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Brad Hurt

Gasol out indefinitely with MCL sprain posted by Brad Hurt

An MRI on Marc Gasol's left knee, which he injured in the first half of the Grizzlies' loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night, revealed a Grade 2 sprain of the medial collateral ligament (MCL).  The injury, similar to one suffered two years ago by Zach Randolph, will keep Gasol out of action indefinitely but will not require surgery.  Kosta Koufos will start in his place.  This is a huge blow for the team, both in terms of production and morale.  The injury has been called "non-contact", although there could have been some contact as it occurred while the Spurs' Danny Green posted up against Gasol and backed into him.  Even so, it's still a freakish, unfortunate injury.Continue reading "Gasol out indefinitely with MCL sprain"

Brad Hurt

Gasol leaves loss with knee sprain posted by Brad Hurt

The Grizzlies had reason to be proud as they returned home Friday to face the perennially tough San Antonio Spurs.  They had just finished the most successful West Coast road trip in a decade.  Now they would have the FedEx Forum crowd behind them to urge them to victory.  Unfortunately, the Spurs would have none of that, playing the role of the rude houseguests with a 102-86 victory.

Potentially far worse for the home team, however, is the fact that center Marc Gasol left the game after suffering a non-contact injury to his left knee early in the second quarter and did not return.  The team is calling it a sprain, and Gasol will undergo an MRI today.  Losing Gasol for any extended period of time would be a crushing blow to the team.  He is currently averaging 16 points and more than 7 rebounds per game, teaming up with Zach Randolph to form an imposing post duo.  Randolph has been putting up monster numbers in his own right, but losing Gasol would undoubtedly change the way teams choose to defend Randolph, enabling more double-and-triple teams.  The Grizzlies currently have the 23rd-ranked offensive output in the league, averaging 94.1 points per game.  Ideally, they would like to see that number increase as they work toward a return to the playoffs come April.  Gasol is also a great veteran leader for the team, and intangibles are difficult to replace.  So let's hope the sprain isn't too severe and Gasol can return to action soon.

Continue reading "Gasol leaves loss with knee sprain"


Brad Hurt

Close call: Grizzlies rally for sweep posted by Brad Hurt

It was anything but easy, but the Memphis Grizzlies outlasted the Golden State Warriors, 88-81 in overtime on Wednesday night to complete a perfect West Coast road trip.

The comeback happened largely thanks to the team's Grit N Grind mentality.  After spotting the home team a double-digit lead in the opening quarter, the Grizzlies (7-5) relied on strong defense to get back into the game.  They had to overcome a 12-point deficit in the second half to escape with their 11th consecutive head-to-head win over the 8-4 Warriors.  They won the third quarter 25-13 behind a 17-2 run led by Zach Randolph's eight points in the period.  Randolph finished with another double-double of a team-high 21 points and 12 rebounds.

Ball control played a huge part in the win as the Grizzlies turned the ball over only seven times.

The Grizzlies shot only 38 percent for the game, led by Marc Gasol's 6-of-14 effort.  Gasol added 11 rebounds to his 18 points to join Randolph with a double-double.  His pair of free throws with 2:02 left in the fourth quarter forced the game into overtime.  Mike Conley also finished in double figures scoring for the Grizzlies, scoring 19 points and draining the go-ahead 3-pointer in overtime.  The Grizzlies' bench came up large, outscoring the Warriors' reserves 16-7.  Kosta Koufos led the Grizzlies subs with seven points and grabbed eight rebounds.

Andrew Bogut led the Warriors with 12 points and 14 rebounds.

This trip proved the Grizzlies can compete with some of the top teams in the West.  It is never easy to win away from home, and putting together a streak like this shows the character and fight this team has.

Continue reading "Close call: Grizzlies rally for sweep"


Brad Hurt

Grizzlies seek first road sweep since '04 posted by Brad Hurt

The Grizzlies have reeled off three straight wins on the road since falling at home to Toronto last Wednesday.  West Coast trips are usually daunting, but the Grizzlies have found ways to win to this point.  Their current trip reaches its conclusion tonight in Oakland as the Grizzlies (6-5) take on the Pacific-leading Golden State Warriors (8-3), winners of four straight.  So someone will see a streak end.  If the Grizz get the win, they will have their first road sweep of at least four games since March 2004.  The Warriors are 5-0 at home this season, a mark the Clippers also had before falling to the Grizzlies on Monday.

The Warriors boast five players averaging double figures in scoring at this point in the season, led by Klay Thompson's 20.5 points per game.  Sensational guard Stephen Curry is a close second with 19.9 points per game.  Curry, who usually gets top billing as the team's superstar leader, will miss Wednesday's game with a concussion.

The Grizzlies have seen good balance offensively.  Mike Conley is off to a good start, scoring 18.7 points and dishing out around six assists per game.  As he has gone over the past few years, so have gone the Grizzlies.  He seems to be over the confidence issues and inconsistency that plagued him a couple of years ago, when trade rumors surrounded him.  Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph have been key for the Grizzlies, continuing to comprise one of the biggest post tandem threats in the league.  Gasol is putting up 17 points and seven rebounds per game on the season.  However, on this trip he is scoring over 20 points per game with 8+ rebounds and 8+ assists.  Randolph is leading the team with 9.2 rebounds per game while scoring 16.1 points per contest on a career-high 55 percent shooting clip.

Continue reading "Grizzlies seek first road sweep since '04"


Brad Hurt

Tony Allen Receives Dubious Suspension posted by Brad Hurt

The NBA has announced that Tony Allen will be forced to sit out the Grizzlies' game at Golden State on Wednesday as he serves a one-game suspension for his actions on Monday. Allen was assessed a Flagrant 2 Foul and ejected from Monday night's 106-102 road win over the Los Angeles Clippers for kicking Chris Paul in the face.  The kick in my opinion was clearly inadvertent as Allen jumped and kicked his legs out in a defensive move against the driving Paul.  Such a move is a fairly common part of today's NBA game and is a natural reaction.  Players want to do all they can to impede the progress of the ballhandler and get the ball free.  I don't think Tony said, "Hmmm...I think I'll kick Chris Paul in the face."  Tony is one of the best defenders in the league and doesn't need to resort to cheap shots to get the job done.  It was just a case of bad timing and an unfortunate accident.  Paul is among the shortest players in the league.  That is the only reason the blow landed where it did and made this an issue.  I can see calling a Flagrant 1 because it's not an everyday occurrence, regardless of alleged intent, but a suspension seems a bit heavy-handed to me.  Save that for thrown punches.  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flz-uF9ldls

Continue reading "Tony Allen Receives Dubious Suspension"


Brad Hurt

Grizzlies Adjusting to Changes posted by Brad Hurt

It was an eventful offseason for the Memphis Grizzlies, centering around the drama that comes with a regime change.  Following the franchise's first-ever appearance in the Western Conference Finals, a 4-0 sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs, new owner Robert Pera made his presence known by allowing the expiration of head coach Lionel Hollins' contract.  While stunning in the wake of a string of postseason appearances and a new milestone, this move came as no real shock from a business perspective.  Anytime someone new takes over a team, he is going to want to surround himself with people who fit into his vision for the franchise.  Very few coaches in sports survive changes at the top of an organization for very long.  Displeased by pending changes in the team's philosophy, Hollins made his frustration publicly known, and that did not help any chance he may have had of returning to the bench for the 2013-14 season.

With lead assistant Dave Joerger getting the front office's support as the new head man, the Grizzlies have gotten off to an uneven start, but that is to be expected as the players adjust to the change.  I think bringing in a total stranger would have made the transition more daunting.

So far the biggest asset for the Grizzlies as they try to establish the type of team they are going to be this season has been Zach Randolph.  Z-Bo proved to be very valuable down the stretch last season, and he continues to be a crucial factor in establishing the Grizzlies as a powerful post team.  If Zach continues to be on top of his game and the guards knock down perimeter shots, the Grizzlies will be back contending for a spot in the finals at the end of the season.

Continue reading "Grizzlies Adjusting to Changes"


NBA News

posted by NBA News

The Kansas Jayhawks have a proud tradition in college athletics. Buoyed by their elite basketball program, alumni and fans alike around the country flock to games and spend thousands of dollars per year on merchandise. You can show your support for the Jayhawks by going online or stopping by the campus bookstore to  shop Kansas jerseys today.

A Jayhawks jersey makes a great birthday or Christmas gift for the fan in your life. If you are about to go to a Kansas basketball or football game, having a jersey to wear to the stadium will help you fit in with the other Jayhawks faithful. 

Kansas students and alumni may qualify for discounts on merchandise just for going to the school. Those who buy their jerseys online may be able to get free or discounted shipping on their orders. Customers who buy a jersey as a gift can include a gift receipt as well as track the status of the order online to ensure that it gets to the recipient in a timely manner. 

Any Kansas fan would be proud to wear school colors on game day whether they are watching the game at the stadium or watching it with friends at home. If you have a credit card and an Internet connection, you are never more than a couple of minutes away from getting your own Kansas Jayhawk merchandise.Continue reading ""


NBA News

Lessons I learned from playing poker that helped my improve my basketball skills posted by NBA News

Poker is a game that some try to discourage due to its perceived association to gambling. Some parents may discourage their children from playing the game; for fear that it could eventually lead to a gambling problem. However, this attitude is wrong, given the many benefits that both children and adults can gain from playing the game.

Playing poker requires a diverse range of skills that you acquire over some period of time. These skills can be applied in different areas of your life, from the sports you participate in to businesses and the personal relationships and interactions you have to handle on a day to day basis.

Making Timely Decisions

One of the ways lock poker helped me improve my basketball skills, was to improve my ability to make judgments. I learned to read non verbal cues that I could read from my opponents and use that to make split second decision. It made me realize that non verbal cues can add improve decision making. I realized it is possible to learn to look for this cues as when training and playing in the field, without necessarily knowing what to look out for.

The beauty of poker, is that it helps you to learn things faster. You recognize patterns and learn to identify them quickly. The game has a tight feedback system that enhances the learning process. Other games do not. But if you play this game for an extended period of time, you will teach your mind to identify these patterns.

Taking Risks

Another way that this poker helped me to improve my basketball skills was to learn how and when to take risks. The consequences of taking certain risks become apparent almost immediately. As a result you learn to weigh the risks. You become increasingly aware of the weight of your actions and learn to make the right decision on your feet.

Continue reading "Lessons I learned from playing poker ..."


NBA News

Tips To Becoming A Professional Sports Bettor posted by NBA News

Gambling is one of the oldest forms of commercial activities known to man.  There are many types of gambling and one of the most popular is sports betting.  To put it in layman’s term, sports betting is simply predicting and placing a wager on the outcome of a sports event.

For most people, sports betting is merely a hobby that can be addictive and engaging. People place wagers on the outcome of the Super Bowl, for instance. Through sports betting, cheering for a particular team or athlete becomes more thrilling since there is money involved.

However, for some people, sports betting is not just a recreational activity that they enjoy. In fact, they rely on sports betting for their main source of income. These professional sports bettors don’t just rely on luck. After all, luck can’t be on their side most of the time to make sports betting their primary source of income.

Sports betting is not for everyone. It takes a lot of guts for people to make sports betting their bread and butter. For the few who are inclined to make sports betting their number one source of income, here are some tips to become successful in this endeavor.

The first key to being a professional sports bettor is to learn how to be detached to a certain sports team or athlete. In sports betting, it is very common for recreational bettors to place a wager on their favorite team or athlete. For instance, a bettor from New York is inclined to put his money on the Knicks instead of, say, the Miami Heat. Emotional attachment to a sports team or athlete is one of the obstacles to becoming a successful professional sports bettor. When one bets solely or mainly on the basis of preference, then there are higher chances that he or she will end up on the losing side.

Continue reading "Tips To Becoming A Professional Sports Bettor"


NBA News

NBA BasketBall Betting, the Top Teams and their Prospects for 2013, 2014 Season posted by NBA News

In the 2012, 2013 prediction of the NBA game seven, Miami Heat were the favorites to win according to basketball sports betting sites. They went ahead to win against the spurs. Miami Heat were defending their title for the second time. Spurs were not the favorites but they had raised hope in many people that they had a chance to take the title. Most odd makers had put odds in the fact that the game will be close. This prediction also came to be true with the final 95, 88 score. There are those that are looking for Miami Heat’s prospect for the 2013-2014 season.

Defending the Title

Miami Heat are favorites to win again in early predictions for this season. The Lebron James magic is expected to play out again as he leads his time to another victory and defend their title. Some predict that Lebron may retain his Most Valuable Player of the year title this coming season. He has consistently shown his skills in shooting, defending and attacking.

On the other hand it may be too early to judge. What are the real prospects of defending the title? Defending the title for the third time will not be that easy. There is talk of Dwayne Wade’s knee injury. Whether he will be part of the action next season and whether Lebron can do without him, is another important factor that will determine the prospects for the team this coming season.

Westbrook’s Return to Oklahoma City

Another team to watch is Oklahama City Thunder. Some odds place it second for the title after Miami Heat. Their prospects are also good. The team up of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook is going to be interesting to watch this season. The two are expected to help lead the team towards the title. However Russell has been on crutches and is widely expected to recover in time but how well he recovers and the level of his game remains to be seen.

Continue reading "NBA BasketBall Betting, the Top Teams ..."

NBA Basketball News

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Ball Don’t Lie’s 2013-14 Playoff Previews: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Golden State W

The playoffs begin on Saturday, thankfully, which means it’s that lovely time of spring (and it is spring, right? It’s not going to snow again, is it?) for the minds behind Ball Don’t Lie to offer you their thoughts on the upcoming pairings in the first round of the NBA’s postseason. Kelly Dwyer’s Old Grey Whistle Test It’s sad and more than a little enervating the Golden State Warriors’ chances at a championship are exactly where we pegged them a year ago. They’re the same as when we left them following their second-round loss to San Antonio, and last autumn when 2013-14 sparked up. The team is only going as far as the relative health of Steph Curry and Andrew Bogut will allow, and no amount of bench woes, coaching intrigue and dodgy shooting can drag the narrative and scouting report from where it belongs. It needs Curry to dominate offensively, and Bogut to do the same on the other end, and while this may come off as too simple, one would have a hard time arguing otherwise. This is why the revelation of Andrew Bogut’s most recent significant injury is such an absolute downer, such a killer for a team that truly could have made some postseason noise had the matchups been in place, and the threes-and-defense philosophy fully executed. Bogut may not even be his team’s best defender, all-around demon Andre Iguodala probably takes that prize, but in spite of some intriguing defensive depth in the pivot and the possibility that the team’s brilliant shooting backcourt could still make wonderful work out of April, May and June, the Warriors’ hopes were just about dashed when it was announced that the big man would be out indefinitely with a rib injury. The Los Angeles Clippers don’t have their own injury woes, not to that extent, but it is always worth biting a nail or two when discussing the durability of all-world point guard Chris Paul. CP3 isn’t exactly a ligament-tearing charity case, but he has missed solid chunks of some of his NBA turns. This season’s 20-game interruption was his longest since 2010, and with the flighty Darren Collison replacing Paul in the lineup and forward Blake Griffin still working past criticism about his supposed stasis as a contributor, there was significant worry when Paul went down with a separated right shoulder over the winter. Famously, the Clippers went 12-6 in Chris’ absence, with Blake leading the way while boasting a fantabulous mix of point forward-isms and potent finishing from just about everywhere within that 3-point line. Los Angeles didn’t seem to miss a beat following Paul’s return, reeling off a 12-2 run that saw the league’s best point guard happily passing on dominating the ball, allowing Griffin and his cohorts to run the show at times while still somehow maintaining the same assist and usage percentages. This is why the Doc Rivers-led crew is a championship contender. The former Celtics title-winning coach somehow found a way to eliminate the previous era’s glaring weaknesses – Griffin’s short-armed missteps, DeAndreJordan’s clueless defensive work some 19 feet away from the goal, Paul’s ball domination – in the span of a year, and the returning Pacific Division champs have a genuine shot at something special this spring, and possibly summer. Golden State shouldn’t boast that same confidence, not without Bogut in place for an extended period of time. New starter Jermaine O’Neal has been a revelation in his 18th season, but even the NBA’s best potential defensive backup pivotman doesn’t approximate what Bogut provides, and rookie Ognjen Kuzmic is just too raw to be counted on in nationally televised games. The team with the ill-gotten stereotype as an offense-only squad may have to act as much against Los Angeles, ignoring the Kent Bazemores and Iguodalas in favor of something desperate. Usually pitched from 25 feet away. Toss in the clear enmity between the two squads, and you just have a huge disappointment. The Warriors may annoy at times, but the team’s roster is also filled with all manner of respectable characters, and there genuinely was second- and third- and perhaps fourth-round potential with this lot. Bogut’s absence doesn’t completely decimate Golden State, and the man could still return before his team’s season ends, but those chances have been hamstrung. From there, it’s up to the Clippers. After years of prattling around with former administrations in charge, it’s time for this squad to follow through on what could be theirs. It has to start with a swift take down of a team it hates. Prediction: Los Angeles in 5. Dan Devine's One Big Question Every postseason matchup has its own unique set of variables for each team, and prognosticator, to attempt to solve. Here's one that BDL's Dan Devine has been mulling over. Do the Warriors stand a chance without Andrew Bogut? Forgive me for being obvious, but after learning that the bruising Aussie is out indefinitely with a fractured rib — a break that Bogut told reporters has him "looking at a punctured lung," and that head coach Mark Jackson "all but confirmed" will keep Bogut out for the full postseason, according to Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News — it seems like the most relevant question. Bogut played arguably his best ball of the season against the rival Clippers, averaging just under 12 points, 11 rebounds and two combined blocks and steals in 27.5 minutes per game, shooting 67.7 percent from the field and setting a physical tone that helped keep high-flying Clippers stars Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan a bit more grounded. Willingness to push and shove aside, Bogut also stood as Golden State's best interior defender and rim protector this season; his absence figures to be a problem against a Clippers team that shot a scorching 67.7 percent in the restricted area this season, second-best in the NBA behind the LeBron James-led Miami Heat. Bogut held opponents to 45 percent shooting on at-rim attempts when he was in the defensive neighborhood this season, according to the NBA's SportVU player tracking data , an elite number among paint-protecting regulars. Warriors opponents took a lower share of their shots inside the paint with Bogut guarding the yard (46.4 percent of total field-goal attempts) than with him resting (47.3 percent) and connected on a lower percentage of them (49.8 percent with Bogut, 52.8 percent without). While Jackson has several other strong defenders on his roster — perimeter ace Andre Iguodala, versatile forward Draymond Green, point-checking two-guard Klay Thompson, veteran backup center Jermaine O'Neal, etc. — he doesn't have another paint deterrent of Bogut's caliber, and if the numbers from the regular-season series against the Clippers are any indication, that's a major issue for Golden State: • With Bogut on the floor, the Warriors outscored the Clippers by 17 points over 110 minutes in four meetings this season. Without him, L.A. was +20 in 82 minutes. • With Bogut on the floor, the Clippers scored an average of 105.7 points per 100 possessions, which would've ranked 10th in the NBA over the course of the full season. While that mark would be the envy of plenty of NBA teams — 20, according to my advanced math — it represented a steep drop-off from the Clippers' top-of-the-pops offensive efficiency of 109.4-per-100. When Bogut sat, the Clips shot right back up to their customary rate of scoring brilliance, pouring it in at a 109.3-per-100 rate. • With Bogut on the floor, the Clippers grabbed just 45.6 percent of available rebounds. When he sat, that number rose to 53.8 percent. To put that in perspective: when facing Bogut, the Clips rebounded like the dead-last-in-the-NBA Los Angeles Lakers, and when they didn't have to face him, they scarfed up caroms at a clip that would have been No. 1 with a bullet during the regular season, head and shoulders above the league-best Oklahoma City Thunder. • With Bogut on the floor, the Warriors were much better at defending L.A. without hacking, committing 46 personal fouls in 110 minutes. With Bogut on the bench, the Clippers drew 53 personal foul calls in 82 minutes, leading to an obscenely high free-throw rate that kept the Clipper offense humming along. It's worth remembering that we're only talking about a couple of hundred minutes over the span of four games, but if those trends hold up, the future looks grim for Golden State. A version of the Warriors that can't keep Griffin and Jordan off the glass, can't keep the Clippers off the foul line, and can't slow down an elite offense now firing on all cylinders thanks to the return of shooting guards J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford is a version of the Warriors that doesn't appear to be long for the postseason world. The Warriors are not utterly bereft without Bogut, of course. The 17-year veteran O'Neal has played well when pressed into duty as a starter, averaging 10.5 points on 57.7 percent shooting, 7.1 rebounds and just over one block in 25 minutes per game, and he's certainly more than willing mix it up with Blake and company . But he's just one man, and there's not much behind him on the Dubs' depth chart. Sophomore Festus Ezeli isn't yet back to 5-on-5 action after missing the entire season following right knee surgery. Jackson likely won't turn to end-of-the-benchers Ognjen Kuzmić and Hilton Armstrong in the playoffs. And past MVP chants aside , I wouldn't want to hitch my wagon to Marreese Speights' defensive prowess against Chris Paul in the pick-and-roll. The best solution might be one that Jackson has said he'll now give longer looks: smaller lineups featuring David Lee at the five with some combination of Green, Iguodala and Harrison Barnes up front alongside Thompson and Stephen Curry in the backcourt. Such units have largely roasted the opposition offensively this season, albeit in relatively limited burn (none have seen more than 105 minutes of floor time) and could pose problems for the Clippers defense by creating gobs of space for Curry-Lee pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops, Curry's unique brand of dribbling improvisation and ball swings that lead to open 3-pointers, much as they did against the Denver Nuggets in the first round of last year's postseason. But these Clippers are not last year's Nuggets, this Barnes is not last year's Barnes, and last year's injured Lee isn't this year's injured Bogut. It ought to be sensationally fun to watch Steph try to Human Torch his way past the Clips. Enjoy it while it lasts; unless Bogut winds up pulling a miraculous Lee-like recovery sooner rather than later, I don't think it'll last very long. Prediction: Clippers in 5. Eric Freeman’s Guide to Playoff Watchability Over the next two months, basketball fans will hear all manner of insights into key matchups, x-factors, and other series-deciding phenomena. For most people, though, watching so much basketball is a luxury or bizarre form of punishment, not a fact of life. These brave souls must know one thing: is this game between 10 men in pajamas worth the time? Eric Freeman’s Guide to Playoff Watchability attempts to answer this difficult question. The basketball world has awaited this series for several months. Way back in the first week of the season, the Clippers snubbed the Warriors by declining to share pre-game chapel services , a rare snub in a league where most players stay friendly when not on the court. That moment ran alongside several hotly contested games, including a Christmas barnburner that featured several scuffles and ejections . A seven-game series promised all that drama, plus the purer pleasures of watching so many exciting, athletic players in one place. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, et al. — it was almost too much to handle. Up until this past weekend, that excitement was still palpable. However, the broken rib recently suffered by Andrew Bogut, the Warriors’ chief antagonist, has thrown all that into flux. If Bogut is out for the entire series, which seems likely, the Warriors will be forced to go small. That could be very watchable, particularly given their arsenal of three-point shooters, but Doc Rivers already starts two hyper-athletic frontcourt players and has many perimeter options at his disposal. More than perhaps any other team in the league, the Clippers can adjust to smaller lineups without sacrificing much at all. To be clear, this series figures to be very watchable, if only because these teams offer so much potential in the way of stylistic basketball. Yet, with Bogut out, it also figures to be somewhat one-sided. Tune in only if you’re more concerned with fun stuff than the final score. Rating: 6 out of 10 Recitations of Philippians 4:13 Prediction: Clippers in 5.   [read full article]

From Yahoo Sports


Ball Don’t Lie’s 2013-14 Playoff Previews: Miami Heat vs. Charlotte Bobcats (Bal

The playoffs begin on Saturday, thankfully, which means it’s that lovely time of spring (and it is spring, right? It’s not going to snow again, is it?) when the minds behind Ball Don’t Lie to offer you their thoughts on the upcoming pairings in the first round of the NBA’s postseason. Kelly Dwyer’s Old Grey Whistle Test For those just hopping to the NBA season, understand the Charlotte Bobcats didn’t luck or back their way into their second (and final, considering the franchise’s imminent name change) playoffs. Sadly for Charlotte, the Miami Heat didn’t, either. You didn’t hear much about the Miami Heat this year, comparatively, because a lack of a 27-game winning streak will do that to a nation’s fancy. The Indiana Pacers held the Eastern Conference’s best record for nearly every day of the 2013-14 regular season, the San Antonio Spurs finished with the league’s best regular season record yet again, and Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant will likely and rightfully lope away with the NBA MVP award, ending LeBron James’run with the hardware. The Heat are the champs, though. And not in the “we’ll-call-them-the-champs-until-someone-knocks-them-out”way. That doesn’t mean that 2013-14 was a triumphant regular season turn, however. The team won only 54 games, fewer than the Chicago Bulls (57) and Los Angeles Lakers (58) did during their three-peat conquerings in 1993 and 2002, and with Miami mostly working in an embarrassing Eastern Conference that saw the Heat lose twice to the Philadelphia 76ers and twice to the Boston Celtics. Dwyane Wade missed 29 games not just because he sat out on the second night of back-to-backs, but also because of a worrying late-season hamstring pull. Ray Allen shot, gasp, just about an average mark from 3-point range. This is also a team that may just have 15 or 16 games between now and the start of the Finals. This is a team that can run James for huge heaps of minutes, while Wade works at his leisure, with Chris Bosh fitting in wherever needed. Allen’s 3-point percentage starts over on Sunday. Shane Battier grows angel wings. Erik Spoelstra gets to hammer out a game plan against the same opponent, over and over, rather than working against four other coaches in five nights. Pity those poor Charlotte Bobcats. Kind of. These Bobcats earned this. “Rookie”head coach Steve Clifford should be a Coach of the Year candidate, and had his team been on national television more often he’d probably have won the damn thing. The Bobcats have evolved into a team with solid depth, and most importantly to a playoff drive, the group defends like mad in spite of the presence of Al Jefferson on the floor. Of course, the Bobcats wouldn’t be nearly where they are currently with Jefferson, who turned in a career year some six years after tearing his ACL, working in a new environment with a (damn good) point guard in Kemba Walker who isn’t exactly what we’d call “pass-first.”If you haven’t seen Big Al, prepare for a throwback. Over 22 points and 11 boards in 35 minutes a game, despite needing the season’s first two months to work his way back (mostly on the court) from an ankle sprain. Low-post goodness, in a league that frowns on such things. Touch and footwork and a needed go-to option after a play breaks down for a team that ranked just 24th in offense. He should have made the All-Star team, but in a lot of ways it was best that he missed it. The All-Star Game wastes talents like Jefferson, and those few days off in mid-February likely helped the player that led Charlotte to a 20-9 record following a showcase that tends to exclude players of a Bobcatian nature. The ride is likely over. James is basically as tall as Jefferson. Walker had a very good year, but he shot 39 percent to Wade’s 54 percent. Bosh is floating, and the other Heat veterans have been through this before. It’s true that, somehow, Charlotte runs deeper than Miami, but none of this will likely matter when James spies Josh McRoberts’too-cute entry pass from a mile away, swipes it and turns it into two points before Bobcat fans can even recall they’ll become the Hornets again this fall. Fair-weather NBA fans? Happily introduce yourself to the Charlotte Bobcats, because this is a team worth watching. Also, re-introduce yourself to the Miami Heat, because this is a team worth fearing. Prediction: Miami in 4. Dan Devine's One Big Question Every postseason matchup has its own unique set of variables for each team, and prognosticator, to attempt to solve. Here's one that BDL's Dan Devine has been mulling over. How much energy will Miami have to expend in Round 1? LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh begin their bid for a fourth straight trip to the NBA finals against a Bobcats team that looks to be heavily overmatched and whom the Heat swept during the regular season. A closer look at the season series, though, suggests that what appears to be a squash might not be quite as breezy as Erik Spoelstra might like. While the Heat did go 4-0 against the Bobcats, two of those games were nail-biters. There was a one-point Dec. 1 win in which the Big Three all played, but Charlotte point guard Kemba Walker (27 points on 10 for 22 shooting, six assists) largely got where he wanted, and a mid-January overtime victory that saw James (34 points, eight rebounds, six assists) and Bosh (25 points, seven rebounds) carry the day for a resting Wade to come back from a seven-point halftime deficit. One blowout came while All-NBA-caliber Charlotte center Al Jefferson was sidelined with an ankle injury, which represents a sizable asterisk. The other happened when James became Death, Destroyer of Worlds . (That one still holds up.) Still, while the Heat stumbled to the finish line by going 13-14 after March 1 -- including some games, to be fair, where they weren't exactly going all-out for the W -- Charlotte played perhaps their best ball of the year. The Bobcats won three straight to finish the regular season and nine of their last 11, including three tough overtime wins against fellow Eastern playoff squads (the Brooklyn Nets, Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls). The Bobcats went 16-9 after the February deal to import Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour from the Milwaukee Bucks, a move that added (some) long-range shooting and secondary ball-handling, and helped boost the Bobcats' offense from a dreadful 25th in points scored per possession pre-trade to a middle-of-the-pack 16th afterward. Another key helper: Josh McRoberts, the beautifully coiffed power forward whose fantastic touch as a high-post passer (five dimes per 36 minutes, assisting on nearly 22 percent of his teammates' buckets while he's on the floor) has paired perfectly with Big Al's left-block mastery, and whose long-range shooting (36.1 percent from 3-point land) has helped give Jefferson room to cook. Gerald Henderson's production has dipped virtually across the board this season, but the versatile wing tends to be a bellwether; he's shooting 45.4 percent from the floor and 37.5 percent from 3 in Charlotte wins, and just 41.3/32.2 in losses. When he tries too hard to create his own offense, he can hurt more than he helps, but when he simply plays his role -- making smart cuts to take advantage of the attention Jefferson draws, or finding openings on the perimeter to be available for spot-up shots off kickouts -- he can threaten. Rookie Cody Zeller has come on since the All-Star break , shooting 50 percent and averaging nearly eight points and five rebounds in 18 1/2 minutes per game by crashing the offensive boards, running the floor and ducking in off the weak side to dunk dump-off passes. Chris Douglas-Roberts has gone from scrap-heap signee to valuable piece in head coach Steve Clifford's rotation, adding complementary scoring and rebounding while providing defensive versatility on the wing and making some big shots . Charlotte is a patient, careful team that turned the basketball over on a league-low 12.9 percent of offensive possessions, and allowed the league's fewest fast-break points and points off turnovers per game this season. They're great at limiting opponents to one shot, leading the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage and finishing seventh in second-chance points allowed. There's real talent and toughness here, actual players who do things; these aren't the Bobcats you remember. They're still not going to spring an upset, though. Even dropping out LeBron's outlier 61-point explosion, Miami still hammered the Bobcats' No. 6-ranked defense in their other three games, scoring at a rate (109.1 points per 100 possessions) commensurate with their second-best-in-the-NBA full-season mark. The Bobcats' pack-the-paint scheme did reduce in the share of shots Miami took in the lane -- 44.7 percent of Heat field-goal attempts against Charlotte came there, down from 47 percent on the season as a whole -- but Miami converted the exact same share of them (62.9 percent) while shooting even better than their full-season mark on the midrange shots Charlotte concedes with its coverage. With James' ability to prosper against any defense, Bosh's elite midrange shooting and Wade presumably ready to rock after having his workload managed all season, Miami has the right weapons to attack Charlotte's defense. While Jefferson will likely continue beasting on Miami's small front line -- Big Al's averaged a shade over 25 points and 15 rebounds against the Heat this season, shooting 57.4 percent -- Charlotte doesn't figure to get reliable enough deep shooting to keep Miami from swarming the interior. And even if the Cats can knock down some pressure-relieving 3s early, that'll probably just remind Miami that it's late April, and that it's now time to flip the now-infamous switch that turns their closeouts and rotations from solid to terrifying. The key to this postseason could be whether Charlotte forces Miami to flip that switch early. If Miami's offense hits the ground running smoothly enough for the defense to get away with just-good-enough effort, then the Heat will be in good shape moving forward. But if the Bobcats can keep their late-season form going and land some shots on Miami early, and if Jefferson can dominate enough to steal a game in Miami, the Heat may find themselves having to put in work that could come back to bite them during the grueling rounds to follow. The 'Cats won't go easily, but I think the resolution will skew closer to the former than the latter. I respect what Jefferson and Clifford have done enough to think they'll notch the first (and last ) win in Bobcats postseason history at home, but Miami should be able to keep its powder dry with stiffer challenges ahead. Prediction: Heat in 5. Eric Freeman’s Guide to Playoff Watchability Over the next two months, basketball fans will hear all manner of insights into key matchups, x-factors, and other series-deciding phenomena. For most people, though, watching so much basketball is a luxury or bizarre form of punishment, not a fact of life. These brave souls must know one thing: is this game between 10 men in pajamas worth the time? Eric Freeman’s Guide to Playoff Watchability attempts to answer this difficult question. The Heat have been one of the league’s most exciting teams during the Big Three era, regularly putting forth amazing showcases of the best contemporary basketball has to offer. However, this team cannot escape narrative. The best Heat moments, either good or bad, have involved games and series that appear to serve as referenda on LeBron James’s place in basketball history, or the moral rectitude of building a team around stars obtained in free agency. In other words, the Heat need the right context to reach their full watchability potential —otherwise they’re just a garden-variety group of generationally unique stars. It’s safe to say that the Charlotte is not the team to bring out Miami’s full possibilities this series. Like the Milwaukee Bucks in last spring’s first round, the Bobcats are a team of limited talent. What head coach Steve Clifford has done this season is quite amazing —the Bobcats are a genuinely effective squad with with the East’s third-best defense by points-per-possession and a big man in Al Jefferson who could ravage the Heat’s interior defense. But they’re not a sexy team by any stretch. Sunday’s Game 1 will mark their first national TV appearance of 2013-14, and many casual fans may still consider them fodder for late-night TV monologue jokes. That’s not to say that this series is wholly unwatchable. The Heat won’t rise to their peak watchability until later in the postseason, but viewers are likely to see one or two unbelievable plays from LeBron and Co. Plus, despite not being world-beaters, the Bobcats do have a lot to offer. At the very least, they will provide something new to discover for all but the most committed League Pass devotees. The playoffs last a pretty long time, so seek out the unfamiliar while you still can. Rating: 4 out of 10 Angry Tweets About LeBron Being a Loser Prediction: Heat in 4. [read full article]

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