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Rowan’s Rankings | NBA Week 25

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As the last two weeks of the regular season unfold, we’ve still got seeding battles galore to figure out. The league’s best continue to shine, but below them a whole lot is still left to figure out, as several teams need to decide whether to play to win, or play for a desired playoff matchup.

1. Golden State Warriors last week 1

Things have been pretty good for the Warriors lately. The team has won 11 straight games and they have some Durant guy’s return pending. Your 2017 title favorites, ladies and gentleman.

2. San Antonio Spurs last week 2

Winners of seven of their last eight games, things have been pretty good for the Spurs. The team has been dominant on both ends of the floor. With the top seed likely out of reach and no risk of the Rockets catching them, it’ll be interesting to see how frequently they rest down the stretch.

3. Boston Celtics last week 4

The top seed in the East belongs to the Celtics. The team is finishing strong down the stretch and have put themselves in a good position to keep their place. Boston now has two days of rest before playing the Cavs on Wednesday, who will be playing their third game in four nights. The top seed is on a platter, they just have to take it.

4. Toronto Raptors last week 6

The Raptors have won eight of their last nine games and are climbing up the East standings. Only two of their remaining five games come against current playoff teams, one of which being a likely-to-rest Cavs on the last night of the season. So Toronto should manage to hold on to their current seeding.

5. Houston Rockets last week 3

Victims of their schedule, the Rockets had lost three straight games before getting a win over the Suns. Playing the Warriors and a hungry Blazers squad over that losing stretch was a tall order. With their seeding guaranteed, the Rockets are another candidate to rest over the last couple weeks.

6. Cleveland Cavaliers last week 5

The Cavaliers have bounced back from their three game losing streak with a blowout win over the Sixers and a double overtime win against the Pacers. While the defense has looked better over the past few games, it’s now their offense that has been laboring. There’s still much to figure out, with not much time left.

7. Portland Trail Blazers last week 8

The red hot Blazers have won six straight games, even with Jusuf Nurkic going down with a fractured leg. With each win, they inch closer to clinching a playoff spot.

8. Milwaukee Bucks last week 9

One of the biggest surprises of the second half of the season has been the Milwaukee Bucks. The team is 7-3 over it’s last ten games and are a game up on the Hawks for fifth in the East. They could be dangerous come the playoffs.

9. L.A. Clippers last week 13

The Clippers have won three straight, and are 7-3 in their last ten games. Having Chris Paul and Blake Griffin healthy has helped the team beat up some weaker competition lately. On the one hand, the recent winning has likely helped the team clinch a top five seed. But it’s been a long time since the Clippers have come up with a quality win.

10. Utah Jazz last week 10

The Jazz have been holding off the Clippers for home-court in the first round. The first round match-up between Jazz and Clippers seems inevitable at this point, so it’ll just come down to which team has home court.

11. Washington Wizards last week 7

Losers of three straight games, the Wizards recent slide has allowed the Raptors to overtake them in the standings. Washington has been struggling recently, beyond their recent slide. They only have a .500 record over their last ten games. This is far from ideal with the playoffs looming.

12. Oklahoma City Thunder last week 11

A disappointing home loss to the Hornets gave the Thunder it’s first pair of back to back losses in over a month. The Thunder have overachieved this season, but their place in the standings may come down to Wednesday’s game against the Grizzlies. Win, and they’d all but be assured of a series against the Rockets. Lose, and they risk playing the Spurs.

13. Chicago Bulls last week 18

The Bulls have won four straight games and have the easiest remaining schedule in the league. Sitting pretty in seventh place, the Bulls look like a playoff lock — something that didn’t seem so clear a week ago.

14. Miami Heat last week 16

Miami has lost its last two games and are grasping to a tiebreaker over the Pacers to keep them in the playoffs. Miami’s season has been one of the best stories in the league, but they will need to earn their playoff spot down the stretch.

15. Memphis Grizzlies last week 12

Memphis appears to have righted the ship after a four game losing streak, though the pair of wins were followed by a disappointing loss to the Lakers. Memphis has a tough game in San Antonio, followed by a showdown against the Thunder.

16. Atlanta Hawks last week 20

The Hawks are limping towards the playoffs, but they got some good news as Paul Millsap has returned from injury. Even with Millsap, the Hawks lost to the lowly Nets. Unless the team can turn things around in a hurry, whoever plays them essentially will have a first round bye.

17. Denver Nuggets last week 14

The Nuggets are hanging on for dear life onto their slight playoff hopes. Their loss to the Blazers may prove to be the final nail in the coffin, but the fight the team has shown this season bodes well for their future.

18. Indiana Pacers last week 15

The recent play of the Pacers has put them on the outside of the playoffs looking in. The team has lost four straight games, including a double overtime heartbreaker against the Cavs. Outside of George, the Pacers simply haven’t been receiving enough help.

19. Dallas Mavericks last week 17

Dallas has been eliminated from the playoffs after showing a surprising amount of life down the stretch. The coaching job of Rick Carlisle has been one of the finest this season, it just unfortunately was not enough.

20. Detroit Pistons last week 19

The Pistons have lost six of their last seven games, and now sit two games out of the final playoff spot. The Pistons are one of the biggest disappointments this season, and have gone from a promising young playoff team to a lottery team.

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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