The NBA: Where Injuries Happen

This has been an all too common site this year. Teams’ abilities to avoid scenes like these may be the difference between an early exit and a deep playoff run.

After the mad blitz that was the NBA regular season, teams in the playoffs are certainly showing some fatigue. Many have argued that a season that demanded players to attempt to play 66 games in approximately 120 days has led to the rash of injuries. Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Josh Smith, Ray Allen, Baron Davis, Kendrick Perkins, and Iman Shumpert are among the players who have missed time this postseason because of injuries. Throw in the suspensions to Rajon Rondo and Metta World Peace and it is clear that perfect attendance was almost impossible to achieve this season.

Obviously, teams who are able to keep their best players on the floor have a sizable advantage over their opponents. A quick glance at the number of games missed by rotation players on playoff teams during the regular seasons offers a little insight. By looking at a team’s roster and gauging how many players from each team missed time due to injuries or suspensions can quite possibly predict that team’s chances of keeping its best unit intact throughout the playoffs.

Here are the teams that did the best job of keeping its best players on the court throughout this hectic season:

1. Indiana Pacers
30 games missed, 10 rotation players, 3.0 games missed on average
Players considered: Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, David West, Paul George, Leandro Barbosa, Darren Collison, George Hill, Tyler Hansbrough, Dahntay Jones, Louis Amundson

2. Oklahoma City Thunder
41 games missed, 9 rotation players, 4.56 average
Players considered: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Derek Fisher, Daequan Cook, Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison
Note: Eric Maynor was not considered in this evaluation as his injury was suffered very early in the season and the team was adequately able to replace him with Derek Fisher

3. LA Lakers
35 games missed, 7 rotation players, 5.0 average
Players considered: Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, Ramon Sessions, Matt Barnes, Metta World Peace, Steve Blake
Note: The amount of games missed by Devin Ebanks and Jordan Hill was incredibly difficult to quantify as each players’ up and down play led to inconsistent playing time

4. San Antonio Spurs
83 games missed, 12 rotation players, 6.92 average
Players considered: Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills, Gary Neal, Stephen Jackson, Dajuan Blair, Tiago Splitter, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Matt Bonner, Boris Diaw
Note: The Spurs’ position on this list is remarkable especially considering several of their best players were held out of games at the end of the season.

5. Memphis Grizzlies
63 games missed, 9 rotation players, 7.0 average
Players considered: Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, OJ Mayo, Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Mareese Speights, Dante Cunningham, Quincy Pondexter

6. Miami Heat
73 games missed, 10 rotation players, 7.3 average
Players considered: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier, Joel Anthony, Ronny Turiaf

7. Philadelphia 76ers
86 games missed, 10 rotation players, 8.6 average
Players considered: Jrue Holliday, Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams, Thad Young, Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner, Jodie Meeks, Nikola Vucevic, Lavoy Allen

8. LA Clippers
86 games missed, 10 rotation players, 8.6 average
Players considered: Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Nick Young, Mo Williams, Caron Butler, Randy Foye, DeAndre Jordan, Kenyon Martin, Reggie Evans

9. Orlando Magic
78 games missed, 9 rotation players, 8.67 average
Players considered: Dwight Howard, Ryan Anderson, Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson, JJ Redick, Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis, Quentin Richardson, Chris Duhon

10. Utah Jazz
99 games missed, 11 rotation players, 9.0 average
Players considered: Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Gordon Hayward, Devin Harris, CJ Miles, Derrick Favors, Josh Howard, Alex Burks, Raja Bell, Enes Kanter, Earl Watson

11. Chicago Bulls
100 games missed, 10 rotation players, 10.0 average
Players considered: Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Richard Hamilton, Joakim Noah, CJ Watson, Kyle Korver, Taj Gibson, Ronnie Brewer, Omer Asik

12. Dallas Mavericks
102 games missed, 10 rotation players, 10.2 average
Players considered: Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, Delonte West, Roddy Beuabois, Brendan Wright, Jason Kidd, Ian Mahimni, Brendan Haywood

13. New York Knicks
95 games missed, 9 rotation players, 10.55 average
Players considered: Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert, Landry Fields, JR Smith, Jeremy Lin, Steve Novak, Baron Davis

14. Denver Nuggets
136 games missed, 12 rotation players, 11.33 average
Players considered: Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Danilo Gallinari, Al Harrington, Javale McGee, Kenneth Faried, Andre Miller, Wilson Chandler, Corey Brewer, Rudy Fernandez, Kosta Koufos, Timofey Mozgov
Note: Faried was not counted as having missed any games, even though he only played 46 games this season. Once he started receiving consistent playing time beginning February 9th he did not miss another game.

15. Atlanta Hawks
133 games missed, 10 rotation players, 13.3 average
Players considered: Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Jeff Teague, Al Horford, Marvin Williams, Zaza Pachulia, Willie Green, Kirk Hinrich, Ivan Johnson, Tracy McGrady

16. Boston Celtics
167 games missed, 10 rotation players, 16.7 average
Players considered: Greg Stiemsma, Jermaine O’Neal, Chris Wilcox, Michael Pietrus, Avery Bradley, Rajon Rondo, Brandon Bass, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce
Note: Wilcox and O’Neal were both included because it appears the team still has not recovered from their injuries, shown by inconsistent minutes still given to Stiemsma, Ryan Hollins, and Marquis Daniels. It just seems like Doc Rivers is still trying to make up for the size they are missing with Wilcox and O’Neal out.

It should come as no surprise that the four teams that are widely considered to be the favorites to contend for the NBA Finals (Thunder, Spurs, Heat, and Lakers) are all in the top 6 teams on this list. Not only did these teams do a superior job avoiding the injury bug, but it is also incredible how few games their star players missed this season. James, Bosh, Duncan, Parker, Bryant, Bynum, Pau Gasol, Durant, Westbrook, and Harden missed a combined 38 games between the ten of them.

A team like Indiana, who no one thinks has a chance at winning a championship this year, certainly must be overjoyed at their ability to stay healthy. If a major injury does occur to one of their opponents, the Pacers’ tendency to field a healthy roster could prove to be the catalyst in a series against an undermanned team.

On the other hand, maybe we shouldn’t be all that surprised the Bulls are in the position they are in. Surely it was not their fault, but the numbers don’t lie: Chicago has a team that struggled with injuries all year long, and surely the playoffs are no different. The Bulls thought they might be able to get everyone healthy and on the same page down the stretch, but it should be no surprise to any of us that their unhealthy trend continued into the playoffs.

5 Worst Self-Inflicted Injuries

In light of Amare Stoudemire’s recent run in with a certain fire extinguisher in Miami, it got me thinking about the most idiotic self-inflicted injuries in the NBA. Most are self-inflicted out of the sheer stupidity by the offending party.  Where does Stoudemire’s hand laceration rank in the list? Believe it or not, there have been more foolish injuries, albeit both by the same player. And no, Lionel Simmons doesn’t make the list for missing games during the 1990-1991 season because of a wrist injury caused by playing Game Boy. Simmons is saved by the fact that Derrick McKey missed time for the same reason a year later. You cannot fault these guys for being passionate about their Tetris.  And there is nothing stupid about playing Game Boy.  That being said, let’s see the real list:

5. Paul Pierce
The stage: the 2008 NBA Finals, Game 1, the biggest game of his life. Paul Pierce is bumped by teammate Kendrick Perkins and…Oh wait, we’re talking about real injuries? Excuse me, that was just so damn convincing.Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

5. Derrick Rose
Given his recent injury, maybe we shouldn’t be picking on the guy, but you haven’t heard just how ridiculous this injury really is. During his rookie season, Rose injured himself when he got a cut underneath his left elbow. Fortunately, Rose didn’t end up missing any game time, but it’s not the impact of this injury that is worth noting, it is the absurdity of it. Rose claimed that the night before the injury, he had been eating an apple in bed. The next morning as he went to grab a bottle of water, he forgot that the knife he used to cut the apple was still there. Thus, he sat down on the bed and sliced his arm.  I guess it was an honest mistake, but lack of common sense is no excuse for being excluded from this list.

4. Monta Ellis
Ok, this one is pretty simple. When you sign a 6 year, $67 million contract, typically you owe it to your team to stay out of harm’s way. Instead, in August 2008, a little over a month after signing that big deal, Ellis revealed that he had torn a ligament in his left ankle. Initially, Ellis claimed that he had injured the ankle in a pick up basketball game in his hometown of Jackson, Mississippi. However, the Warriors looked further into the situation and discovered that Ellis had actually injured the ankle in a moped accident. The Warriors decided to suspend Ellis for 30 games without pay for the incident, assuming that he was too injured to play in those games anyway. That guess proved to be a tad on the conservative side as Ellis ended up playing only 25 games that season.

3. Tony Allen
Poor Tony Allen. Back in the days when he was known as “Trick or Treat Tony” for his maddeningly inconsistent play, he suffered one of the most unfortunate turns of fate on the court. But I can’t leave him off the list because I feel bad for him. No, his stupidity must be pointed out. On January 10, 2007, Allen was playing in the second half of a Celtics’ loss when, after hearing a whistle blow, Allen decided to drive into the lane and throw down an uncontested, dead ball dunk. Unfortunately for Allen, his knee didn’t exactly cooperate; upon landing he tore his ACL and MCL and ended up missing the rest of the season. You hate to see a guy go down with such a devastating injury, but in reality, Allen injured himself by showing off to the crowd. He went up for what he thought would be an emphatic and impressive dunk, but literally fell flat on his face, shredding his knee in the process.

2. Amare Stoudemire
Notice how all of these players “suffered” their injuries in the regular season? Too bad we can’t say the same for Stoudemire. He gets a lofty position in these rankings for the timing of everything. With his team struggling through a first-round playoff series with the Heat, Stoudemire took out his frustrations on a fire extinguisher. Bad news for Amare: after the dust settled, the fire extinguisher came out on top. Surely, the Knicks had little to no chance of winning the series, but with its second scoring option out for the foreseeable future against one of the best defensive teams in the league, New York was all but eliminated as fast as you can say “Amare’s a dumbass.” Not only that, but when the 6-10 Stoudemire went down, the Knicks were forced to play small ball, taking away quite possibly the only advantage the Knicks had, their size.

1. Lew Alcindor
The man now known as Kareem Abdul Jabbar was once upon a time a very stubborn and, apparently, not very sharp young man. During a pre-season game in 1974, Alcindor was hit by an opposing player and, being so infuriated, swung at and punched the basket support. He broke his hand and missed 16 games. Ok, you’re probably thinking “that’s excusable, what’s the big deal?” Fast forward to the 1977-1978 season opener, now as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers and facing his former Bucks team, Kareem loses his temper once again. This time, after being elbowed by Kent Benson, Abdul Jabbar punches Benson, breaks his hand, and is forced to sit out for two months. You would imagine that after missing significant time for punching an inanimate object, Abdul Jabbar wouldn’t take his chances with a human being, but apparently he didn’t learn from the first time around. I’m assuming he finally did learn his lesson as, after this injury, Abdul Jabbar never missed more than 8 games in a single season.

5 Players for USA Basketball to Consider

Who should join these guys in training camp in Las Vegas?

There are currently fifteen players on the US Men’s Basketball roster that are healthy enough to play for the team this summer. Those players are Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Eric Gordon, Rudy Gay, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Chris Bosh, Blake Griffin and Tyson Chandler. With injuries to Derrick Rose, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Dwight Howard and the decision that Lamar Odom will not be representing the team at this summer’s Olympics, Jerry Colangelo has stated that the team is likely to add one or two players who will compete for the twelve spots on the active roster.

Here are five players that should warrant some consideration:

5. Greg Monroe
This team is clearly lacking size here and need a player with Monroe’s rebounding and low-post scoring ability. Monroe has something that the other big men on this team do not: a low-post scoring game. He can back down his man and score with an array of low-post moves unlike anyone else on the roster. However, Olympics basketball rarely ever favors big men in the post; therefore, Monroe (and player’s like him, such as Zach Randolph) has an asset that may very well be mitigated. USA Basketball may want to add him into the mix in order to give him the experience and prepare him for the future when he may very well be part of the teams’ plans.

4. DeAndre Jordan
Jordan would bring another dimension to this team as a big man who can run the floor in transition. Surely, with Williams, Paul, or Westbrook running the point and the best wing players in the NBA, this team is going to have the ability to get out on the fast break like no other team in the field. Add a center like Jordan into the fold and USA Basketball could field a lineup that would devastate less athletic teams in transition. Just imagine a limeup of Westbrook, Wade, James, Griffin and Jordan running the break. Just downright frightening.

3. Anthony Davis
Kentucky’s big man is sure to be the first pick in this year’s draft, but why not throw more accolades at this 19-year-old? He may very well be the future of the USA Basketball program, so giving him experience now can only help. His ability to rebound, protect the rim, and knock down open shots are all very attractive to a team whose only true center is Chandler. Have you noticed a theme yet? Yup, this roster is short on size and defensive presence in the paint.

2. James Harden
A scoring wing player certainly is not a need for this team, but as one of the best young players in the league, Harden certainly deserves a look. He has drastically improved his 3-point shot, shooting 39% this year, and has a fantastic all-around offensive game. Considering Gordon represents the US’s biggest 3-point threat and his ongoing health issues, Harden would be a sound investment.

1. Josh Smith
Smith has everything the team could possibly want: athleticism to run the floor, defensive presence and ability to alter shots, and a middling offensive game that won’t require a lot of shots. Of course, Smith has a tendency to take unadvised jumpers, but you would hope that in this environment he would defer to others and the betterment of the team. Smith averaged 1.74 blocks a game to go along with 9.6 rebounds, numbers that should draw the attention of Colangelo. Lastly, Smith is versatile enough to play the 5, 4, or, if necessary, the 3, which would be an asset, especially considering the US will likely have to matchup with Spain’s front court of Serge Ibaka and the Gasol brothers.

Note: Andrew Bynum has said he will not participate this summer. Roy Hibbert is not eligible because he played for Jamaica’s national team in the 2010 Centrobasket tournament.

The Answer to the Bulls’ Problem

Where can the Bulls turn now that Derrick Rose is injured?
(Hint: the answer cannot be seen in this picture…or on the current roster)

Don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but there’s a bit of a formula for success in the NBA. Get superstars on a team, surround them with quality role players, and you’re bound to succeed.

Take a look at the seven teams that most would consider are in the running to play for an NBA championship: the Spurs, Thunder, Lakers, Clippers, Heat, Bulls, and Celtics. Every single one of them has bona fide superstars, guys that can take over a game at a moment’s notice, guys that can carry them to the Finals. Look even closer and at least five (I say “at least” because it depends on how you judge the Spurs) of those seven have two superstars.

Now, take the Chicago Bulls into consideration. They have one superstar (Derrick Rose) and have surrounded him by the highest-quality role players. Guys like Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Richard Hamilton, and Carlos Boozer are very good players, but they certainly are not superstars. However, this chose team to go against the grain. They chose to build around their one superstar with very good players, play team basketball, get everyone involved, and play nasty defense. It is a formula that is rare in the current NBA, but a noble thought nonetheless.

Sad news is this: it doesn’t work.

The Bulls, now without Rose, are all but taken out of the conversation. They have no shot at winning a title this year. In the blink of an eye, they went from title contenders to a team that many doubt can advance past the second round.

Derrick Rose was the motor that kept this team going. He was the guy that could neutralize any advantage any opposing team had over these Bulls because, simply put, there is no one in the league like him. He is a point guard who creates matchup problems no matter who you put on him. He is always looking for his own shot, but this benefits his teammates as much as a pass-first point guard because the attention he receives from opposing defenses creates quality shots when he does give it up. He was the guy who the Bulls could give the ball to in the fourth quarter to put the game away.

Now all of that is gone and there is no one to replace him.

So now, the Bulls are left to pick up the pieces to try to contend without their leader. And you know what? They have a fantastic roster and coach and are sure to give teams headaches. They will still beat the 76ers in the first round, might even beat the Celtics or Hawks in the second, but they sure as hell are not beating the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. When Rose went down, any chance this team had of competing with the Heat, and for a title, was thrown out the window.

Therein lies the problem: Rose was far too important to this team’s success for them to have much of a chance. This year he goes down to an ACL tear and the season is over. Last year, the Heat threw so a wide variety of defensive combinations at him, stunting his game, and none of his teammates could effectively step up. Who knows what’s to come if the Bulls keep on this same course?

That is why the Bulls need to make a move this offseason. They need to lessen Rose’s burden and get someone on their team who can take the pressure off of him.

Just look at the Heat this season. In LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, they have two of the ten best players in the league. But they aren’t too reliant on either one; you need not look further than Miami’s 14-1 record when Wade was out of the lineup and James was in as proof. Sure, James is the best player on the planet and he’s not going anywhere, but a team like the Heat can stay afloat without their best player.

Surely, you can cite the Bulls’ 17-8 record without Rose as proof that they can do the same, but not a single sane person reading this is going to argue that the Bulls can still win the title. Not the same for the Heat; if Wade were out for the rest of the playoffs there is no doubt in my mind that the Heat could still contend for a title.

So what are the Bulls to do? It is clear to me that they need an additional superstar that will complement Rose as well as the team itself. A player that will not demand an inordinate amount of shots, but can still take opposing teams’ attention away from Rose. A player that will buy into the defensive intensity that this team prides itself on. A player that can step up when Rose is down or out. A player that has seen his team go through a similar process (although to a lesser extent).

Yes, that is right, the player the Bulls need is none other than Dwight Howard.

The Bulls were rumored to have had internal discussions about dealing for Howard at the trade deadline, but did not pull the trigger for many reasons, including Howard not guaranteeing he would sign an extension. But this injury to Rose absolutely has to change management’s thinking.

Howard could come in, be a secondary scoring option to Rose, and anchor their defense. It would give the Bulls one of the top 3 one-two punches in the league.

After the season, once Howard once again makes it clear to Magic management that he does not intend to sign long-term, Orlando will look to trade their franchise center. The hysteria will begin all over again and the Bulls would be wise to be in the mix. A package of Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, and draft picks for Howard and Hedo Turkoglu would work mathematically and would certainly give the Magic a competitive offer.

Until the Bulls reassess their situation and understand that their current formula is doomed, Chicago can get used to the disappointment they have felt since they heard about Rose’s injury. But that can all change with one move: a trade for Howard.

Concerns After Game One

The Top 5 Individual Matchups Out East

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Who will win out in the battle of these members of the 2003 draft class?

5.  Rose vs His Body

Well, this matchup has already been decided.  The main concern for the Bulls during the post-season was going to be keeping their star player healthy in an effort to maintain their title hopes.  Unfortunately for Chicago fans those hopes were all but dashed last night when Rose tore his ACL while driving into the lane.  In spite of their recent success without Rose it is highly unlikely that the Bulls will make it far in the absence of their best player.

4.  Roy Hibbert vs Glen Davis

Without Dwight Howard the Magic have a distinct size disadvantage in this series and Roy Hibbert will look to exploit that.  Both Davis and Hibbert were pretty inefficient offensively last night going a combined 11 for 31, but the discrepancy becomes immediately apparent when you look further into Hibbert’s stat line.  The Pacers’ big man grabbed 13 boards and swatted away 9 shots giving Indiana an inside presence that will pay off in this series, even if it did not carry them to victory in the first game.

3.  Paul Pierce vs Joe Johnson

If the Hawks want to make it past the surging Celtics they will need Joe Johnson keyed in on both sides of the court.  Johnson finished the last 4 games of the season shooting 61.67% and averaging 23.8 points, numbers he will need to continue to put up against the 2nd best defensive team in the league.  His task on defense is to impede Paul Pierce, a man who has averaged 21.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 4 assists in 110 career playoff games, not to mention one of the most clutch shooters in the league as evidenced here.  Good luck to the both of them

2.  Luol Deng vs Andre Iguodala

Both Deng and Iguodala are underrated players who excel on the defensive end and contribute in multiple ways offensively.  Iguodala has taken a dip in scoring in favor of a more team-oriented style of play for the Sixers but continues to spread the ball around (5.5 assists per game) crash the boards (6.1 rebounds per game) and pick pockets (1.7 steals per game).  Deng, on the other hand, now becomes the Bulls most important offensive player with Rose out for the rest of the playoffs.  With Rose attracting most of the defense’s attention Deng contributed 17 points on 8-14 shooting last night, but the game will be completely different with Iguodala focusing all of his efforts on Deng.

1.  LeBron James vs Carmelo Anthony

After Game 1 it’s already advantage LeBron.  Last night was a perfect example of a worst-case scenario for this matchup.  Carmelo couldn’t get his shot going (3-15 from the field) and LeBron was aggressive on offense going 10-14 from the field and 11-14 from the line.  Carmelo is going to need to continue shooting an exorbitant amount if the Knicks are going to have a chance against the championship hopeful Heat.  He’s already shown he can be an efficient scorer (29.1 points per game over 16 games since 3/26) but LeBron’s DPOY candidacy can and will effectively stop both him and the Knicks.

No kidding, this is the picture ESPN3.com used to promote the Indiana-Orlando game

Obviously, Jameer Nelson vs. Leandro Barbosa is the marquee matchup in the Indiana-Orlando series.

The Top 5 Individual Matchups out West

Marion-Durant was one of the most compelling matchups in all of the playoffs last year. This year, they match up in the first round.

5. Ramon Sessions vs. Ty Lawson
Down the stretch, Sessions’ play dropped off a bit. Over the Lakers’ last 7 games, he still posted solid averages of 10.7 points per game on 41.4% shooting with 4 assists per game. However, during that span, he shot 40% or lower in four of those contests. Sessions will have to step up his offensive production as well as his ability to distribute the ball effectively to the three stars on that team. Lawson, on the other hand, has been consistent all year long, leading the team in scoring with 16.4 points a game while shooting an extremely efficient 48.8% from the floor. Lawson is going to want to push the ball up the court and try to influence the pace of play in the Nuggets’ favor. It will be Sessions’ job to slow it down; although he alone is certainly capable of running with Lawson, the rest of his team does not operate that way. This may not be the most important matchup of this series (as you will see below), but the pace of play will be crucial in this series and it begins with these two.

4. Tim Duncan vs. Al Jefferson
The Jazz have little chance at pulling off an upset here, but if it’s going to happen, Jefferson is going to have to carry the load. With San Antonio ranking 2nd in the league in scoring and Utah 4th, while both teams are in the lower half of the league in opponents’ scoring, offense will decide this series. Jefferson represents Utah’s most consistent scoring threat and thus their most important piece if they want to win this offensively loaded series. In his four games against the Spurs this season, Jefferson put up 21, 20, 19, and 12 points respectively and the Jazz went 1-3 in those games. Clearly, for these Jazz to have any chance at pulling a Memphis-sized upset in these series, Jefferson is going to have to produce more than what he has given Utah in their previous games against the Spurs this year.

3. Kobe Bryant vs. Arron Afflalo
Bryant struggled in his three games against the Nuggets this year, shooting only 27.5% from the floor. OK, that’s a small sample size, but how about last year? He was a little bit better, but still Bryant only managed to convert on 39.2% of his field goal attempts. This is no coincidence; Arron Afflalo clearly gives Kobe problems. Surely, George Karl will turn to other players to help out on Kobe, namely Corey Brewer, but Afflalo figures to be crucial in defending Bryant. Offensively, Afflalo really turned a corner in April. During that span, he has put up 18.7 points a game, while shooting 52.1% from the field and 44.9% from beyond the arch. On both ends of the floor, this has the makings of a great matchup, which will certainly have a large bearing on the outcome of the series.

2. Shawn Marion vs. Kevin Durant
Key in the Mavericks’ 2011 run to the Finals was Marion’s defense on any opposing player that Coach Rick Carlisle assigned him. In the Western Conference Finals against these same Thunder, Durant averaged 28 points a game on 42.9% shooting. Marion, not known for his offensive skills, put up 18 and 26 in games 3 and 5, respectively. If Dallas wants to make a run at upsetting the Thunder, Marion is going to have to disrupt Durant during key stretches like he did last postseason. Moreover, with Tyson Chandler gone Marion will be the one spearheading this defensive attack.

1. Blake Griffin vs. Zach Randolph
I know that Zach Randolph has not played like the 2011 version of Z-Bo as of late. And I know Griffin isn’t the most important player in determining the outcome for his team, but I still see this as the most crucial matchup in what is the most evenly matched series out West. The Grizzlies have slowly been working Randolph back into the rotation, which can partly explain why he hasn’t reached 20 points in a game since March 16. But the fact of the matter is that if Memphis wants to make a deep run, they need the Randolph of old to show up. Griffin, not the most adept defender in the league, might be a good place to start. Defensively, you know that Randolph and the rest of the Grizzlies are not going to allow Griffin to simply jump over them; they will gladly send him to the line before allowing him easy buckets. If Memphis’ offense is sputtering at any point, don’t be surprised if you see them throw the ball down low to Randolph to get them going. Only if he shows up like he did last season can the Grizzlies make a deep run.

Who Has the Best Chance to Win It All This Year?

Who has the best chances of clutching the Larry O’Brien trophy this year?

Now that the playoff field is set, let’s take a look at how teams stack up in their chances to win a title.  Below are my rankings of the each team’s chances to win the NBA Championship this postseason:

16. Orlando Magic

With Dwight Howard ruled out for the entire playoffs, this team has to turn to Ryan Andeson, Glen Davis, Jameer Nelson, and JJ Redick as their primary scorers.  There is absolutely no way this team, without Howard can knock off any team here in a 7-game series.  And to be quite honest, I don’t think they would be much higher on the list even if Howard were playing.

15. Utah Jazz

Yes, they made an incredible run to the playoffs.  The team should be commended for being able to rebuild and win all at the same time, something very few teams in the past couple years have been able to do.  But no, they are not getting out of the first round.

14. Philadelphia 76ers

Despite busting out of the gate at 20-9 the Sixers managed to go a mere 14-21 since then.  This team relies on its superior defense, which is 2nd in the league in opponents’ points per game, and team play, with 8 players playing over 24 minutes per game and averaging at least 8 points per game.  Unfortunately their defense will only get them so far against a healthy Bulls team or the star-studded Miami Heat.  Expect this offense to struggle against the playoff-level intensity their opponents’ defenses are likely to impose.

13. Atlanta Hawks

After a season that saw teams play 66 games in roughly 120 days, depth is going to be big come playoff time.  That’s bad news for a team without arguably its best player, Al Horford, and a terrible second unit.

12. New York Knicks

I just don’t see it with this team and I don’t think I ever will.  Amare Stoudemire is not the player he once was.  JR Smith drives me crazy every time he touches the ball.  Carmelo is playing out of his mind right now, but he will come back to Earth sooner rather than later.  However, with Tyson Chandler anchoring their defense and Steve Novak and Smith able to knock down threes, they can give any team a run for their money…just not a run at a title.

11. Denver Nuggets

This team will certainly cause its first-round opponent some headaches with its depth and blistering pace of play.  Ty Lawson has been playing great all year, Arron Afflalo is firing on all cylinders right now, and Danilo Gallinari is finally healthy again.  Although their model of star by committee is unprecedented, letting whoever is the hot hand take over in crunch time, it is also unproven.  That and the fact that they give up 101.2 points a game, second-worst in the league, truly hinder their chances at making a deep playoff run.

10. Indiana Pacers

I love this team, absolutely love them.  They roll 10 deep and play great team basketball.  They don’t lean on any one player too much, so any guy can be their lead scorer any night and even if Danny Granger is cold, they can win.  But this team is still a couple years away from being a title contender.  They simply do not have that one player who can take over at the ends of games.  Every other team ahead of them has what they don’t: a player who will take over in the fourth quarter and carry them to wins.  Until they have that superstar, they will continue to simply be a good team, nothing more.

9. LA Lakers

Metta World Peace.  It’s all been said, he’s clearly not sane.  Fortunately for the Lakers, despite the impressive April World Peace was having, their playoff hopes do not rest on the far from level head of that man.  Unfortunately for the Lakers, they have plenty other problems, their lack of depth chief among them.  Also, their 3-7 record against the five teams above them in the standings (Oklahoma City,San Antonio,Chicago,Miami, andIndiana) is disconcerting.  Having said all that, anything is possible with Kobe Bryant leading your team.  And don’t forget they haven’t lost any of that length that gave them an advantage over every team they played en route to winning titles in 2009 and 2010.

8. LA Clippers

I know the Clippers haven’t been to the post-season in a long time, but the fact still remains: they have Blake Griffin, and more importantly, Chris Paul.  If you’ve already forgotten what Chris Paul did to the Lakers last year in the playoffs please reintroduce yourself.  He took the series to 6 games on his own, averaging 22 points, 11.5 assists, and 6.7 rebounds while shooting 47.4% from the three and 54.5% from the field, utilizing his tear drop in the lane to perfection.  Just imagine what he will do with another legitimate star and some solid role players (Jordan, Butler, Foye, Young, and Martin).  They have a shot at making a deep run, but that inexperience certainly knocks them down on our list.

7. Memphis Grizzlies

Everyone is scared to play this team in the playoffs and they should be.  They have the most complete roster out of any team here with players who contribute in big ways at every position.  On any given night they can kill you with their size (Marc Gasol), their speed (Mike Conley), or their perimeter length (Rudy Gay).  If Zach Randolph, their best player from last year’s run, can get back to his old ways, this team is downright scary.

6. Dallas Mavericks

Sure, I am going out on a limb here putting the Mavericks this high.  Most likely, they are going to face the Thunder in the first round of the playoffs and more than likely they will be knocked out in the first round.  However, there remains a sliver of hope here that I see as greater than any of the teams I have already mentioned.  Dirk Nowitzki, as he proved last postseason, has the ability to absolutely dominate a playoff series and that cannot be overlooked.  If Dirk can catch fire, do not be surprised if the Mavericks shock the world again and make a run at the finals.

5. Boston Celtics

Everything about this team reads old.  Old stars, old school, and, most importantly, old swagger.  That’s right, this team has that hop in their step that they did back when they won the title in 2008.  Their defense has been great all season long, currently ranking as the third best in the league limiting opponents to 89.6 points per game.  But it has been their offensive output lately that has them thinking about a title.  Avery Bradley has emerged as a reliable threat, Rondo has been playing out of his mind, KG is showing flashes of his former self, and Paul Pierce still has the ability to take over games.  Their biggest issue right now is their rebounding.  They currently rank No. 28 in the league in rebound differential at -4.4 a game.  This team’s ability to corral crucial defensive boards at the end of games will be instrumental in any run they make.

4. Chicago Bulls

I want to put the Bulls higher on this list (read No. 1), but I just can’t do it until I see more out of Derrick Rose.  Yes, I know, the team has played great basketball with Rose out of the lineup.  But there is no way this team can compete with the elite in the NBA without their superstar.  They cannot possibly expect Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Richard Hamilton, and Joakim Noah to hold their own over a 7-game series with the Heat.  If Rose plays like the MVP he was last season, it is a completely different story.  If that were to happen, the Bulls become my favorite to win it all with one of the three players most capable of taking over a game and a stingy defense.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder

No, I do not think the blow to James Harden’s head knocks them down on this list at all.  I am hopeful that he is going to bounce back just fine from the injury.  However, OKC has other issues.  Russell Westbrook is playing just poorly enough recently to make us all think that he might not be the best partner to pair with Kevin Durant again.  In the month of April, Westbrook is shooting 38% from the floor.  In the last five games he is 25-82 (30.5%) from the floor.  Not exactly the numbers you want to see from your second option, especially when his shot selection indicates a first option mentality.  Having said all of that, the Thunder have maybe the most talented roster top to bottom.  They certainly have grown over the past couple years.  Something just tells me that they are still a year away from knocking down the next two teams on our list…

2.San Antonio Spurs

It is shocking to me that the ole reliable Spurs have come to the forefront of the Western Conference.  Just like every other year, I counted them out at the beginning of the season and said that this would be the year it all fell apart.  But thanks to great moves by the front office, this is the deepest team in the playoffs.  After an exhausting regular season, that depth may be more important than ever.  And don’t you for one minute forget about Tim Duncan.  The man is still a force to be reckoned with in the paint.  Don’t let his numbers fool you, they are down because he is playing a career low 28.2 minutes a game.  Yes, he is getting old, but he gives this team an inside presence that can cause huge matchup problems for lots of teams.  And I haven’t even mentioned that Tony Parker is playing like he is 22 again, Manu Ginobili is bouncing back slowly but surely, and they’re second in the league in scoring at 103.5 points a game and first in three-point shooting (39.5%).  Be afraid, be very afraid.

1. Miami Heat

I hate to say it, but to me the Heat are the favorites to win it all.  You can talk about LeBron James’ inability to close out games all you want (and believe me, that is one of my favorite talking points) but the fact remains that this team simply has the most talent of any in the playoffs.  They are certainly far from perfect, as I have my own doubts about their bench.  But quite honestly, they are better than they were last year in all aspects and I do not see a team out East that can contend with them in a 7-game series.  Try to name one team that can match up with this group.  It’s not possible.  LeBron James is a matchup nightmare all by himself.  The one knock on the guy continues to be his performance when it matters most.  I truly hope that storyline never dies, but right now, the odds say this is the year he overcomes that obstacle and claims a ring.

10 Thoughts on Metta World Peace’s Elbow to James Harden

Metta World Peace's violent act should carry a lengthy suspension

10.) We all tried to forget about Ron Artest’s reputation.  The man who won the NBA’s sportsmanship award in 2011 had certainly worked hard enough to try to get us to forget.  Hell, he even changed his name, maybe tricking some of us into thinking he was a completely different person altogether.  But after Sunday night, no one is going to forget Metta World Peace was once, and still is to a degree, Ron Artest.

9.) By elbowing James Harden square in the back of the head, Word Peace committed one of the most violent plays in the history of the sport…again.  And the fact that he is a repeat offender should absolutely be taken into consideration when the NBA levies a suspension.

8.) I have heard some compare this play to “The Punch” that occurred on December 9, 1977 when LA Laker Kermit Washington punched Houston Rocket Rudy Tomjanovich in the face.  I can’t go that far; this play was not nearly as malicious as that one.  However, World Peace’s actions simply cannot be compared to basketball-related fouls, like the one committed by Andrew Bynum in last year’s playoffs.  I cannot think of a violent, non-basketball play like this one in recent memory.

7.) The Lakers knew they were taking a chance by bringing in Metta World Peace as a free agent in July of 2009.  The team should be recognized for looking beyond his reputation and seeing that in recent years, the man formerly known as Ron Artest had actually been behaving.  However, inherent with that signing was the risk that Artest would revert back to his old ways.  As much as you and I would love to mock World Peace for his often offensively challenged skills, the fact remains that he is indeed an incredibly important player for the Lakers.  I would not be surprised to see the team knocked out in the first round, in no little part thanks to a suspension to World Peace.  As unfortunate as it may be, franchises that keep knuckleheads like World Peace employed are going to pay the price.

6.) World Peace made a completely non-basketball move when he threw his elbow into Harden’s head.  It wasn’t even part of his celebration.  Instead, it was a player getting too caught up in the moment and, for some reason I cannot even begin to explain, unleashing his energy in an incredibly violent way.

5.) Metta World Peace’s attack on Harden seems pretty unprecedented, but in all honesty we have  come close to this before.  The only difference is in the past, players haven’t connected on their swings at each other.  Obviously, the force with which World Peace hit Harden combined with his history make this a big story, but Shaq’s swing at Brad Miller could have potentially been worse.

4.) Throw in the fact that the NBA has seen one of its most marketable players, Blake Griffin, targeted in thug-like ways throughout the season and you know the NBA is going to come down hard.

3.) One of the most feared enforcers in the league, Kendrick Perkins, was far away from the fight that broke out on the floor.  For that we should all be thankful.

2.) The NBA is loathe to be unconventional.  So you can throw out any idea of World Peace being suspended indefinitely, only to be reinstated when the Lakers are eliminated from the playoffs.  Same for JA Adande’s (very good) idea of suspending World Peace as long as Harden is out, plus two games.

1.) So if this play isn’t as bad as Washington’s, but worse than Bynum’s, how many games should World Peace be out for?  Washington was suspended for 60 days (26 games) and Bynum was ruled out for 5 games.  Considering Harden’s health, the action itself, and the player’s history, I think that World Peace should be suspended for 15 games.  However, throwing in the fact that he is going to miss playoff games, which to me, and anyone who has ever watched an NBA game, carry more weight than regular season games, the suspension should be reduced to 10 games.  This way, World Peace would miss the Laker’s final game of the regular season, the first round of the playoffs, and beyond.  It sounds a tad extreme on its face, but World Peace cannot be allowed to get away with such a heinous act.  The NBA cannot allow players to be assaulted on the court with little penalty.  10 games, which includes several in the playoffs, would send a clear message to the players and teams alike that this will absolutely not be allowed.