Anybody But Golden State

We’re nearing the end to another season, it’s that annual time of year where i trick myself into believing anybody but the Golden State Warriors will be standing atop the NBA World for another year. Maybe the Houston Rockets will finally put it all together? Or perhaps the Toronto Raptors? Nah. Let’s be real. It’s always Golden State. Once again playing in their malaise state for most of the season they’ve cinched up the number one seed thanks in part to most of the Rockets team regressing.

Of course, I begrudgingly have to admit the duo of Stephen Curry (probably will receive mild MVP considerations this season) and Kevin Durant are always a force to be reckon with, even if we don’t want to acknowledge how great Durant truly is, we have to.

This is the third season in the real-life cheat code that is the KD-era Warriors. We’ve seen them light the world on fire from beginning of the season to the very end. We also seen them sleepwalk with the occasional smackdown laying just to remind us who are the real sheriffs of these parts.

Still there is hope. Albeit, likely false hope. While the Oklahoma City Thunder on paper have the potential to eclipse the Mega-Powers exploding for WrestleMania V. I can’t put much faith in OKC given their previous history of shortcomings in the Russell Westbrook-era and Paul George’s nagging shoulder injury. Since January 26th George is shooting 40.6 percent from the field, a far cry from his 44.8 percentage prior to the injury. So the Thunder are a non-factor.

The San Antonio Spurs are a story I desperately want to happen. The narrative is too juicy to ignore. DeMar DeRozan’s history of playoff ineptitude lead to the franchise he trusted to trade him away for a superior superstar and is out to prove to everyone you can win the big one with him as your number one. There’s also the factor the curmudgeon Gregg Popovich, a noted critic of the NBA’s reliance on three-pointers, built this team in the mold fitting 2002, post-up and mid-rangers. And we’re shocked they haven’t cracked fifty-wins?

Currently the Spurs sit at 47-34 with one contest left on their schedule before the playoffs begin. If victorious against the 32-48 Dallas Mavericks the Spurs likely vault the Thunder for the sixth (Rockets and Bucks are left on their docket) and face Houston in round one. Historically, the Spurs have had Houston’s number and subsequently Mike D’Antoni’s. This year is no exception. San Antonio’s won three of the four contest this season. James Harden and Chris Paul were available for all but one game, which Houston won 108-101. For Houston, if they can overcome San Antonio I like their chances beating Golden State considering they’re largely the same team which took the champs to the brink before CP-3 got hurt. The cliche of “They are peaking at the right time” rings true for Houston. They are healthy, well-rounded and finding Austin Rivers on the scrap heap arguably saved their season.

As for San Antonio, the one ace they have up their sleeve is the old-school squads usually give Golden State issues. They went into last year’s series undermanned and fought valiantly against the Warriors. Add DeRozan into the mix they’ll surely garner ten or more points per game. Can they beat Golden State? No. They can take them to six-games though.

We know the stories with Utah and Portland. Utah’s second best offensive force is Joe Ingles, so they’re out. Plus, the Warriors have answers for Rudy Gobert. Portland only got swept because Maurice Harkless wasn’t healthy for the playoffs; the story is different this time around. If Harkless is healthy and can make his jump shots then Damian Lillard won’t be subjected to the punishment New Orleans unleashed on him. As for their prospects against Golden State, I’d like them a lot more of Jusuf Nurkic didn’t break his leg.

This leaves the Denver Nuggets. Here are my doubts: Nikola Jokic’s ability to not be a liability on defense in the playoffs and the team’s issues playing on national television. I like them a lot. I think Michael Malone deserves Coach of the Year considerations for the job he’s done keeping this team far above water when 98 percent of the roster began the season on the injury list. But the Nuggets simply aren’t ready.

My motto is simple… “Anybody but Golden State… and Philly… and Toronto…”

Will The Spurs Miss The Playoffs?

DeJounte Murray’s absence places a lot of emphasis on Patty Mills for the Spurs to make the playoffs. Can the 30-year-old meet expectation?

In August I posted on Twitter my half baked projections of the NBA standings for the upcoming 2018/19 season. I held high hopes for many, some teams I had no idea how we believed in them at all. Back in August, I looked at the San Antonio Spurs as an exciting dark horse to make a run at the Western Conference Title. No, really! With LaMarcus Aldridge coming off a All-NBA season and scorer DeMar DeRozan aiding him in the backcourt, the Spurs possess the ability to be the most electrifying team in their franchise’s history since George Gervin.

Unfortunately, the losses of forward Kyle Anderson to the Grizzlies in free agency, and Dejounte Murray to season ending ACL tear leaves two gigantic holes in the Spurs once well-rounded rotation. Previously, the Spurs were a Kawhi Leonard away from winning 50-games and possibly sneaking back into the final four. As unspectacular San Antonio was to watch, coach Gregg Popovich lead a team of responsible players who all tried very hard on both ends of the floor. Even Rudy Gay, the turnstile he is, seemed to have a come-to-Jesus moment upon entering the Spurs organization.

If you are to simply add DeRozan to this team who’s won 47-games without their MVP candidate and also subtract two-way wing player Danny Green, the ceiling for San Antonio is higher than we give them credit for. But, this is not the reality. History says never bet against the Spurs – it’s as foolish as proclaiming the Patriots dead in early September. Year, after year they’ve tended off the enviable regression. Unlike New England, fans aren’t crossing their fingers for their 41-year-old star to defy Father Time for another season. Aldridge and DeRozan are still relatively in their primes and are not fossilizing – at least right now.

To believe the Spurs can win over 45-games you need to believe there’s another level for 30-year-old Patty Mills to reach. Mills is a fine, adequate point guard. His field goal percentage fell off from 44% in 2016-17 during a contract season, to 41.1%. While a bounce back isn’t unexpected, the Spurs need more than just 44% of his shots to go into the hole. They’ll need Mills to pick up the slack on efficiency and on the defensive end, seeing as Aldridge and DeRozan aren’t much of defenders themselves. At 6-0 Mills isn’t intimidating no one, the Spurs regularly don’t make in-season trades but under these circumstances a call to Ainge inquiring him about Terry Rozier or to Cleveland for George Hill shouldn’t be ruled out.

Is this the year San Antonio finally falters and misses the playoffs? I certainly hope not. Not because I’ve adopted the Spurs as my second team, I just have too much respect for them and what they’ve accomplished in 20-years. If they are to regress, the Nuggets, Clippers and Lakers surely are the favorites to take their spot in the pecking order.

Kawhi Leonard: A Long Armed T-Rex

It didn’t matter LeBron James now plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri was long fed up with this core of players that time and time again proved ineffective when the chips were down. As his competitors reload on talent, the Raptors could not afford to stand idle. The trade for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard pushes all the chips in the middle of the table; if it doesn’t work out then they’ll just rebuild. All this season costs them is a contract many perceived as immovable.

For who on the Raptors is to guard Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics, or the non-shooting threat “Point-Forward” Ben Simmons of Philadelphia? Not only does Kawhi Leonard answer that question, the acquisition of fellow Spur shooting guard Danny Green helps. Even though the last three-seasons the 6-6 versatile SG shot just 38.4% from the field, his defense has never wavered when healthy. A lanky 6-10 wingspan gives Green the ability to guard a variety of guards and small-forwards. This is a luxury Toronto’s never had prior.

There are of course many uncertainties that lay in this collection of talented athletes. Can Kyle Lowry, will turn 33 next March, prolong his decline that’s already taken place? His field goal percentage dropped from 46.4 in 2015-16 to 42.7; in the last 39 games of last season Lowry conceivably turned a corner but only raised his shooting percentage 0.1. Points per game down from 22.4 to 16.2, Toronto didn’t have to worry much about that because of dynamic scorer DeMar DeRozan carrying the workload on that end of the floor. New head coach Nick Nurse will have to come to grips that Lowry is not the same player as he was before and that 24-year-old Fred VanVleet is the starting point guard of the future. The sooner he realizes this the better.

Center Serge Ibaka is set to turn 29 in September. Already we’ve seen his decline in block-rate, but I’m more confident in him scrapping together one more quality season than I am in Lowry.

DeMar DeRozan is now a Spur. The most beloved Raptor is gone, thus closing the book on the strongest era of Raptors-basketball to date. This new era isn’t likely to last past this season, but it can be the most fruitful. Toronto’s sights are lower than Boston or Philly’s. All their modest fans want is an NBA Finals game in Canada, doesn’t matter if they are swept by the Warriors in the process. And it’s possible Kawhi gets them there.