March Madness in the NBA

Look who’s back at it.

Welcome back to Beyond the Arc. After two months dedicated to completely digesting the action across the NBA, it’s time to recap where we are. It’s been awhile so lets get right into it. Here is a look at the current playoff picture.

Since our NBA Dojo Christmas Special, a lot has happened. Russell Westbrook, who last played in the Thunder’s Christmas Day Game against the Knicks, returned and has averaged 20.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, and 7.4 apg in the eight games he’s been back; including a triple double in only 20 minutes. If you can’t wrap your mind around that, he tallied a triple double in less than a half. The Thunder look like the biggest threat coming out of the Western Conference with the play of Kevin Durant, currently one of two players who are averaging a PER above 30.0. (The other player’s name may sound familiar. It starts with L and ends with eBron). The East is still a two-man race between the Heat and the Pacers but the other six spots are up for grabs. The Knicks, after all they’ve been through, are only three and a half games out of the eighth spot. How interesting would it be it the Heat played the Melo and the Knicks in the first round if New York finishes the season strong? Ultimately it will come down to Indiana and Miami. Whoever gets the #1 seed between those two is my pick for the Eastern Conference Finals.

I have to point out the impressive streak the Philadelphia Sixers are on right now. They are currently on a 16 game losing streak. I repeat, a 16 GAME LOSING STREAK. There is still two months of basketball left and we now have our first participant in the ‘Riggin for Not-Picking Wiggins’ Draft. I firmly believe that Andrew Wiggins will not go first overall. Joel Embiid may be the most talented player in this class. The freshman center out of Kansas has played terrifically this season and is destined for a top-five selection. Under the assumption he ducks out of school after his first year, but as I’m writing this I stumbled upon this tweet that may have me second-guessing myself.

That being said, the Sixers have put the “Tanking” thought in the other teams’ minds. I’m looking at you, Boston, New Orleans, Milwaukee, Orlando, and Utah. Your time to lose multiple games in the hopes of landing a top-five draft pick is coming!! Look for the first of three NBA Mock Drafts at the beginning of next week with a little more insight on the teams looking towards the lottery.

For now, lets break down the top-15 teams looking towards the playoffs as of March 6th. Here is a look at the first 2014 Sports Dojo NBA Power Rankings:

  1. Miami Heat – They may not own the #1 seed in the East but LeBron put on a show during the month of February. Five players averaged more than 30 points during the month of February and he was one of them. (30.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 6.7 apg)

  2. Indiana Pacers – Coming out of the break they were 6-1 before dropping four straight games heading into Monday. The Pacers clinched a playoff berth but the #1 seed is still up for grabs so don’t stop now, Indy. The Pacers also got rid of Danny Granger’s expiring contract before the trade deadline, acquiring Evan Turner from Philly. And for some reason that is unclear to me they picked up Andrew Bynum. No comment.

  3. Oklahoma City Thunder – Kevin Durant has more than proved himself as a worthy MVP candidate this season. With Russell Westbrook working his way back into form, the Thunder are looking more and more dangerous. The addition of Caron Butler from the Bucks will ensure some safety at the 2 and 3 spots while Thabo Sefolosha deals with an injury.

  4. Los Angeles ClippersBlake Griffin is the unsung hero of this squad. Check out the tale of the past two seasons for Griffin:

  • 2012-2013: 80 games played, 18.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 3.7 apg, 22.4 PER

  • 2013-2014: through 62 games, 24.2 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 3.5 apg, 23.7 PER

He’s stepped up this season during Chris Paul’s absence (he’s missed 19 games so far this season) and he is the main reason that the Clippers currently sit in the 4th position in the West.

  1. San Antonio Spurs – They just shut down LeBron James on Thursday Night. Splitting the season series with the defending champs 1-1. Kawhi Leonard finally came back from a hand injury and has given the Spurs one of their healthiest and deepest lineups of the year. I’m looking forward to a possible Spurs-Thunder Western Conference Finals match-up.

  2. Houston RocketsDwight Howard has been impressive in his past 10 games. Posting a 18.9 ppg-12.1 rpg line while shooting 65% from the field. The Rockets are also one of the hottest teams in 2014. They have gone 23-6 since January 1st.

  3. Portland Trailblazers – Without question this team is dangerous. I’m interested in their rotation come playoff time. Three of Portland’s starters are ranked in the top 20 of total minutes played this season. Foul trouble will play a factor as well as their ability to hit the 3-point shot (currently ranked 2nd as a team in 3-point makes).

  4. Chicago Bulls – They’ve turned their season around and they recently acquired Jimmer Fredette to insure some backcourt depth and long-range shooting. The Bulls are a very dangerous 4 seed that can give trouble to Indiana and Miami because they live on defense, slow tempo, and low scoring games, which is something that the NBA playoffs are known for. They also just pulled off an impressive win in an OT game against the Heat in Chicago. Don’t forget about this team.

  5. Golden State Warriors – Since the break they’re 9-2 and looking to attain one of the top four spots in the Western Conference. The more time the Warriors spend at home in the playoffs, the farther they will go.

  6. Dallas Mavericks – I have to admit I was surprised the Mavericks have held on to the 7th and 8th seed for so long. I thought this team would fade away, but after a strong February (went 9-3), they’ve positioned themselves into a tough first round matchup with one of the big Western Conference teams.

  7. Memphis Grizzles – They’ve battled injuries to both Marc Gasol and Mike Conley yet they’re still in the thick of the playoff race. Their offensive game plan worries me considering they rank in the bottom 5 in terms of points scored per game.

  8. Phoenix Suns – It’s time to play the Sports Dojo’s Stat Challenge. Can you guess whose stat line this belongs to?

  • 2012-2013: 77 games played, 14.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 7.4 apg, .443 FG%, .319 3P%,

  • 2013-2014: through 58 games, 20.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 6.2 apg, .509 FG%, .421 3P%

(Take a second and think)

If you guessed Eric Bledsoe……I’m sorry but you are incorrect. The right answer is Goran Dragic; my pick for the NBAs Most Improved Player Award this season. Before anyone says the reason his stats are up is because he’s playing more minutes, he averaged 33.5 minutes last season and is averaging 34.7 minutes this season. Regardless, he’s been a terrific player to watch.

  1. Toronto RaptorsDeMar DeRozan averaged 26.4 ppg in February and the Raptors are sitting in the 3rd seed thanks to a very lackluster division. We’ll see what happens in the first round of the playoffs.

  2. Brooklyn Nets – Currently sitting in the 6th seed, they’re going to fight for the rest of the season so that they don’t fall into the 7th or 8th seed matchups against either Indiana or Miami.

  3. Minnesota Timberwolves – LeBron’s February was impressive but not as impressive as Kevin Love. Check out this line: 34.0 ppg, 14.1 rpg, 4.0 apg, .487 FG%, .848 FT%, .415 3P%. I can’t wait to see where he goes when his contract expires at the end of next season (2014-2015).

Check back in later this week for the first Sports Dojo NBA Mock Draft and as always, continue to enjoy.

Twitter: @brosephmeola

E-Mail: senseimeola@gmail.com

Post-NBA All Star Game Dojo Spar

Greg to Joe

So the NBA All-Star Game just happened… I didn’t watch. I prefer Saturday’s festivities, personally. I know that the Dunk Contest usually is quite boring, but I always have to watch. I watch so I don’t miss out on a never-before-seen dunk. I had also bet on that event, along with the 3-Point Contest. I had bet on Ben McLemore in the Dunk Contest. Unfortunately, McLemore had to “Battle” against John Wall, who had the best dunk of the night. I, also, did not like the format at all. It was a lot stupider than they led it on to be, and I was left feeling like there was no real winner. Bradley Beal had a valiant effort, but fell short to Marco Belinelli; meaning my bet fell just short.

(And you always have to Celly)

With the NFL season ending two weeks ago, I was able to think about this season as a whole. First of all, the Seahawks were the best team and deserved to win the Super Bowl. They were the best team all year and deserved the title. That is the first time that has happened in a long time. I can’t even think of the last time that happened. It may have been when the Steelers beat the Cardinals in 2009, I think.

I also have some thoughts about some sleepers for next year. Do you have any thoughts about that?

Joe to Greg

I actually listened to the first quarter of the NBA All-Star Game on the radio on my drive up to school. By the end of the quarter the announcers ran out of way to describe the dunks that Blake Griffin was doing. I’m with you though; I prefer Saturday’s festivities more, but I’d have to say I was disappointed. The format was too lackadaisical. The first round was an awkward 90 seconds, and the battle stage wasn’t really as exciting as I was expecting. Props to John Wall on his dunk, I was impressed with that and Damian Lillard‘s between the legs dunk.

I looked back to our past Dojo Spars and we both predicted 4 of the 6 NFC playoff teams in July. I didn’t get a chance to look at the AFC side but there is no question that the Seahawks were the best team this year. The only real concern I had for this team was playing outside of Seattle, and they handled that fairly well, I’d say. As far as sleepers for next year, you’re going to have to give me one more E-mail because I haven’t put much thought into it. I will say that I think some of the players coming out of the NFL Draft have the chance to immediately make an impact on some teams.

Greg to Joe

The NFL Draft is always fun. I can’t wait to see what happens at the combine. I don’t watch, but I like to see the crazy stats that come out of it. Apparently, Jadeveon Clowney said he is going to break a 4.4 40 yard time. That would be INSANE for a man his side. It is also fun to see the crazy changes in mock draft boards after the combine.

Rookies that will make an impact right away, I think, are Clowney, Sammy Watkins, and Mike Evans (You know what? That list really makes me wonder what I am doing with my life because they are all younger than me). I can’t say much about the offensive linemen, but they could be impactful as well. My reasoning for these three are Clowney is just a freak. If he wants to, he can dominate a game. He could end up being on the same D-line as JJ Watt, which would just be scary for all of the QBs in the AFC South and, quite frankly, the NFL as a whole. Watkins will improve any NFL offense he joins. He can stretch the field, but he is also big and can jump. Yet, he is also larger than most CBs in the league. Evans is a Wes Welker-type receiver, and it is not because he is white. He is a great possession receiver that can catch anything over the middle. He will do great as a slot receiver on any team (hopefully the Ravens).

My deep sleeper team for next year has to be the Browns. They have a great defense. If they can keep Alex Mack for their center position, draft one of three top quarterbacks in the draft, and get a receiver at the back end of the first round, they could be deadly. I mean they are the most dysfunctional franchise in the history of the NFL so this probably won’t happen.

My sleeper team for 2015 is the St. Louis Rams. They are in the toughest division in the NFL, but they are really talented. If they could dump Sam Bradford and draft a top QB and grab a lineman or receiver, they could have the offense to compete in the NFC West.

Joe to Greg

I think the Browns have a very good defense. They played extremely well in a game they should have won against the Patriots this season. One of my other predictions is that the 49ers are going to win the NFC West. I don’t think this is too far out of the question, or on the level of a dark horse like the Browns, but I think that they came so close to edging the Seahawks in the NFC Championship game. The 49ers have the team capable of dethroning the defending Super Bowl Champs. That division is only getting better as Arizona looks to improve on a strong finish to their season.

Another team I’m looking for next season is the Chargers. I think Phillip Rivers put together one of the best seasons of his career. He threw for close to 4,500 yards (4,478 is the actual number) and also had his highest completion percentage of his career (69.5 – compare to 64.1 last year). How the Chargers contend with the Broncos and Chiefs will be interesting. Will we see 3 teams from this division go to the playoffs? Is that possible? Who knows.

How do you feel about the O’s picking up Ubaldo Jimenez?

Greg to Joe

If 3 teams from the AFC West go to the playoffs again, I would not be surprised, but I think it will probably be different. I bet the Dolphins make the playoffs this next year. Tannehill is too good, and they will have finally gotten their Bully-Gate behind them.

But enough about football… IT’S BASEBALL SEASON

I am loving what the Orioles are doing. They are paying Ubaldo Jimenez a lot, but it should be worth it because, sadly, he is better than most of their pitching rotation. They also got a STEAL in Nelson Cruz. They get potentially 25-30 homers from him, if he can stay healthy. With the price only being 8 million dollars, that is awesome. I think they shouldn’t stop though. They need to pick up Ervin Santana and accept that they won’t have a draft pick until the 4th or 5th round in the upcoming draft. If they get Santana, the Blue Jays do not get him and he improves the O’s rotation. I am excited for this season and to see what happens with Ervin Santana.

Boston Red Sox starting lineup in Game 1 of the 2013 ALCS (Photo Cred: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Boston Red Sox starting lineup in Game 1 of the 2013 ALCS (Photo Cred: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

You like what the Sox have/haven’t done this off-season and are you excited them for to try and defend their title?

Joe to Greg

Coming into the season I’m extremely excited to see Xander Bogaerts play. That being said, I wasn’t expecting Ryan Dempster to leave. He was a great starter during the season, and I thought he’d stay for at least one more year. I like the addition of Edward Mujica, formerly of the St. Louis Cardinals, as well. I think he strengthens their bullpen going forward.

I think that Cruz addition is great for the Orioles. That just helps their line up out even more. I also agree that the O’s need to keep going. The Yankees have made a splash this off season, the Rays have a great rotation coming in, and the Sox have made a few additions. Its gearing up to be another competitive AL East. I love it.

Greg Danchik and Joe Meola

X-Mas Special – The 4th Issue

Welcome back to the final edition of the Sports Dojo NBA Christmas Special. It’s time for part IV. The final piece devoted to some of the best highlights around the league so far this season. As always we’ll start with the lighter side of the NBA.

The Small Moments That Aren’t About Basketball

-Udonis Haslem and Michael Beasley having fun with a kid before the game.

-Shawne William’s blows powder in Nick Young’s face during a game.

-Nikola Pekovic having fun with teammate J.J. Barea on the bench.

-Zach Randolph gives his warm-up shirt to a Grizzles’ fan with special needs

The Best Celebrations After Gettin’ Buckets

-Jonas Valanciunas and-one celebration versus the San Antonio Spurs

-Pau Gasol after hitting a 3-Point shot; he’s only made 38 his whole career.

Most Creative Passes

-Kevin Love’s full court pass. How does he know there’s a guy on the other end of the court?

-This could go down in another category but a great pass by LeBron nonetheless.

-More of a hustle play but a great all around effort by the Spurs’ players.

-Can’t get over how much Tim Duncan curves this pass.

The Best One-on-One

-Lance Stephenson with yet another great individual move.

-I expect nothing less from Jamal Crawford.

Enjoy the rest of your holidays everyone. We’ll see you in the new year and as always, continue to enjoy. 

Joe Meola

NBA Christmas Special – Part 3

Welcome back to the Sports Dojo NBA X-Mas Special: Part 3. You know the drill by now so let’s just get right into it. We’ve spent the past two days looking at the “playoff teams” if the NBA postseason were to start on Christmas. It’s time to turn our attention to the teams on the outside looking in. If you’ve missed out on the first two parts, you can find them here and here.

Eastern Conference: (number reflects current playoff position)

9. Chicago Bulls (10-16): Unfortunately I don’t see this team hanging around and advancing to the playoffs. After Derrick Rose dropped out, there chances were slim to none. They average 91.8 ppg, tied with Charlotte for worst in the league. One of the best small forwards not named LeBron James or Kevin Durant is Luol Deng. Quietly averaging 19.6 ppg and 7.0 rpg, he is the reason the Bulls have won as many games as they have. Although his play has been remarkable, he’s been plagued by a nagging Achilles injury. Never count this team out at home, as they are 7-5 and surprisingly have a 9-9 record against Eastern Conference teams.

10. Cleveland Cavaliers (10-16): Kyrie Irving has not had a lot of help so far this season. Remember when the Cavs shocked the NBA and took Anthony Bennett with the #1 overall pick? Well he’s averaging 2.2 ppg, 2.0 rpg, and 0.2 apg. Basically sums up the season for the Cavs so far as they have not performed well. Especially on the road, going 2-12.

11. Brooklyn Nets (9-17): There aren’t many bright spots to this season as the Nets recent lost Brook Lopez to injury. They’ve gone 5-11 against the East and have struggled in all areas. Definitely not the season Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce imagined when they came to Brooklyn in the offseason.

Western Conference: (number reflects current playoff position)

9. Golden State Warriors (16-13): Over the past couple of days the Warriors have slipped into the 8th seed, but because of the timeline of these posts, we’ll keep them in the 9-hole. Stephen Curry has been brilliant, posting 24.3 ppg, 9.2 apg, and 24.6 PER. He’s attempted the most 3-pointers in the league (205) and made the 3rd most (85). One area to watch is Curry’s turnovers. He has committed the most in the league (102), which is not something to boast about. This team is starting to play well with Andre Iguodola coming back from injury to help guard some of the tougher small forwards in the league.

10. Los Angeles Lakers (13-14): One of the best stories in the NBA (other than the Derrick Rose comeback) was the Kobe Bryant comeback. It was cut short when he went down with a knee injury. Simply put, the league is better with Kobe playing and every game he plays in should be cherished, knowing he’s closer and closer to the end of his career.

11. Minnesota Timberwolves (13-15): If you’re looking for one player to watch on a given night, watch Kevin Love. He has failed to reach a double-double in just two of the 27 games he’s played this season. Just look at this monster stat line: 25.9 ppg, 13.9 rpg, 4.2 apg, .458 FG%, .381 3P%, and 27.9 PER. He is an absolute stud. Ricky Rubio is an assist machine and gets the award for most creative passes but he needs to find that scoring touch. Although he lacks a scoring instinct, he has the most steals in the league (75) and fourth most assists (225). I expect this team in the discussion for the final two or three playoff spots in the league.

Predictions:

(East)

Chicago Bulls – 10th seed

Cleveland Cavaliers – 9th seed

Brooklyn Nets – 12th seed

(West)

Golden State Warriors – 7th seed

Los Angles Lakers – 10th seed

Minnesota Timberwolves – 8th seed

Although I promised some of the top individual shots, passes, and moves so far this season, we’re going to hold off one more day, but I can’t help myself from giving a little preview. Here are two highlights of what you can expect to see from the NBA greats.

-This guy is up there with Jamal Crawford for best one-on-one moves. He’s blossoming into one of the best 2-guards for years to come.

-This is just one of the many reasons why Ricky Rubio is a magician with the ball.

Just wait, the moves get better and the passes get more creative. As always, continue to enjoy.

Twitter: @brosephmeola

E-mail: senseimeola@gmail.com

NBA X-mas Special Part 2

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Welcome back to the second of a four-part mini series devoted to all things NBA. Today is a look at the mighty Western Conference. There have been some surprises and some busts so let’s jump right into it. As usual, here’s another glimpse of the comedic side of the NBA.

-For once it isn’t a Heat player, but another example of how frivolous some NBA players are. Courtesy of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Western Conference:

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder (22-4) – Through 27 games, they have  an impressive 13-1 record at home. It’s extremely difficult to slow down this team as they average 106.0 ppg. In the Eastern Conference Review, I referenced LeBron James’ impressive 30.0 PER. In the West, Kevin Durant is right there with him owning a 28.2 PER. Reggie Jackson has quietly averaged 15.2 ppg over his past five contests, relieving some of the pressure placed on Durant and Russell Westbrook.
  2. Portland Trailblazers (23-5) – If you want to watch an entertaining team, look no further than “Rip City”. Currently the leagues most explosive offense, they average 108.4 ppg. The Trailblazers have been lead by strong play from LaMarcus Aldridge (23.1 ppg + 11.0 rpg), Damian Lillard (21.5 ppg + 5.8 apg), and Nicolas Batum (14.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 5.3 apg). Greg brought up an extremely important point in our most recent spar when he discussed the heavy workload of the Portland and Indiana starters. These three players are also all ranked in the top 10 of total minutes played and will need rest with the playoffs on the horizon.
  3. San Antonio Spurs (21-6) – This team has different players contributing in different ways every night. They’re the second best shooting team in the league behind the Miami Heat with a .489 field goal percentage. The Spurs also are ranked second in total assists (690), meaning they love to share the ball. The Spurs are built for the post season so until then, they’re on cruise control.
  4. Los Angeles Clippers (19-9) – Another team with an explosive offense. The Clippers average 104.5 ppg and have the number one producer of assists in the league thanks to Chris Paul (304 total/11.3 apg/27.7 PER). One element of their team that can plague them in the playoffs is the amount of personal fouls they commit (618), which is ranked 3rd most in the league.
  5. Houston Rockets (18-10) – After a 5-4 start to their 2013 campaign, the Rockets have started to mesh well with the arrival of Dwight Howard, going 13-6 since that mark. A weakness of this team is their free throw shooting. As a team their FT% is .696; second worst in the league. Although they lack the ability to hit from the charity strike, they’re sandwiched in between the Trailblazers and the Thunder for most points per game (106.4). If the playoffs were to start today, they would face a matchup with the Clippers, which may be the most intriguing matchup of the first round.
  6. Phoenix Suns (16-10) – Wow, what a surprise! I must admit I didn’t think the Suns had it in them. As Christmas rolls around they are still very much in the hunt for the playoffs, but it’s difficult to trust they’re consistency. At one point they were 9-9, but out of no where they have gone 6-1 over their past seven games and have quality wins over the Mavericks, Nuggets, Warriors, and Rockets. It’s hard to pin their early success on one player but the guard play of Eric Bledsoe (19.1 ppg/6.3 apg/21.4 PER) and Goran Dragic (18.7 ppg/5.9 apg/20.2 PER) has been remarkable.
  7. Dallas Mavericks (15-12) – They have a weak record against other Western teams (8-9) and can never seem to get a string of wins together. This is another team much like the Spurs, who love to share the ball (23.3 apg as a team – 6th best in the league). A very confusing team in my opinion considering in the month of December they have two bad loses to Phoenix and Golden State but a quality win against Portland. Between Dallas and Denver, I think only one will make the playoffs. One aspect of this team that I love is their free throw shooting. As a team they are the 3rd best team in the NBA in FT% with .804, one of only three teams above the .800 level.
  8. Denver Nuggets (14-12) – The success of this team hinges on the play of Ty Lawson as he contributes in various statistical areas. Through 24 games played, he averages 17.6 ppg and 7.9 apg with a 20.4 PER. These are one of the teams I don’t expect to finish in the top eight because of they’re record against Western Conference teams (7-10) and with Golden State and Minnesota on their tails.

While the West may appear as the dominant of the two conferences, there will only be one winner. All of these teams are extremely talented but they continue to beat up on each other which is why the race for seeds 6-10 will be so interesting to watch. You thought the AFC playoff picture was interesting in the NFL? Just wait until you see the Western Conference in about three months.

Stay tuned tomorrow for a look into some of the teams on the outside looking in from each conference as well as some of the best individual shots, passes, and moves so far. Here is a preview to get you in the right mood. 

 

-Did you think Blake Griffin could do this? I sure didn’t. 

Don’t be afraid to leave comments and feedback and as always, continue to enjoy.

Twitter: @brosephmeola

E-mail: senseimeola@gmail.com