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Rowan’s Rankings | NBA Week 25

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As another week passes, we have seen teams try to discover their identity on the fly — whether it be the Warriors trying to win without Durant, the Raptors without Lowry, the Cavaliers trying to integrate pieces that haven’t played together all year, or the Spurs dealing with a health scare to LaMarcus Aldridge. Nothing is given in today’s NBA and just because things look inevitable on paper, doesn’t mean that the league doesn’t have any surprises in store for us come playoffs. In the spirit of March Madness, it’s important to remember that upsets can and do happen, and what teams do down the stretch may impact their ability to execute when it matters.

  1. San Antonio Spurs last week 1

It wasn’t a particularly good week for the Spurs. They lost to both the Blazers and Grizzlies, but rebounded with a convincing win over the Kings. With none of the top teams playing their best basketball, the Spurs keep their top spot.

  1. Houston Rockets last week 2

With a 4-1 record over their last five games, the Rockets are getting closer and closer to securing the third seed in the playoffs. That position may not be as desirable, though, should the Spurs overtake the Warriors for the top seed in the West.

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers last week 3

The Cavs are starting to take shape as Kevin Love and J.R. Smith are both back. While the team rested the big three for the blowout loss against the Clippers, the offense has looked potent in the two games Love has played in. Now they must try to shake off the rust before the playoffs start.  

  1. Golden State Warriors last week 4

The Warriors have busted out of their slump with three straight wins. The struggles of Steph Curry had made things difficult for the Warriors, but his 28 point performance on 9-of-13 shooting against the Bucks was a loud statement that he is still one of the league’s best players.

  1. Boston Celtics last week 8

Resting Isaiah Thomas over the weekend caused Boston to have a close game against the Nets, plus suffer a loss to the Sixers. If there was ever any doubt about Thomas’ value, it should be put to rest now. Overall the Celtics are 3-1 over their last four and have an important showdown Monday against the Wizards.

  1. Utah Jazz last week 5

The Jazz fell on the second night of a back-to-back against the Cavaliers as Kevin Love made a surprise return. That loss would be understandable, but they followed it up with a low-scoring loss against the Chicago Bulls. At this point the Jazz have likely had too many setbacks to catch the Rockets for the third seed.

  1. Toronto Raptors last week 9

Don’t look now, but the Raptors appear to be adjusting to playing without Kyle Lowry. Their defense has been strong since the acquisitions of Ibaka and Tucker, but now their offense is finding ways to move the ball and be effective. A blowout win over the Pacers was the exclamation mark to a 3-1 week for the dinos.

  1. Washington Wizards last week 5

The defensive slide from the Wizards since the All Star break has made things considerably tougher for them. Now the Wizards need to right the ship in a hurry, or they could lose their third seed to a Raptors team that has found its stride. Washington went 1-3 over the last week.

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder last week 12

The Thunder have been an absolute buzzsaw lately, winning five straight games including quality wins over the Spurs, Jazz, and Raptors. The team is clicking offensively to go along with their excellent defense and are roaring up the standings. That Russell Westbrook guy has also had a pretty good stretch, someone should talk about him.

  1. Memphis Grizzlies last week 10

Memphis isn’t giving the Thunder much room to relax after winning their last four games. They are just a half game back of the Thunder and are playing some great basketball. This will likely be a photo-finish out West.

  1. L.A. Clippers last week 7

The Clippers had lost three straight games before their 30 point beatdown of the Cavaliers. While they rested Paul and Griffin for their loss to the Nuggets, the team is now in danger of losing the fifth seed to the surging Thunder.

  1. Milwaukee Bucks last week 11

With an 8-2 record over their last ten games, the Bucks are one of the hottest teams in the league. They’ve moved up to seventh place in the East and if they can hold on to that positioning, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them make some noise in the playoffs.

  1. Portland Trail Blazers last week 18

Like the Bucks, the Blazers are 8-2 over their last ten games. Damian Lillard has been sensational and the team is finally living up to the amount of talent they possess. They will give the Nuggets all they can handle in the race for eight.

  1. Denver Nuggets last week 17

Denver won’t go down without a fight. The Nuggets had won four straight games before their close loss to the Rockets. Their schedule doesn’t do them any favors with back-to-back games against the Rockets and Cavaliers coming up, but their schedule gets much easier after that point.

  1. Miami Heat last week 13

The Heat have won six of their last eight games, but have suffered a big loss on the injury front with Dion Waiters going down. Waiters hopes to return before the end of the season, but his absence could hurt their shot at a playoff spot.

  1. Dallas Mavericks last week 14

The Mavericks got a quality win over the Wizards and took care of business against the Nets. However those wins served as the bread to a bad loss sandwich as the Mavs were blown out in Philadelphia by 42 points.

  1. Indiana Pacers last week 16

Last week I pointed out that the Pacers have alternated between wins and losses for the last ten games. Well, that streak is now up to thirteen games for one of the league’s most inconsistent teams.

  1. Detroit Pistons last week 10

The Pistons put an end to their three game losing streak with a win over the Suns. Detroit is still in a playoff spot, but the Heat are right on their tail.

  1. Atlanta Hawks last week 15

If it wasn’t for the hot start from Atlanta, this likely wouldn’t be a playoff team. They are ninth in point differential in the East and have lost three straight games. They have the ability to play good basketball, but they appear to be stuck in limbo.

  1. Chicago Bulls last week 20

The Bulls got a solid win over the Jazz, however Dwyane Wade is done for the season. That may be the final dagger in the heart of their playoff hopes.

From the heart of continent, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Justin is a life-long hoops head with a love of the team from Northeast Ohio. He’s written for Fear the Sword as well as Hoops Habit. And he’s never blown a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. "It's kind of boring when you take open shots." - J.R. Smith. Checkout Justin’s weekly NBA Power Play called Rowan’s Rankings.

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Editorial

Something Out of Nothing

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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.

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Lonzo Ball: The New Face of the Lakers

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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.

Year Nat. Player Pos. Team
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.

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MELO-dy Cool

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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.

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.

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