Were the two calls at the end of the Heat/Pacers game last night fair?

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For those who did not get to watch either the game or the highlights of last night’s contest between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers, you missed a lot. Indiana was able to overcome their no-show of a game three and edge Miami in game four 99-92, but not without controversy. 

There were two important calls that were being debated this morning, with the first involving LeBron James fouling out. With just under a minute remaining in the final quarter, James set a screen at the top of the key for Dwayne Wade, but was called for an offensive foul for tripping the Pacers’ Lance Stephenson. I don’t think there is a question as to whether or not LeBron committed a foul by definition, but the situation is what really needs to be considered. It’s game four. There is under a minute left. The Heat are down four points with the ball. It’s the NBA Eastern Conference Finals.

I do not like the Miami Heat at all. But my opinion on that play is that a foul should not have been called. As much as I liked to see Indiana win, LeBron should not have been thrown out of the game. He had just hit a huge three-pointer, and I thought that Miami was going to win the game as long as he was in. The referees changed the direction of the game, and ultimately the outcome, with that play.

Even though James was gone, the Heat were still not done. The difference was still four on the Heat’s next offensive possession when Mario Chalmers handed the ball off to Dwayne Wade. At this point, there was about 30 seconds in the game. Wade took a dribble going towards the hoop then stepped back before passing the ball off to Shane Battier, who knocked down a three. The problem is that the shot was waved off because Wade was called for a travel. The stepback did look awkward because it was a little more drawn out than most stepbacks, but, once again, the referees got this call wrong. The truth is that it was not a travel at all. And, once again, the refs should have considered the situation. Traveling is the most common no-call in the NBA. The game would have been down 96-95 and the Heat would have had a shot to either tie or win the game.

I think that the referees definitely changed the outcome of the game, and I also think that the referees should be talked to by the Director of Officials because the refs swallow the whistle on those two plays more than nine times out of ten.

What the Grizzlies need to do to save the series

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This picture best explains the first two games of the Western Conference Finals for the Memphis Grizzlies. Game one resulted in a 105-83 throbbing at the hands of their opponent, the San Antonio Spurs. In game two, the Grizzlies were able to scratch and claw their way into overtime, where they eventually lost after only scoring four points in the extra period.

The series is now going to Memphis, where the Grizzlies need to defend their home court in order to stay alive in the series. Although they are down 2-0 to an experienced San Antonio squad, there is not much that they need to fix.

Defense.

Now, it seems like this is a big problem because “defense” covers many smaller factors. But, these are the Memphis Grizzlies, a team that has made their name off of playing gritty defense. This season, they allowed the fewest points per game with an impressive 89.3 per contest. Also, they allowed the third-lowest field goal percentage during the regular season, holding opponents to an average shooting percentage of just 43.5% per game. In the two games this series, Memphis has given up an average of 99 points per game, while allowing the Spurs to shoot 48% from the field.

Numbers like these would lead one to believe that this cannot be fixed, but they showed their true colors in the fourth quarter this past Tuesday night. They held the Spurs to just nine points in the fourth quarter, and to just two points in the final 8:14 of the game. The Spurs turned the ball over, while Memphis capitalized on almost every one. This was the real Grizzlies team that we had not seen for the first nearly seven quarters of the series.

Tony Allen received the most points in all-NBA defense voting this year, while guard Mike Conley made the all-NBA defensive team along with center Marc Gasol, who was named the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year this season. There is plenty of defensive talent on this roster, it is just a matter of Memphis really focusing on shutting down the Spurs.

The question is, will they? We will see in about five hours.

Could the Heat Beat the NBA-Record 33-Game Win Streak?

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by: Damon Turbitt

Before the 1971-1972 NBA season, no team in league history had ever won more than 20 consecutive games. Then came the Lost Angeles Lakers. They began that season with a decent 6-3 record, but it surely was nothing compared to what was to come. 33 games later, and with a staggering 39-3 record, their fourth loss came at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks, who ironically tied the previous record for consecutive wins with 20 just one season before. It took 36 years for another team to eclipse the 20 consecutive wins mark, but the 2007-2008 Houston Rockets would falter soon after and see their streak end at 22 games.

Well, there’s your little history lesson for the day, kids, and now I digress. What I’m trying to usher in is the fact that the Miami Heat have just won their 21st consecutive game, beating the Milwaukee Bucks eerily enough, and are raising the question of possibly beating the streak of the Lakers set over 40 years ago.

I’ll open my argument by saying that, in my opinion, the Heat are the most talented team in all of basketball. LeBron James will go down as one of the three greatest players to ever step on to the court. Dwayne Wade is a phenomenal guard, and one of the best players in the Association today. Chris Bosh is another star player that is also one of the best in the game, but is overshadowed by Miami’s plethora of talent. They have the best three-point shooter in NBA history in Ray Allen. Shane Battier is both a great defender and a 42.5% shooter from beyond the arc. I could go on, but I will stop there.

Despite all of this, the Heat will not beat the streak that was achieved by Los Angeles, all bias put aside. Is it because they are not one of the greatest teams of all-time? No. This roster should be remembered as one of the best to ever be assembled. But the fact of the matter is that the NBA is not what it used to be. Of course, there has always been a premier level of talent, don’t get me wrong, but the game has evolved exponentially over the last 40 years. Wilt Chamberlain, a member of the ’71-’72 Lakers squad, was a guy who averaged over 35 points per game for an entire season six times. His career season-high averages are 50.4 points per game and 44.8 points per game. Nobody will ever be able to dominate like that ever again because there is too much talent, and athleticism especially, in today’s game.

The Lakers also did not really have a weakness on their roster. They had four Hall-of-Famers (although Elgin Baylor was at the end of his career). They had a great point guard in Jerry West. They had Chamberlain inside. Everybody on the team could shoot – only one player had a shooting percentage worse than 43 percent. The Heat do have a big weakness though, and that is size. Granted, they are 50-14 without size, but they are 30th in the NBA in rebounding. How are they supposed to win 13 more games in a row? Winning 34 consecutive games with their size disadvantage would be an impressive feat.

Plus, you have to look at who the Heat have to play. Here’s a look at their next 13 games:

  • @ Toronto
  • @ Boston
  • @ Cleveland
  • vs. Detroit
  • vs. Charlotte
  • @ Orlando
  • @ Chicago
  • @ New Orleans
  • @ San Antonio
  • vs. New York
  • @ Charlotte
  • vs. Philadelphia
  • vs. Milwaukee

Of those 13 games, only four come against playoff teams. But in two days, they have to take on their rival, the Boston Celtics, who are disgusted with the current streak and are more than eager to end it. Paul Pierce said that he hoped for the Miami Heat to lose every game until the end of the season, while Jason Terry pulled his best Mikayla Maroney impression by saying basically that the streak does not impress him, nor does anything that the Heat do. The Celtics want to beat them badly, and this is where I see the streak ending, as Boston will pull out all the stops to end the streak at home.

What if the Heat beat the Celtics though? Well maybe I will type up another blog to further assess the situation. But no matter what, until Miami actually wins their 34th consecutive game, I will not say that it is possible.

The Team Who Has Had The Best NFL Offseason So Far

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by: Damon Turbitt

I could be wrong, but I feel as though this has been one of the more active, if not the most active, NFL offseasons in recent years. There have been many big names either staying at home or changing area codes, including, but not limited to: Wes Welker heading to Denver, Steven Jackson going to Atlanta, Reggie Bush taking his talents to Detroit and Mike Wallace leaving Pittsburgh for Miami. Nobody has matched the offseason of the Kansas City Chiefs though. From the offense to the defense to the coaching staff, the Chiefs had been very busy early in 2013.

Let’s start with the offense. The Chiefs had two big offensive weapons that everybody knew last year, being wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and running back Jamaal Charles. The Chiefs still had Charles under contract, but had the task of keeping Bowe in Kansas City, and they did just that, signing him to a five-year deal. On the topic of keeping players, they also were able franchise-tagged their left tackle Brandon Albert.

But they were 2-14 with these players…

Kansas City did much more than just re-sign their offensive weapons; they just turned into a potential top-10 offense with the trade for former San Fransisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith. Say what you want about Colin Kaepernick, I still think that the Niners would have made it to the Super Bowl with Alex Smith under center. But anyway. They just added a solid passer, which is not something that they have had in their offense. Now that they have both a solid pass and run game, defenses will have a much harder time preparing for the Chiefs. Kansas City also brought in a couple more targets for Smith. Dwayne Bowe is the number one receiver without a doubt, but they were able to sign Donnie Avery, and he will most likely be the number-two receiver next season. At tight end, the Chiefs were able to bring aboard Anthony Fasano, who played in Miami last season. He is a big target at 6’4″ and he caught five touchdown passes last season. I feel as though he has been under-utilized being in Miami, so it will be interesting to see how he performs next season. A passing game is what Kansas City needed, so these additions will turn their offense around completely.

The run defense struggled last season, but the Chiefs have begun to address that issue also. They already have Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson, who are two solid linebackers that are capable of stopping the run, but they also went out and got Mike DeVito from the Jets, a 300-pound defensive lineman that will clog up the middle. As far as the secondary goes, they did not really need to make any moves – they already had Eric Berry and Brandon Flowers back there – but they made a couple of big acquisitions. First, they signed Dunta Robinson, who has played in 15 or more games in seven of his first nine seasons and also has 17 career interceptions to go along with almost 600 tackles. Is he the best corner in the league? No, but he is fast and will be playing with one of the most talented secondaries in the NFL. Also, they were able to sign Sean Smith, the former Miami Dolphin whose name has been getting some attention this offseason. In addition to the other three guys, this will be a scary secondary that will be able to cover the options that Peyton Manning and the division-rival Denver Broncos will be looking for in the upcoming year.

Now to the coaching. There really was not a better guy out there than Andy Reid. This is a coach who was the head of one of the most successful teams of the last decade in the Philadelphia Eagles. Although they never won a Super Bowl, the Eagles did manage to make one appearance while playing in five NFC Championship games. He had gotten a lot of criticism for the failures in Philadelphia over the last two seasons, but every coaching tenure runs its course. He has a great defense to work with already in Kansas City and, after all of the offseason moves, he has a great offense to work with too. The players have said that they liked Reid, so it looks like Reid is a good fit.

Call me crazy, but I think that the Chiefs are a playoff team with the roster that they have now. They have addressed their offensive needs, they have only bettered their defense and they added a coaching stud in Andy Reid. And keep this in mind: they still have the number-one draft pick this April.

Can the Spurs Overcome Age and Win the Title?

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by: Matt Colucci

As you all know, the San Antonio Spurs are and have been one of the best teams in the NBA for the last decade. They’ve recorded at least 50 wins or more in each of the last 13 seasons, including the shortened 66-game season last year, when they posted a league-best 50-16 record. They currently have the best record in the NBA this year at 48-15, and are on their way to their third consecutive number one seed in the west.

However, there remains the everlasting hindrance in San Antonio. Their age. The Spurs are once again one of the oldest teams in the league with an average age of 27.9 years old.

The centerpiece of their organization, Tim Duncan, turns 37 in April and Manu Ginobili turns 36 in July. Both Duncan and Ginobili have seen substantial cuts in playing time over the past couple years. While Ginobili’s minutes have never been astonishingly high due to the fact that Gregg Popovich has mostly used him as a 6th man, he has only seen an average of 23 minutes a game over the past two seasons. Duncan, over the last three years, has seen his playing time drop to around 28 or 29 minutes a game, compared to the 35 minutes that he’s averaged throughout his career. While both players are still competing at an incredibly high level for their age, you have to wonder when their energy will burn out.

Two years ago, after finishing 61-21 and locking down the 1 seed, the Spurs lost to the Grizzlies in the first round 4-2. Last year they lost in the conference finals to the Thunder 4-2 after finishing first in the west again. Will this vicious pattern of dominating the regular season and failing to succeed in the playoffs continue? It seems likely. Tony Parker is out four weeks with a left ankle sprain, and that leaves the inexperienced Cory Joseph to take his place at the point. Joseph is unfamiliar with the Spurs offense, and hasn’t seen any real action up until last week.

If the Spurs hope to secure their third consecutive Western Conference crown and make it back to the Finals, a few things will have to happen.

1)      Pop cannot stray from his game-plan of limiting Duncan and Ginobili’s minutes. Just because Parker is out, Duncan and Ginobili shouldn’t have to play more minutes. Rest their bodies!

2)      Force the young guns to step up! Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal, and Danny Green need to show that they are capable of scoring the basketball. Leonard’s jumper has improved greatly over the span of one season, he just needs to assert himself more in order to take pressure off of Duncan to score so much. Danny Green is another player that needs to get more involved. He’s already having his best season, averaging double digits for the first time. If he can score 15 a game in Parker’s absence, Ginobili will be under less pressure as well as Duncan. And lastly, if Gary Neal can limit his turnovers and share control of the offense with Joseph, it will help acclimate Joseph to the NBA game and relieve him of some of his burden.

3)      In the first round of the playoffs the past couple years, Popovich loaded Duncan and Ginobili up with minutes that they rarely saw the entire regular season. This change not only slowed down their game-play, but it tired the two veterans out much more quickly. If Pop limits their first round minutes to fewer than 30 a piece, San Antonio should be able to slip by without overworking their veterans.

Should Tony Parker recover fully in time for playoffs, I actually believe that his injury could work out nicely for the Spurs. It will force the young players to step up, and it will provide them with key experience in critical games, which could help late in the postseason when the veterans are tired. I know everything thinks that the Spurs are too old to last throughout the playoffs, and that no one can beat the Miami Heat, but I think Gregg Popovich and company have one last playoff run to put on display, and by the end of this season, I think Tim Duncan will be able to fill up an entire hand with NBA rings.

Who Should Have The 1 Seeds In The NCAA Tournament

With Selection Sunday just a week from today, it is only appropriate that I write my first non-Lakers blog in well over a month about the NCAA. This year, like most others, there has been a lot of parody in college basketball. Unlike other seasons though, I don’t know if there has been so much change at the top spot in recent seasons. The rankings have changed considerably since the first week, and especially around the top four teams. There could potentially be some changes, as the major conference tournaments have not taken place, but right now, I believe that these four teams will own the four number-one seeds come tournament time.

Gonzaga Bulldogs (30-2) – There really isn’t any way that Gonzaga could not be a one seed. They are currently ranked number one in the nation, and already in their conference tournament. In fact, they defeated Loyola Marymount last night to advance to the championship game of the West Coast Conference. They play one more game tomorrow night against rival Saint Mary’s College, who has always been the one team in the conference to challenge the Bulldogs. But, with a 16-0 record in the conference this season, can you really see them losing?

Duke Blue Devils (27-4) – At the beginning of the season, Duke was expected to be a solid team, but their number-eight ranking in the preseason poll showed that they were not expected to be a great team. Fast-forward to 18 weeks later; Duke is the number three team in the country. Bad losses against conference foes Maryland and Virginia looked like they would ruin Duke’s chances of becoming a one seed, but the Blue Devils finally have senior forward Ryan Kelly back in the lineup. He has been back for three games, and in those games, Duke is 3-0, including big wins against, at the time, number five Miami and rival North Carolina at North Carolina. There still is time for Duke to lose this ranking, as they still have the entire Atlantic Coast Conference tournament to play through, but, right now, they look like they can hold on to a one seed.

Georgetown Hoyas (24-5) – Although Gonzaga comes from what it considered to be a non-power conference, Georgetown is the biggest surprise out of the four number-one seeds. The Hoyas were not even ranked in the top-25 in the preseason. Despite not getting the respect from the voters, they have defied all odds and, when this week’s rankings come out, will be ranked either number three or number four in the nation. When you look at team statistics, you would think that Georgetown was nowhere near the top-25. They rank 238th in the country in points per game and 250th in the country in rebounds per game. The one thing that may hold Georgetown out of the top four in the country this week could be a bad loss at Villanova, but they beat rival Syracuse yesterday in dominating fashion. One thing that they do have going for them is that they are hot – in their last 15 games, they are 13-2, including five wins over ranked teams. Their quest for a one seed will be one of the two toughest though, as they will have to shine at Madison Square Garden against a tough Big East, which includes four teams currently ranked in the top-25, including a tough Louisville squad that could also get their own one seed in the tournament.

Michigan Wolverines (25-5) – This last number one seed was the hardest one for me to decide, and for me, it comes down to who the best team in the Big 10 is. This is incredibly tough. As of right now, Michigan is the second-highest ranking team in the conference behind Indiana, who was the preseason number-one. What takes Indiana out of this equation for me is the fact that they have lost two out of their last three games, including a huge loss at home against Ohio State, who looked like the better and more-experienced team. Michigan, on the other hand, won a very big game this past week against in-state rival Michigan State , although it took some last-second heroics from guard Trey Burke. It is very fitting that today is the last game of the season for both Indiana and Michigan, and they are squaring off against each other in Ann Arbor. If Indiana were to win convincingly on the road, I may change my mind about who should on the one seed, but I feel that Michigan is the tougher of these two teams. Of course, there is still the tough Big 10 tournament to come, but there is a very good chance that neither of these teams win the tournament. Once again, this is a very close call, but I am going to say that Michigan has the upper-hand  both in today’s game and in the conference tournament.

You would think that there would be a couple of locks for the one seeds with only a week left to go until Selection Sunday, but there really is only one, being Gonzaga. Even then, they still have to beat their biggest rival in a conference championship. The other three teams still have a lot of work left to do if they want to lock up a one seed. Teams like Indiana and Louisville are incredible teams that have a good chance of both capturing a one seed and winning the national championship this year, so these teams better hope that they can hold on for one more week. Gotta love March Madness!

If/When Do The Lakers Slide Into The Eighth Spot In The West?

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I listened to this man, Kurt Rambis, speaking about the Lakers on SportsCenter this afternoon. When he explained what he felt Los Angeles needed to do to make the playoffs, I was kind of confused. When he was talking, he made it seem like there was an incredible and almost insurmountable gap between the Lakers and the eighth spot.

The gap, as we speak, is a game and a half. Mr. Rambis, you’re wrong.

I no longer believe that there is a question in regards to if the Lakers will get into the eighth spot, but when the Lakers will make the move. Will the Lakers stay there? That remains to be seen. But, mark my words, the Lakers will get into the eighth spot in the Western Conference. 

The next question is, who falls? Well, right now, there are three teams that are somewhat within reach. Golden State is currently in the sixth spot and four games ahead of the Lakers. Right now, I am ruling them out. They are 20-7 at home this season behind one of the best, if not the best, home crowds in all of the association. Even better for the Warriors, they play 14 out of their final 20 games at home. How can Los Angeles compete with that? They can’t.

The next team in sight is the Houston Rockets. Houston is the current holder of the seventh spot in the West and two games ahead of the Lakers. There is a possibility that the Lakers could catch the Rockets. If it were to happen, would I be surprised? No.  I don’t see it happening though. First of all, the Rockets are the highest-scoring offense in the NBA. In one season, James Harden has gone from Sixth Man of the Year to superstar in just one year. Chandler Parsons is having a very strong sophomore campaign, scoring 15 points and shooting about 39 percent from beyond the arc and Jeremy Lin is quietly having a solid season, averaging 13 points and six rebounds a game. In addition, Houston is ninth in the league in point differential. Are they better-suited to win a playoff series than the Lakers? Probably not, but they will hold on over the last 19 games.

That leaves one team, the eighth seed, the Utah Jazz. This, to me, seems like the team most likely to falter down the stretch. Over their last 10 games, Utah is just 5-5, losing to teams like Sacramento, Milwaukee and Cleveland in the process. Over the Lakers’ last 10 games, Los Angeles is 7-3. So, in the last 10 games, the Lakers gained two games. In theory, The Lakers will have the lead in the next 10 games. I am going to be a little bit more ambitious though. Kurt Rambis says that the Lakers will need to scratch and claw to get in, but I believe that the Lakers sneak into that eighth spot in the next five games. Here’s each team’s schedule over the next five games:

Utah: @ Chicago, @ NY Knicks, vs. Detroit, @ Oklahoma City, vs. Memphis. My Prediction: 1-4 after five games, 33-34 overall.

Los Angeles: vs. Toronto, vs. Chicago, @ Orlando, @ Atlanta, @ Indiana. My Prediction: 3-2 after five games, 34-33 overall.

The way I see it, Utah only beats Detroit in that rough stretch of games. Los Angeles takes care of Toronto, Orlando and Atlanta and finishes their next five games two games better than Utah. So, I think that Rambis will be surprised to see that in just eight days, the Lakers will have a one game lead over the Jazz in the West.