Can you smell it? It’s that time of year again! The NBA’s regular season is winding down, with the playoffs looming on the horizon. It’s only a matter of time before LeBron turns it up, Durant gets to do what he came to do with the Warriors, Westbrook gets to try and win a playoff series on his own, and Paul Pierce gets to show up at some point to remind us that he is, in fact, still on an NBA team.
But before all that, there are questions to be asked and answers to be given. Thankfully, we have two of our writers here at Press Basketball—Joshua Howe and Andrew Miller—who have taken on that mighty task, answering here five fuming playoff questions.
Which team has the most to lose?
Joshua: I definitely already know who you’re going with for this one, and it’s probably a more interesting option than my pick, so let me get this out of the way—the Warriors have the most to lose this season, and that lies solely in the fact that this is their season to take.
Step back for a second. Can you imagine a team with a starting lineup of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Zaza Pachulia actually losing in a best-of-seven series?
Now imagine if they did lose.
Pan. De. Monium.
Anything less than a title for the Dubs is a failure, plain and simple.
Andrew: I agree and disagree with that. The Warriors sacrificed a lot of depth to sign Kevin Durant. The same depth that won them the title in 2015. But for me, as much as it pains me to say, the Clippers have everything to gain, and everything to lose this year. And I’m glad you mentioned Zaza, the forgotten hero.
The “Will the Clippers blow it up?” discussion has been going around for the past 2–3 years. But it’s never been more real than it is now. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are likely going to opt-out of their current deals, and J.J. Redick is going to be a free agent as well.
They’ve started to show some signs of life again in the last few weeks—Blake and CP3 in particular—but the pressure is going to be weighing on them like never before. At this point, it has to be the Western Conference Finals or bust.
J: The Clippers are basically Rocky at the end of Rocky. They don’t necessarily need to win, but they do need to go the distance for this club to have any chance of keeping them all together. They’ve been beaten up so much that I wouldn’t be surprised if they were all playing with just one good eye each come the second round.
Oh wait, I can hear CP3 now. Is he screaming?
A: In my mind, a clip of a one-eyed Austin Rivers from last year’s Portland series is playing with Eye of the Tiger in the background.
But yeah, they’ve taken punch after punch, losing in round one last year, getting killed by the Rockets in 2015 after being up 3–1 and then losing in spectacular fashion to OKC in 2014. Even Sly Stallone knows when it’s time to throw in the towel. Unfortunately for the Clippers, that decision might be out of their hands if they suffer another premature exit.
J: You know, maybe the Clippers are more like the version of Rocky in Creed.
A: In all honesty. A Titanic reference is probably better at this stage. The band is still together, playing their musical sounds, as the ship sinks into cold, dark, icy water around them.
J: I can see Ballmer whispering now: “I will never let go, Blake. I will never let go.”
A: The other question to answer is: if a piece of wood only has enough room to keep one of Chris or Blake afloat, who drowns?
Are you taking the Warriors or the field?
A: I picked the San Antonio Spurs to win the title this season, and I’m sticking with it.
I just can’t face betting my hard-earned cash against Coach Pop and Kawhi Leonard.
J: I picked Kawhi to win the MVP and I would still vote for him today. I’m taking the field too, although I’m not too sure who is going to be the David to the Dubs’ Goliath. The Spurs have a shot, but Leonard will have to be incredible, and I just don’t know if he can be that incredible. Then there’s that team in the East who sports a guy named LeBron James, and I heard he’s decent at the game of basketball.
Oh, and let me clear this up—the Rockets can’t hang with the Warriors. Sorry. Ain’t happening. The only hope the Rox have is outshooting them, and against the second-best defense in the league, there’s just no way that’s happening four-out-of-seven games.
A: Yeah I’m with you on that. If you want to win games in a good old fashioned shootout, it’s probably best you don’t try to do it against the Splash Bros., and that other guy—Kevin, I think his name is?
I lost a lot of hope in the Cavs this season. They just haven’t shown me enough on the defensive end to make me believe they can really just turn it on like a switch. Kevin Love clearly still isn’t healthy and I just don’t know if they have enough in them to go all the way again. This would be LeBron’s seventh straight trip to The Finals. At some point, that has to take its toll. Even on a monstar like him.
J: You know what, I’ll just leave this here:
A: I mean … that pretty much ends any discussion. The Cavs are going to win the title. It’s settled.
J: Quick, to Vegas!
Do the Cavs still rule the East?
J: Speaking of Mr. Cleveland, now that we know they’re going to win the title, there shouldn’t be any debate about whether or not they’re the best team in the East, right?
A: I think that’s pretty clear. I love what Boston and Toronto have done this season, and even the Wizards. But in a seven-game series I just can’t see any scenario where Cleveland doesn’t beat them up and take their lunch money. If I did have to take one of those, I think Toronto has the best chance. But ONLY with a 100 percent healthy Kyle Lowry.
J: A fully healthy Raptors roster includes Drake, by the way (where you been, man?).
We’re pretty much in agreement here. One day LeBron will be mortal in the East, but I don’t think that time has come yet. We just saw what the Cavs did against the Celtics, and LeBron in particular imposed his kingly will on that game. He made Thomas look like a Cabbage Patch Kid. And they did it on their third game in five nights, without Tristan Thompson, Eater of Glass.
As for my Raps, I will die on their hill, but I have zero confidence against a LeBron-led team, especially after last year’s infamous post-Game 5 statement, in which LeBron told the media that he’s “been part of adverse situations—this wasn’t one of them.”
A: Yeah, there’s very little upset potential I think. But the NBA is a wonderful place where anything can happen.
The only other team in the East that I could see with the talent to win it all is the Heat. And by talent, I mean Dion Waiters of course.
J: You’ll be traveling to Waiter’s Island alone, my friend. But hey, at least you’ll have a kickass theme song to take with you.
A: Just wait. He’s going to shock the world … If Miami actually gets into the playoffs.
J: My body is ready.
Which free agent will the playoffs affect most?
A: Since we’ve already talked about the potential misery for all Clipper fans, I’ll go with Gordon Hayward.
He’s going to be a free-agent, and already made his intentions perfectly clear. He wants to win. If Utah doesn’t at least put up a fight, there’s a good chance he could bolt in the summer. He’s just entering his prime, he’s a first-time All-Star and, eventually, he’s going to want to add “NBA Champion” to his resume. I’m just skeptical of Utah being contenders soon enough.
J: Hayward does not get enough love for his hair. The dude has good hair. Probably top-seven in the league.
He’s also pretty good at basketball, and it would be a shame to see him leave when Utah is just starting to get things rolling. I’m excited about Rodney Hood (I’m still angry about you not taking him, Raptors!) and the Stifle Tower has a solid shot at winning Defensive Player of the Year.
Hypothetical: Boston makes it to The Finals. When the offseason comes, do they keep Thomas?
The Celtics are—very likely—going to be taking a future All-Star point guard in the draft. Thomas is 29 years old, about as tall as a barstool, and will want the max. Do you really want to have him at 34 and being paid $45 million? Especially when your freshly drafted PG might be better?
A: The Celtics are definitely an interesting case. They have a few key guys coming up for a big payday as well—Smart, Bradley and Olynyk are all going to make a pretty penny in free agency.
I’m excited to see what Danny Ainge does this summer. He’s been stocking up on assets and draft picks for the last few years. I think this is the year he really needs to decide on what to cash them in on. I agree, though. Thomas is an incredible offensive player, but scoring only counts for 50 percent of the game. You can’t ignore the serious defensive hole that he leaves in their team. For me, it depends on who they land in the draft. I could actually see Ball and Fultz playing pretty well alongside Thomas.
J: Can you imagine LaVar Ball and Tommy Heinsohn in the same arena? My god. That’s a dystopia-level scenario.
A: I’d feel pretty good about Lonzo being drafted in Boston. They’re probably one of the only franchises that’d be able to control LaVar.
Let me ask you this, though: Is this finally the year that the Lakers score on a big-name free agent?
J: Jeanie is going to do everything in her power to snatch one. Even if she has to sell out her entire fam—oh, wait. She did that already, didn’t she?
I have a strange feeling that if Paul George doesn’t stay in Indy, you could see him in purple and gold next season.
A: They’ve just struck out with so many free agents in the last couple of years I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Especially for guys who reportedly “want to win” like PG13. What do the Lakers really have to offer at this point? A roster full of rookies and vets on bad contracts. Yes, you have the assets to pull off a number of trades but does that put them ahead of San Antonio, Boston, Golden State, and Cleveland? For me, it’s a no.
J: I hear you. Maybe it’s time to change the free agent meeting strategy—just show your targets a slideshow of Magic’s tweets: “The Lakers are so much better when (insert player here) is playing well!” and then have the man himself bust through the screen in all the colours of the American flag. How could they resist?
A: You mean sort of like this?
J: Exactly like that. Bonus points if they can bring in Jennifer Aniston.
What is the best possible non-Warriors/Cavs Finals matchup?
J: This is fun. Hear me out: I want a Houston Rockets vs Toronto Raptors Finals.
Why? Because James Harden is my favourite NBA villain. I love to hate that guy. Ever since that time he kicked LeBron in the gonads (yeah, he got there first, Draymond) I knew he would rise to take Kobe’s place as my ultimate NBA baddie. He’s also fun to harp on because of his defense, and he’s so good that he makes himself a worthy player to dislike.
As for the Raps, not only are they my favourite team, but DeMar DeRozan has history with Harden. They grew up together in Los Angeles, and they have clashed many times outside of the NBA in places like the Drew League.
Even their games are kind of similar. Harden’s a better passer and three-point shooter, but they both get to the free throw line at will, and each is nearly unstoppable when they decide to attack the paint.
Based on that matchup alone, supervillain against superhero, how could you not want to watch those teams square off?
A: I’m personally offended that you even mentioned the great Kobe Bryant in the same sentence as James Harden.
I’m a huge Harden-hater. I’m not ashamed of that at all. I don’t enjoy watching him play, so the Rockets going out in round one is a best case scenario for me.
What I would like to see however, is a Gregg Popovich/Brad Stevens coach-off. Just send all the players home for an early summer, give both coaches a whiteboard and pen and just watch them let rip. The basketball brain power would make for spectacular viewing.
In all seriousness though, imagine the insane defensive schemes drawn up to counteract the offensive masterclass.
I’d also be over the moon with a Los Angeles Clippers vs Anyone Finals, for obvious reasons.
J: Pop vs Stevens would be just like that scene from X2 where Xavier squares off with Jason Stryker and they just stare at each other in reality while they have an insane mental battle inwardly.
Count me in.
That would definitely be a series with a bunch of x’s and o’s, and a matchup between Horford and Aldridge would be strangely fascinating to me.
As for the Clippers, for your sake and your own mental sanity, I hope they do … something.
A: That, plus I’m all in on the NBA Finals version of Marcus Smart. I just want to see him try to destroy the opposing team’s offensive players.
A Clippers vs Raptors series would be pretty cool as well. Lowry vs CP3 would be a battle for the ages. Then you have Griffin vs Ibaka, DeAndre vs Valanciunas and DeMar vs J.J. Re—actually, nevermind, let’s just forget about that one.
I’ve actually talked myself into that being the best possible series. And no matter who loses, we both win.
J: I would pay to see a heated Marcus Smart vs Patty Mills tussle.
I knew you were going here, and I agree: Raptors/Clippers would be fantastic. I’m banking on it going seven games with PJ Tucker ultimately winning Finals MVP and forcing CP3 into early retirement.
A: I think a low-key good series would be Oklahoma City vs Washington. Seeing Westbrook vs Wall for seven games would be incredible. Both guys just play at 100 miles per hour, and the head-on collision from that would light the world on fire.
J: We would have to watch the entire game in slow motion just to see what’s happening.
These playoffs have a ton of potential—can’t wait to see what happens.
A: It’s definitely going to be an amazing post-season.
Who wins the title, and who is your Finals MVP?
J: I’ll separate it for you.
Heart: Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James
Brain: Golden State Warriors, Kevin Durant
Who you got?
A: I like your thinking.
Heart: Los Angeles Clippers, Blake Griffin
Brain: San Antonio Spurs, Kawhi Leonard
Something Out of Nothing
It’s March 2016, and I’m driving with Alan Shane Lewis to Montreal to meet with Marc Griffin and Phil Boileau. We’re meeting to speak about this exciting new idea I pitched to them. We were tired of spinning the wheels on our own individual internet shows, and I told them that it was time we stopped waiting for a network and became the network.
We spoke that weekend about creating a community of content creators that all loved ball and came together to make unique content with unique voices – voices we felt were never heard in the mainstream. This community was the base of Press and we’d continue to push forward from that spot. We spoke about some amazing show ideas, article ideas, social media plan. It was truly an exciting time, and still one of the best weekends of my life.
Two years later and that group is a lot smaller, and that idea is Press Basketball.
It caught fire at the beginning and we had people joining our bright shiny new plaything left, right, and center. It was exciting, but now I kind of realize that a lot of it was just that we were that “bright shiny new thing”.
We ended up with a lot of Press Basketball “members” but when I stepped back and looked at what was happening… it wasn’t what I’d imagined. The fire burned out. The idea was gone. We had just become another thing trying to stay alive, waiting for some deus ex machina to show up with money and make everything okay.
I’ve gone through most of my life making something out of nothing. It’s never easy, but when it happens it’s always worth it… ALWAYS. Press made me feel alive at a point. It was literally all I could think about, and while it still is on my mind, it doesn’t make me feel alive. This hurts more than I can ever explain.
Changes are coming my friends. We’re not laying down and dying, and if we do it’s not going to be like this.
The core of Press will be setting fire to a lot over the next few weeks and I personally can’t wait for this to start. From the ashes something new will rise (I watched a lot of XMEN growing up).
Stay tuned, because it’s not over.
Lonzo Ball: The New Face of the Lakers
Lonzo Ball is the new face of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise. The new savior. The Big Baller Brand is now here to stay and LaVar Ball’s family’s future is set. But is that enough?
Lonzo Ball is a great kid and athlete who knows his talent will take him to another level. The major question mark that remains is whether or not he will take the Lakers there as well. He has the platform and skillset to do so, but with that comes the added pressure from the city and league to basically become part of the next version of Kobe and Shaq. It’s too strainful for a young kid—a rookie—to achieve.
Magic Johnson, the recently named President of Basketball of Operations for the Lakers, is taking an aggressive approach to get this team back into playoff contention his first year in. One of his first moves was sending D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and the 27th overall pick. Brook Lopez is definitely an upgrade at center, but has a couple of years already under his belt.
Lopez will provide a much needed veteran presence with a great IQ for the game at his position. The only downfall is that a couple of years under his belt doesn’t really transfer to great experience, but simply wasted miles on his body. He isn’t as quick as he used to be and doesn’t even rank in the top 10 centers in the league. In fact, Bleacher Report had him last season at exactly 15 out of the top 30 centers in the NBA. While he is has improved by adding the three-point range to his arsenal, there is no doubt that he is nearly past his prime, and although he can still contribute on a nightly basis, who knows how much and what effect it will have with Lonzo Ball running the point.
Ball has great court vision that has been often compared to that of LeBron James. Combined with his passing skills, he is a true PG with tremendous upside in the backcourt. With that being said, he will only reach a certain extent. His full potential is years from being maximized and people are buying into it early on. In fact, the pressure for him to lift a sub .500 team to the playoffs for the first time in five years is daunting.
These are Lonzo Ball’s stats during his rookie—and only—year at UCLA:
- 14.6 Points
- 7.6 Assists
- 6.0 Rebounds
- 1.8 Steals
- 0.8 Blocks
- 55.1 FG%
- 41.2 3P%
He did a tremendous job maintaining that statline and even added a triple-double in the NBA Summer League, earning him the Summer League MVP.
Don’t get me wrong, Ball seems ready for the challenge and is definitely a one-of-a-kind talent mirroring that of Steve Nash and Jason Kidd, but he is not an All-Star or MVP—at least, not yet. These way-too-early predictions that he is the Lakers’ new savior are farfetched. He has yet to face the elite NBA offensive threats and superstars that have been at it for 10-plus years. Defensively speaking he will not be able to keep up. Not in his first year. He still needs NBA experience and a more rounded roster to be able to reach the playoffs.
He is off to a good start, but being named NBA Summer League MVP doesn’t necessarily mean a spectacular season is coming as some think it does. Especially if you consider the previous Summer League MVP winners.
|2012||Damian Lillard (co-MVPs)||PG||Portland Trail Blazers|
|Josh Selby (co-MVPs)||PG||Memphis Grizzlies|
|2013||Jonas Valančiūnas||C||Toronto Raptors|
|2014||Glen Rice Jr.||SG||Washington Wizards|
|2015||Kyle Anderson||SF||San Antonio Spurs|
|2016||Tyus Jones||PG||Minnesota Timberwolves|
|2017||Lonzo Ball||PG||Los Angeles Lakers|
With the exceptions of Damian Lillard in 2012 and Jonas Valanciunas in 2013, the past five Summer League MVP winners have gone on to produce very mediocre NBA careers. All I’m saying is, don’t read too much into NBA Summer League. It’s the pre-preseason that no one really watches or cares about.
The NBA season is nearing—exactly a month away—and my somewhat harsh criticism of Lonzo Ball isn’t too cruel. I am just not ready to jump on the Ball bandwagon following LaVar’s prophecies of his son being the Lakers prodigal son. He won’t be. Again, at least not yet. He needs to earn his spot and the transition will surprise him his first year in. It will hit him hard, but, despite my concerns, eventually Lonzo Ball will become a future NBA All-Star and a daring NBA point guard.
Not yet though, and until then all we can do is prepare for his official NBA debut. Until then, we can enjoy and bask in his newly released rap single paying tribute to his little brother LaMelo Ball.
If the NBA doesn’t end up being his calling in life, at least he has a back up career in mind.
Carmelo Anthony has been traded away from the New York Knickerbockers to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
You probably knew this before you laid eyes on these words.
It honestly doesn’t matter much who the Thunder traded away for “Melo” and who the Knicks received, because they weren’t anywhere near Melo’s overall value. But, it matters that Melo himself is gone and away from New York City, and for all his accolades, he honestly had a major part to play in his exodus.
New York has agreed to a deal to send Carmelo Anthony to OKC for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a draft pick, league sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) September 23, 2017
Melo altogether is a player that both outplayed and underplayed his own potential. No one that saw him at Oak Hill Academy as a high schooler could for-sure say that he’d be a superstar, and everyone that saw him at Syracuse University might say he was a can’t-miss by then.
And he didn’t miss on most of what he’s teased, he’s delivered in a lot of ways; but, the reason why he didn’t work out in New York was because he was selfish to a fault in the key places that required compromise.
Do you remember how he got to Kings County in the first place? He forced a trade to the Knicks from his then-Denver Nuggets, a team that was teasing with talent abundant, but not unlike today, stuck in the mighty Western Conference. With title contenders like the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers at that time of the NBA, the 2010–2011 season, the Nuggets just weren’t going to make the noise they wanted to make. Melo was a free agent-to-be at the completion of that season, and it was likely that he’d leave. His time with the Nuggets, a very successful time, had run its course. The change was coming, and he was catalyst to the change he wanted to see in his world. Nothing wrong with that.
The problem was that Melo didn’t want to wait for New York. He wanted New York then and there, and it didn’t matter how it was going to happen.
It didn’t matter that the Knicks weren’t in a position to compete for a title during that season, something he long wanted to bring to New York upon his eventual arrival.
It didn’t matter that the Knicks would have to gut their team’s best assets in a trade for the Brooklyn-born, Baltimore-raised native. It didn’t matter that if he waited until the season was over, he could be playing with a young and promising Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov (a revelation upon his arrival to the States from Russia), amongst others.
It didn’t matter that the Knicks would have to sacrifice draft picks for him, instead of keeping them upon signing later.
It didn’t matter to Melo.
And so, when he arrived in New York, in early 2011, he received the adulation and praise of a prodigal son. Sure, the team lost some valuable talent and depth, but surely Melo would will the Knicks into wild success — just like he did in Denver, right?
And sure enough, after he rebuked the Linsanity of 2012 when Jeremy Lin became an overnight NBA superstar and balked at the prospect of Lin’s resigning, he gained some success.
The 2012–2013 season saw Melo as the closest thing to being an MVP candidate that anyone had ever seen from him as a professional in an 82-game season, but not before being totally indifferent to former head coach Mike D’Antoni’s wishes for him to play more at power forward to stretch the offensive side of the ball for the Knicks and the defenses of the opposing league teams. D’Antoni quit before the end of the 2011–2012 season, because of Melo’s loathsome resistance to D’Antoni and the coach’s embrace of Lin.
A big aspect of Melo’s failure to bring glory to Manhattan was his resistance to doing what has made him a legend in USA Basketball. Having won multiple gold medals as a stretch-four shooter, that he refused to embrace that positioning as an NBA pro limited the ability of his teams to win.
As a four, Melo, who had gained grown-man weight from natural maturity and strength and conditioning, didn’t have to be the cavity in his team’s defense as he struggled as a man-to-man defender. Moving from his formerly-natural small forward slot could allow him to defend more ably and allow someone more fleet of foot to stop the dominant wings that Melo often matched up against. Becoming something different and better in a new place would’ve allowed him the opportunity to be greater than anyone had known him to be in an NBA uniform.
But, he refused and rebuked such a change.
And one last thing: Injuries and front office politics aside, Melo was loyal to the Knicks organization through and through. But, he had a choice to go.
So, to recap, Melo forced a trade to New York that gutted the talent of the roster, and then he refused to change to a position that would behoove him and the team in the journey to championship gain.
Well, he also had a chance to leave for greener pastures and become a Chicago Bull, where he could experience more success with a front office committed to his development and surrounding talent. He didn’t want to do that, and that’s fair. New York was home, but if he was going to win in New York, seeing as to how being the way that he’d always been wasn’t helping — that is shoot-first, ask questions and defend later — why return to The Big Apple if you aren’t going to change?
He saw what being a score-only wing was giving his teams — it gave his teams very little success for the vast majority of 14 years. Sure, his Nuggets and Knicks made the playoffs (not so much New York) much of the time, but he said he wasn’t playing for that.
In the end, Melo and the Knicks not working out could be seen before he even became a Knick, when Melo stomped his way out of Denver to play immediately for New York when it would’ve behooved him to stay put for two more months.
Championship or bust, they say.
He couldn’t really compromise too well for the chip, it appears.
In the end, Carmelo Anthony — despite years of league-leading jersey sales, runway appearances, and bright lights on the New York City streets with LaLa — was a big, fat, shining, New York bust.
An Ode to the 2007-2008 Warriors
USA VS EVERYBODY | The Break | Episode 17
February Fouls | The Break | Episode 18
February Fouls | The Break | Episode 16
Hardwood Battles | The Break | Episode 15
Christmas Day Showdowns | The Break | Episode 10
Western Conference Preview | The Break | Episode 1
Eastern Conference Preview | The Break | Episode 2
NBA & More Mailbag with Josh Howe — TWT 102
Memphis Grizzlies Season Preview with Keith Parish — TWT 101
Something Out of Nothing
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Lonzo Ball: The New Face of the Lakers
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Talking LA Clippers with Tom West — TWT 99
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