The Lakers have re-upped Bryant so it’s pointless to debate the merits of the deal. The club may have over-paid for the player that Bryant is at this point in his career, but you have to admire their interest in rewarding their superstar for what he’s done for the franchise. In a difficult Western Conference it’s difficult to see the Lakers competing for one of the final playoff spots. Los Angeles currently sits at 12th in the west, in a solid group of teams that includes Denver, Minnesota, New Orleans and Memphis. The Dallas and Phoenix greatly improved the already competitive west has become even tougher. With the Lakers playoff chances dim does it make sense to sit Bryant the entire regular season?Actually getting the famously competitive Bryant to sit out the season is a challenge in itself, but the idea of sitting Bryant does make some sense. Without Bryant the Lakers were surprisingly competitive due to the roster decisions they made in the offseason. An entire year off would give Bryant the ability to truly recover, both from the knee injury and the Achilles. There is no indication that the two injuries are related but Bryant has now suffered two major injuries on the same leg in the past eight months. A fully recovered Bryant, even if he’s diminished athletically, will allow the Lakers to achieve the max value out of his two-year extension. During the remainder of the regular season the club can take a long look at some of the younger players (Wes Johnson, Nick Young, Jordan Farmar) that have helped ignite them this season. The combination of a potential lottery big and any value the club can get for Pau Gasol in a potential trade will give the Lakers even more versatility next season.
The Lakers fan base can tolerate a subpar season to build for the future. A fully recovered Bryant and a solid draft pick can do wonders for the franchise as they move into next season. Meanwhile let’s sit back and enjoy this year’s team, who though far less talented are a lot more entertaining than last year’s Dwight Howard centered club. By:Chris Michaels.
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The West Elite: (San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors)
The veteran San Antonio Spurs picked up where they left off and are off to a fast start to begin the season. They’re well coached, experienced and deep and should contend for the top record in the NBA all season. If Tim Duncan and Tony Parker can stay healthy the Spurs are the favorites for a return trip to the finals. The Oklahoma City Thunder welcomed back Russell Westbrook early and their star point guard seems to be the same explosive player he was before his meniscus tear. The Thunder is 5-1 on the season with their lone loss versus the Minnesota Timberwolves. The presence of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook guarantees 55 to 60 wins—how that translates into the postseason is the big question. The Thunder still misses that extra scorer that James Harden once provided. The Los Angeles Clippers are still adjusting to the coaching style of Doc Rivers, but have a deep lineup and bench and an elite point guard in Chris Paul.
The Next in Line: (Minnesota, Memphis, Dallas, Houston)
The Minnesota Timberwolves are finally healthy and displaying the potential that many predicted when Ricky Rubio arrived in the United States. In Rubio, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic the Wolves have one of the best trios in basketball and an elite Head Coach in Rick Adelman. The Wolves acquisition of Kevin Martin, who thrived under Adelman in Sacramento, has given the club the strong perimeter shooting two guard they missed. Look for the Wolves to challenge the 50 win mark and reach the playoffs for the first time under Love. Memphis switched Head Coaches, with Dave Joerger taking over for Lionel Hollins. They’ve struggled initially in the transition but still feature the same big and physical lineup that’s worked for them the past three seasons. Marc Gasol is one of the league’s best centers and he forms perhaps the best center/power forward combination in basketball with Zach Randolph. The Dallas Mavericks, who missed the playoffs last season, have rebuilt to make another run. The newly minted backcourt of Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon is working so far, giving Dirk Nowitzki the guard play he hasn’t had since the Mavs title run. The key for Dallas, like San Antonio, is the health of their veteran players. Over in Houston the Rockets have the potential to be in the elite group, but have struggled defensively so far this season. Dwight Howard is showing many of the same inconsistencies he displayed in Los Angeles last season and he’s not yet providing the interior defensive presence the Rockets desperately need. Houston can score points on anybody; the big question is whether or not they can defend like an NBA title contender. Right now the jury is still out.
On the Upswing: (Portland)
The Blazers are off to a fast start (5-2), although only one victory is over a legit playoff contender (San Antonio). That being said the Blazers look to be a club that can occupy the playoff position(s) that the Lakers and/or Denver may be vacating. LaMarcus Aldridge is one of the premier power forwards in the game, while Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum are consistently improving their game. The Blazers have been efficient, reducing turnovers, and are second in the conference in field goal attempts per game. Their +4.0 scoring margin is good for 5th in the conference.
Bubble Teams: (Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans)
Putting the Lakers in the bubble team category may be a stretch. Their success hinges on how close to .500 they are when Kobe Bryant returns. Los Angeles has improved their overall depth and the youth of their roster, but still lacks the quality depth of most playoff contenders. It’s questionable whether or not Steve Nash has anything left in the tank as he battles persistent injuries. If Nash can’t provide the minutes the Lakers need they may plummet down the standings. The Pelicans are an interesting club. They’ve had some good victories this season as well as some bad performances. They’ve injected some talent into their roster but it’s still not clear how the backcourt trio of Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, Jrue Holliday will co-exist due to their high ball usage rate. Inside though the Pelicans have the emerging Anthony Davis who’s quickly becoming the superstar many predicted. Davis alone could be the difference maker that vaults the Pelicans into playoff contention.
The Pretenders: (Sacramento, Denver)
The Sacramento Kings have a talented roster that once again looks like a bunch of spare parts. DeMarcus Cousins is one of the most talented big men in the game, putting together a solid season. His checkered past though makes it hard to rely on him day in and day out. Ben McLemore has great potential but he’s young and finding his place in the NBA. The Kings have nice depth inside and some solid role players, but due to the consistent roster overhaul it’s been hard for them to find consistency. They’ll be a lottery team again. Denver, a Western Conference power last season is off to a slow start in the post-George Karl era. Losing several key roster components, like Andre Iguodola, Corey Brewer and Kosta Koufus has disrupted their rotation. They still have Ty Lawson to lead the team but the recent injury to Javale McGee is another blow to their depth. Denver has a significant home court advantage at Pepsi Center that could make them a fringe playoff contender, but it’s hard to see them making much of a run.
Andrew Wiggins Contenders: (Utah)
The Jazz are the NBA’s worst right now. With Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson playing for other teams the Jazz are relying on the young of Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward and Enes Kanter to provide the bulk of the scoring. The trio has potential but they’re young and overmatched against the rest of the Western Conference. Utah is solidly positioned to get a high lottery pick with the ability to add a significant piece next June.
With their win against the Sacramento Kings in the season finale the Los Angeles Clippers secured the 4th seed in the Western Conference. They also won the home-court advantage for their first round opponents, the Memphis Grizzlies.
This was the ideal way for LA to finish the regular season, the best in their franchise history. Everything is set right now for that success to continue to the postseason. The Clippers now have their whole roster – finally – available as the Playoffs begin.
Chauncey Billups recently returned to the lineup. With his experience he can be a great factor to complement the star duo of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and assist on making plays. Throughout the season Vinnie Del Negro’s team has shown that it has a perfect balance between the first unit and the reserves. Players like Jamal Crawford, Caron Butler and Matt Barnes can provide the veteran presence needed in any team when the ball gets heavier and every detail counts. This is another essential factor that could make the difference between a win and a loss in the Playoffs.
In the first round the Clips will face the Memphis Grizzlies. The two teams played against each other again in the first leg last year. That time the Grizzlies had the home court advantage but LA won the series. Also, they just recently beat Memphis during their latest regular season meeting, on the 13th of April. With this win the Clippers sealed the season series, 3-1.
Things now are a bit different from last year for both teams. First of all, the Grizzlies changed the core of their team with the movement of Rudy Gay. Especially the offense has shaken up after that trade. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph take now more load in scoring, supported by Conley.
Also, the Clippers look like a much more complete and mature team this season. They were dangerous last year. However, this season LA has proven to be lethal when they are able to reach their top level of performance and retaining their fast-paced offense. Chris Paul is having one of his most productive seasons of his career, not statistically but in the aspects of leading his team and making things easier for his teammates. His matchup against Mike Conley will be key for both teams and could turn the scale in one team’s favor. LA’s frontcourt will also have to play hard against Gasol and Randolph and limit their chances for easy hoops.
There’s no doubt that Clippers fans should be excited. Finally they have the chance to celebrate their first Division Title and see their team finish in the top 4 in the Western Conference. Also, this could be one of the few seasons in franchise history that there are vital chances for LA to win a Championship. Their Playoff course shall determine if they are deservedly considered as the bosses of the City of Angels or their success this season was circumstantial.
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It’s no secret that every time the trade deadline approaches, teams get more aggressive pursuing players and contriving trades. This year is no exception to that rule. One of the most discussed possible movements currently is the trade of star forward Rudy Gay. He is an all-star caliber player with great athletic and physical abilities and a true scorer. He is also only 26 years old and really has the potential to upgrade any team he will fit into. But should the LA Clippers consider making an offer for him?
Well, first of all Rudy Gay will be expensive to acquire and to maintain. He is currently earning $16,5 million for this season and he is owed a total of $53 million for the next three seasons. We are just about $1 million under the luxury tax, which means the cap space needs to be cleared for Gay’s arrival. Possibly, in a trade, Eric Bledsoe, Caron Butler and one other player from the Clips could be packaged, so we can land Gay in LA. Is it worth it?
Well, as great as a player Gay is, he surely will need the ball in his hands a lot of time. He is certainly an upgrade at Small Forward and he can easily create his own shot, but does this team lack of a scorer? Also, Gay is an excellent rebounder for a small forward, averaging 6.4 RPG for his career, but when it comes for defense, you can’t state that he has a similar performance, despite his athletic skills.
In my opinion, with the great balance we’ve seen from our guys and with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford on the team, I would had to think twice before answering. It may sound great having Rudy Gay on our roster, but if you think of what we will lose in order to get him, then it most probably wouldn’t be a great idea to run for the trade. It’s not only about the players we’ll lose, it’s about the chemistry we have already built and that’s why we perform so well almost every night. We are in the best position since our franchise was founder. A winning team shouldn’t be changed.
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It’s early in the season but not too early to see a clear theme taking shape. The Clippers are legit and clearly the best basketball team that currently occupies the Staples Center. They’ve now run off four consecutive big wins against the Spurs, Grizzlies, Hawks and Heat, with the seven point margin over the Heat being the smallest margin in those four wins. Those previous four games, like last night against the Miami Heat, weren’t really all that close.
The most impressive part of the win streak is the types of teams they’re beating, matching up effectively with all of them. The Clippers can match the Spurs bench and versatility. They can match the Grizzlies superior size and strength inside. Last night they overpowered the small-ball heat with a dominating combination of size and quickness inside, depth off the bench and versatile perimeter play. Pick your style and this deep Clippers team can match it.
Last night was another impressive step in the evolution of Blake Griffin as a complete player. When his spot up jumper is falling he’s un-defendable. If the defender tries to come out and defend his jump shot he can easily blow past any four or five in the league. Try to cover him in the post? He can easily overpower smaller bigs like Chris Bosh. Try to cover him with Shane Battier? Good luck.
Beyond Griffin several others things stood out on the Clippers side yesterday, most notably the Clippers bench. Eric Bledsoe’s block on Dwyane Wade will make all the highlight reels and rightfully so. According to Twitter Lebron called Bledsoe “Little Lebron” following his performance. Highlight reel aside Bledsoe is quickly becoming a game-changing difference maker off the bench with his phenomenal athleticism and ability to get to the rim. He provides a perfect change of pace with Chris Paul, not giving teams any break when Paul gets a rest.
Bledsoe is just part of the story when it comes to the Clippers reserves. Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford have stepped up huge in recent games. The Clippers second unit has a great balance of offensive threats (Crawford), defensive stoppers (Barnes) and size and strength (Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins). Early on there were questions about how Del Negro would mold this unit together. The roles are now being clearly defined and the argument can be made that the Clippers are now the deepest team in basketball.
A couple of early losses aside when power ranking the west the argument has to be made that the Clippers are the top team. Of course it’s a long season and injuries can happen, with Griffin and Chris Paul both being somewhat injury prone in the past. Still, unforseen injury aside the Clippers are going to be a forced to be reckoned with and are real contenders—and the top team in LA. Hopefully the LA media will get off the Lakers soap opera a bit and realize the story that’s brewing in Clipperland.
As far as the Heat are concerned it’s not surprising they lost to the Clippers in LA, something they’ve done in all three years of the Lebron James Heat era. The fashion in which the Heat lost that has to concern Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra. Like in Memphis and Houston on this current road trip the Heat displayed a lack of intensity on defense. The good thing for Heat fans is that the defensive intensity can be ratcheted up. The big factor that has to concern Heat Nation is the play of Dwayne Wade who just isn’t the same player. The second thing that jumped out is how another team was able to exploit the Heat’s “small ball”. Like Memphis earlier on the road trip it’s pretty clear that a team with dominant big men can exploit a lineup that sometimes employs Shane Battier at power forward. If Memphis or the Clippers find a way to get into the finals they could very well give the Heat quite a series.
Marc Gasol had 23 points and nine rebounds as visiting Memphis erased an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit to force a deciding Game 7.
Zach Randolph added 18 points and 16 rebounds and Mike Conley and Rudy Gay had 13 points apiece as the Grizzlies staved off elimination for a second straight game.
Game 7 will be played Sunday afternoon in Memphis.
Clippers stars Blake Griffin (knee) and Chris Paul (hip), who were both game-time decisions with injuries sustained in Game 6, scored 17 and 11 points, respectively.
After watching Los Angeles dominate the fourth quarter throughout the series, including storming back from a 24-point deficit to win Game 1, the Grizzlies turned the tables on the Clippers.
Reserve Eric Bledsoe scored six points in a 10-0 spurt early in the fourth to help Los Angeles build a 76-68 lead. The Grizzlies responded with a 10-0 spurt of their own to go ahead on Gay’s three-point play with 6:28 remaining.
Conley’s 3-pointer with 4 1/2 minutes to go put Memphis ahead for good and Randolph’s tip-in extended the lead to 85-80. Los Angeles got no closer than four points until Randy Foye’s 3-pointer with three seconds left decided the final margin.
Trailing 60-54, the Clippers ran off six straight points to tie the score and the teams entered the fourth deadlocked at 66.
Memphis used an 18-6 run to take a 25-16 lead after one quarter and maintained a nine-point edge before the Clippers rallied.
Reserve Kenyon Martin scored six straight points and Paul buried a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to one, but a three-point play by Gasol made it 42-38 at halftime.
Feelings of fear had to be welling up in the stomachs of the Grizzlies and their fans Wednesday night as an worrying pattern repeated itself. As in Game 1, the Grizzlies developed a large lead on the LA Clippers through great defense and crisp offensive execution. And as in 1, they stopped doing those fantastic things, lost both their calmness and the higher part of that lead. This time, although, Memphis handled to hold on for an excruciating 92-80 win, closing Los Angeles’ series lead to 3-2.
Gasol has 23 points and Zach Randolph scored 19 as the Memphis Grizzlies avoided elimination by beating the Clippers on Wednesday night, forcing a Game 6 in the Western Conference first-round series.
Rudy Gay added 14 points for Memphis. Mo Williams had 20 points for the Clippers while Chris Paul scored 19 and Blake Griffin had 15 points and 11 rebounds. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul suffered second-half injuries that may affect their statuses for Game 6. Griffin hyperextended his left knee, the same knee that required surgery treatment before the 2009-10 season. Griffin returned to the game in the 4th quarter, though.
The Grizzlies built the lion’s reveal of that lead and set the tone for the game’s first three quarters with a convincing 22-5 first-quarter run. Most of that run came on the backs of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. The Grizzlies big men, who had been so instrumental in their team’s first-round upset of the Spurs last year, had been conspicuous mostly for their irrelevance to the series’ previous three games.
The Clippers closed the third quarter with a 14-2 run and got within six twice to conjure up thoughts of Memphis blowing a 27-point lead in Game 1. Foye pulled the Clippers within 85-79 on a layup with 55.7 seconds left. The Grizzlies led 57-42 at halftime and led by as many as 24 before the Clippers tried to make it interesting again.
This stretch of play also revealed a troubling weakness in the Grizzlies: Memphis does not have a true point guard backing up Conley. O.J. Mayo is the default replacement, and Mayo is nowhere near the ballhandler, playmaker or floor general that Conley is. The Clippers pressured Mayo relentlessly when he ran the point. Suddenly, Memphis was struggling to execute its offense. Twice, Paul took the ball from Mayo and initiated transition offense in the other direction.
Up by six with just 44.1 seconds left, Randolph hit a free throw. He missed the second, but Rudy Gay swooped in for the rebound and then glided to the basket for a layup that put the game away. It wasn’t the cleanest or most attractive win, but the series moves on to Los Angeles nonetheless. And the Grizzlies might even get some sleep tonight.
Game 6 is on Friday in LA. If the Grizzlies win, Game 7 will be on Sunday in Memphis. You can still puchase Tickets for the game.
In big media companies, you are not allowed to write or speak about the Memphis Grizzlies.
“Nobody cares,” is the common refrain.
Well, it’s time to start caring, and we are going to bend over backwards to explain why that should be so.
First, the basketball part: The Grizzlies play in a division that is home to the NBA’s two hottest teams, the other being the Houston Rockets, who also have won seven straight games. Memphis pulled off an amazing comeback last night to keep their streak alive, rallying from 16 points down in the fourth quarter to defeat the Golden State Warriors 91-90.
Second, the non-basketball part.
If you attend a game in Memphis, you can exit the arena and walk two short blocks to Beale Street, where you can listen to outstanding live music seven nights a week while downing a 32-ounce coldie that’ll set you back a mere $2.
If you are lucky, the Grizzlies dance team will stop by your juke joint and join you for a beverage. And as my friend and colleague Frank Isola of the New York Daily News so astutely observed and tweeted last season, there is no better assemblage of fine young women representing an NBA team than the members of that particular dance team.
Third, if you have an off-night in Memphis, you can get in your rental car, drive south into Mississippi toward the Tunica Casino and Resort and motor through miles and miles of soybean fields before your senses awake. You can smell it a mile away: Fried chicken.
And if you stop at that chicken stand out in the middle of nowhere, you will eat what Colonel Sanders is secretly chowing down on in heaven. Man, it’s manna, I tell you.
But those last two items are not the reason you are here for your daily update.
So let’s get back to the basketball, and take a closer look at what the Grizzlies pulled off last night in Oakland. After scoring a mere 35 points in the first half while playing their third game in four nights, the Grizzlies erupted for 39 in the fourth quarter to defeat the Warriors 91-90, coming back from a 20-point deficit in the final 15 1/2 minutes.
“We were dead in the water in the first half. We had no answers,” coach Lionel Hollins said. “We don’t quit; we fight. We did that, and we were able to come back and get this win, which is a sweet win.”
It would be a disservice to the Rockets to continue this conversation without including them next. They play in a sprawling metropolis with no zoning rules, which is why you can drive to the far corners of the city and stumble upon one or two 50-story skyscrapers that would seem to have no business being there. For miles around, the next tallest buildings are two-story strip malls.
Back when Jeff Van Gundy was coaching the Rockets, I was working down in Houston and was stopped at a red light when who should pull up in the next lane? None other that JVG himself. “Worst traffic city in America,” Van Gundy observed. “New York has nothing on this place.”
Anyway, it was McHale appreciation night (NOT!) in Minneapolis last night, and the crowd booed McHale lustily during introductions before McHale got the last laugh with a 107-92 victory over the Timberwolves, who got 39 points from Kevin Love (5-for-5 on 3-pointers) and 12 more assists from Ricky Rubio.
The Rockets’ seven-game winning streak has only moved them into fourth-place in the Southwest Division, where they still trail the Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio.
The Spurs were only 1-6 entering their game against the lowly Hornets, but Tim Duncan turned back the clock and scored a season-high 28 points — the final two coming from just inside the foul line off an inbounds play for the game-winning points with 1.4 seconds left. “It was a mix of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson, a kind of sky-hook, and we’ll take it,” Tony Parker said of Duncan’s 13-foot game-winner over New Orleans Hornets center Emeka Okafor. Parker added 20 points and a career-high 17 assists.