look out for is the Oklahoma City Thunder, as they are young and capable of making a playoff run.
Whichever teams end up in the playoffs and the finals, this season has created quite a bit of excitement. The top teams in both conferences are only a few games apart from each other and nobody is running away with the conference titles. It will be exciting to watch and fun to see how it all shakes out.
New Orleans Hornets Chris Paul takes a breather during Game 5 of their NBA Western Conference first round playoff basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles, California April 26, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
With the news that David West plans to test free agency once a new CBA is finalized (whenever that is), the Hornets have two choices: 1) let him walk and further hurt their chances of re-signing Chris Paul, or 2) overpay to keep West. Let’s assume they do the pragmatic thing and let him walk. At that point, the franchise needs to take the long-term view and try to rebuild. Paul will most likely leave at the end of the season, so the Hornets should try to get as much as they can while they can, or else they’ll end up like the Cavs or the Raptors, watching their star walk away with very little to show for it.
With that in mind, here are five semi-reasonable trade offers for Chris Paul. I use the phrase ‘semi-reasonable’ because New Orleans fans need to keep their expectations in check — teams are never able to get equal value for their disgruntled/one-foot-out-the-door stars.
1. Thunder trade Russell Westbrook, Cole Aldrich, Thabo Sefolosha and Nate Robinson for CP3.
See this trade in the ESPN Trade Machine. The key to this trade is obviously Westbrook — a young All-Star who has proven that he’s not ready to lead the Thunder, who could absolutely take over the Western Conference if they could get heady, consistent point guard play. Westbrook is only 22, and could eventually develop into a top tier point guard, but right now he doesn’t know how to run a team. He turns the ball over way too much and his shot selection in crunch time is suspect at best. The Thunder shouldn’t wait for him to develop; with the Lakers and Spurs on the decline and Dirk Nowitzki getting older, the time is now for OKC. On the flip side, the Hornets have the luxury of letting him develop. Who knows, maybe he turns into a top 10 player. Even if he has plateaued, a 22-year-old All-Star is not a bad haul for CP3, who is likely out the door next summer. Aldrich and Sefolosha sweeten the deal a little bit, balance the salaries out, and give the Hornets a couple of young rotation players. As for Paul’s contract situation, call me crazy, but I think he signs a long-term deal given the opportunity to play with Kevin Durant and James Harden.
2. Celtics trade Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic for CP3 and Aaron Gray.
See this trade in the ESPN Trade Machine. This is a ‘one last run’ move for the Celtics, who aren’t going to get past the Heat and Bulls with their current lineup. Paul adds a new dimension to the Celtics offense and would be deadly in the pick-and-pop with Kevin Garnett. Plus, he’d give the Celtics a guy to build around once they decide to part ways with KG and Ray Allen, allowing Paul Pierce to fill a more complimentary role. (This assumes that Paul would be willing to re-up with the Celtics.) For the Hornets, they get an All-Star point guard who has had more ups than downs, along with a versatile forward (Green) who has proven he can score 16+ a game.
3. Clippers trade Eric Gordon, Mo Williams and the T-Wolves’ unprotected 2012 first round draft pick for CP3.
See this trade in the ESPN Trade Machine. Gordon developed into a 22 ppg scorer in just his third season in the league. Williams is a capable point guard (and former All-Star), but the other key to this trade is the Wolves’ unprotected 2012 first round pick that the Clippers own as part of the Marko Jaric trade. (That’s right, the T-Wolves are still paying for Marko Jaric.) With the direction Minnesota is headed, the pick is likely to be in the top 5, so the Hornets would likely get another player with star potential in the Draft. The Clippers would be able to pair CP3 with Blake Griffin, but the question is would there be enough talent on the roster to convince both players to re-up? Plus, there’s the Donald Sterling Factor.
4. Grizzlies trade Rudy Gay and Mike Conley for CP3.
See this trade in the ESPN Trade Machine. The Grizzlies proved that they could win without Gay, but struggled in crunch time because they didn’t have a playmaker on the perimeter. Paul would fit in well with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and maybe he’d be able to coax better production out of O.J. Mayo as well. The Hornets would get a very good small forward in Gay (20-6-3, 40% 3PT) along with an improving point guard (Conley) to replace Paul. The problem with this trade is Paul’s willingness to sign a long-term deal. It’s not likely that he’s going to want to stay in Memphis for the next five years.
5. Hawks trade Josh Smith and Jeff Teague for CP3.
See this trade in the ESPN Trade Machine. Perhaps Atlanta would need to include a first round pick to sweeten the deal, but Smith is a borderline All-Star (and possibly Atlanta’s best player) and Teague played very well when given the keys in the Playoffs. The Hawks would have one of the best backcourts in the league in Paul and Joe Johnson, and Al Horford is more than capable of hitting jumpers off the pick-and-pop. The Hornets would get a supremely talented power forward to replace David West and Teague could emerge as a starting-caliber point guard in a year or two.
In the end, the Hornets probably won’t make a bold trade including Paul, but the longer they wait, the worse off they’ll be. The Nuggets did all right with the Carmelo trade, but it nearly destroyed their season.
Oklahoma City Thunder center Kendrick Perkins (5) moves to the lane against Memphis Grizzlies’ forward Zach Randolph (50) during the first half of Game 1 of the second round of the Western Conference NBA basketball playoff in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, May 1, 2011. REUTERS/Steve Sisney (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
This Memphis team deserves a lot of credit. The Grizzlies are playing some very good basketball right now on both ends of the court. In Sunday’s Game 1, they allowed Kevin Durant (33 points) and Russell Westbrook (29 points) to get theirs, but they turned the Thunder over 18 times, which led to a +11 margin in shot attempts, and that turned out to be the difference in the game.
I’ve been harping on Russell Westbrook for a while, but the more I see him play, the more I realize that he’s simply not a point guard. He should play off guard a la Dwyane Wade. That way, he’d still be able to be a big part of the offense, but he wouldn’t be responsible for handling the ball all the time and setting his teammates up, two things that he struggles with. He had seven turnovers and 14 missed shots, so there’s 21 possessions where the Thunder didn’t score. He also gets stuck defensively on ball screens, and if he was playing more off guard, he’d be chasing screens off the ball, an area at which he excels. That said, the Thunder passed on Ricky Rubio and Stephen Curry in the ’09 draft and they don’t seem poised to move Westbrook off the ball anytime soon.
But back to the Grizzlies. Zach Randolph may be playing the best basketball in the playoffs right now. He scored 34 points and snagged 10 rebounds, while Marc Gasol went for 20-13 on 9-of-11 shooting. What’s interesting about this pair is that they wouldn’t be in Memphis if not for owner Michael Heisley’s decision to trade Pau Gasol to the Lakers a few years ago. Marc Gasol came over in the trade, but no one thought he would develop into the all-around big man that he has become. The Grizzlies were able to afford the trade for Randolph since they had the cap space left by the Pau Gasol trade.
At the time, the acquisition of Randolph didn’t look very promising considering he was overpaid and underachieving. But he has settled in nicely in Memphis and the duo have formed one of the best one-two frontcourt punches in the league. The Pau Gasol trade was still terrible on paper, but it has since worked out for both teams (albeit more so for the Lakers).