NBA Division and Playoff Preview

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

In a rapid fire of posts today before tonights games, we’re going to start with our picks for each Division, including the over/under picks. I’ll also give my playoff teams at the end, including my picks for the Finals, and this seasons champion.

Eastern Conference

  • Atlantic Division
  1. Boston Celtics over 52.5
  2. Toronto Raptors over 50
  3. New York Knicks over 40.5
  4. Philadelphia Sixers under 25
  5. Brooklyn Nets under 21.5
  • Central Division
  1. Cleveland Cavaliers over 57
  2. Indiana Pacers over 45.5
  3. Detroit Pistons under 44.5
  4. Chicago Bulls over 40.5
  5. Milwaukee Bucks over 36
  • Southeast Division
  1. Atlanta Hawks over 43.5
  2. Washington Wizards under 42.5
  3. Charlotte Hornets under 40.5
  4. Miami Heat over 35
  5. Orlando under 37

 

Western Conference

  • Northwest Divison
  1. Oklahoma City Thunder over 45
  2. Portland Trail Blazers over 45.5
  3. Minnesota Timberwolves over 42.5
  4. Utah Jazz under 47
  5. Denver Nuggets over 37
  • Pacific Divison
  1. Golden State Warriors over 66.5
  2. Los Angeles Clippers over 54
  3. Sacramento Kings under 32.5
  4. Los Angeles Lakers over 25.5
  5. Phoenix Suns under 29
  • Southwest Division
  1. San Antonio Spurs over 57
  2. Houston Rockets over 44
  3. Dallas Mavericks over 40
  4. Memphis Grizzlies under 44
  5. New Orleans Pelicans under 36.5

 

Playoff Teams

Eastern Conference

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers
  2. Boston Celtics
  3. Toronto Raptors
  4. Indiana Pacers
  5. Atlanta Hawks
  6. Detroit Pistons
  7. New York Knicks
  8. Washington Wizards

Western Conference

  1. Golden State Warriors
  2. San Antonio Spurs
  3. Los Angeles Clippers
  4. Houston Rockets
  5. Oklahoma City Thunder
  6. Portland Trail Blazers
  7. Minnesota Timberwolves
  8. Dallas Mavericks

And my picks for the Finals are the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers with the Warriors winning in 5 games.

Louisville 54, NC State 13 Game Notes

  • This is the first time I noticed that our fans didn’t boo the opposing team coming out. I’m so glad we stopped doing that to teams that aren’t our rivals or at least highly ranked.
  • Seth Dawkins starts. Glad to see from the freshman.
  • Lamar made the defense sleep with all the passes. 36 yd TD run was beautiful and what we’re used to. 
  • Washington interception was perfect. Good pressure up front and the QB never saw Washington. 
  • Bad play calling on second drive off TO. Too much running. Lamar had a good throw away.
  • Lukayas McNeil two false starts on FG. Penalties and special teams issues combined into one!
  • Thank god he still made the field goal.
  • RB runs too much east to west. Louisville doing a great job sealing gaps and staying on the weak side. 
  • James Quick fumble was correct call on field. Just bad luck.
  • James Hearns is a bad bad man!
  • Penalties already terrible. Really ugly start to the game. It honestly feels like we’re going to spend more real time on special teams than offense or defense.
  • Lamar 74 yd pass to Jaylen Smith was a perfect example of how much Lamar has grown. Old Lamar would have gotten impatient and ran with the ball or been inaccurate on the throw. He was patient, read it perfect and threw it on a rope. 
  • Defense is looking great. 
  • Lamar bad reads on the option up to two.
  • 3 bad penalties on McNeil now. Has to be more disciplined. 
  • I can’t remember the last time Lamar just took a sack. It was jarring.
  • Jaylen didn’t block the defender downfield. It was the only reason Cole didn’t score on the wide open throw from Lamar.
  • Johnathan Greenard is going to be a great linebacker for us. I really like him.
  • #ColeLeap.
  • Blocked punt by Malik Williams was special. We don’t usually get big time plays on special teams.
  • I don’t understand how NC State didn’t use any timeouts. I get that you’re getting blown out, but you don’t even try to stop the momentum on a drive or anything? 
  • Terrible play calling in the red zone for the whole first half. Weird plays, bad choices and just overall terrible play calling.
  • Halftime. Good guys 44, Bad guys 0.
  • A few things: 1. The “Bobby!” Chants were amazing. 2. It was incidental contact. And 3. The more I watch Seth Dawkins, the more I’m reminded of what Julio Jones. Big, tall, fast, and incredibly gifted. It’s easy to see why he’s on the field as a true freshman with all the talent we have at the position. He’s going to be special. 
  • At the game, I have no clue how they called NC State’s first touchdown a touchdown. It looked like he came off the ground, caught the ball, and fell out of bounds. Hoping that it wasn’t that agregious on tv.
  • The offensive line has let up a few sacks. Not good that Lamar is taking the extra hits and not feeling the pressure.
  • 70 yd touchdown pass was just ugly. DB got burned and couldn’t make the tackle. Weird third quarter.
  • Weird quarter continues with Malik Williams fumble on the kick. Never understood the whole “carry the ball with one arm in traffic” thing.
  • If the University doesn’t keep the Muhammed Ali intro to the game and third quarter, I’m burning it all to the ground.
  • #ColeBlock.
  • Jeremy Smith is a bull. Doesn’t ever get stopped the first time.
  • Angry Bobby is my favorite Bobby.
  • How this was the 8th highest crowd in stadium history I’ll never understand. Looked pretty empty in some sections. 
  • Kyle Bolin had a beautiful pass down the right side to Devante Peete. 

All in all, this was a great game. Lamar looked like Lamar full bore with over 400 yards of offense and 4 TDs. Hikutini was fantastic with 118 yards and a touchdown and Jeremy Smith finished with 51 yards and 2 touchdowns. The defense was fantastic for the most part and we may have even found a (short range) kicker. 

Now we just need to pull for A&M, Houston, Oregon State and Penn State. No biggie. Virginia, you’re next. 

The Final Presidential Debate

Joe Raedle/Pool via AP

The final presidential debate was held last night and it was easily both candidates best debate. Looking at each segment of the debate, we’re going to breakdown the biggest hits and misses, who won each segment, and talk about what the performances mean going forward.

Segment 1 – Supreme Court

The key points for Donald Trump in this one were going after the pro-lifers and 2nd amendment defenders. He was sure to stay on message about only wanting to appoint pro-life and gun supporting Justices. While he did maintain his cool and did not use any personal insults during this portion of the debate, he did use dangerous rhetoric around abortions, claiming women were having 9th month abortions and evading Roe v. Wade.

Hillary Clinton opened by appealing to everyone’s best interests and telling the current Senate members to do their job in relation to President Obama’s current nomination, Merrick Garland. She continued by arguing against Mr. Trump’s claim that she wanted to abolish gun rights by stating she wants more regulations and to close the existing loopholes. In relation to the abortion rights, Senator Clinton defended the mother’s rights to maintaining her own health during the pregnancy.

At the end of this segment, I felt Trump won simply by not attacking Clinton and maintaining his composure. Clinton stayed strong.

Segment 2 – Immigration

This segment was almost exclusively dominated by Trump in terms of talking points, but not in a good way. Trump started by continuing his argument for a wall at the Mexican border, and claiming there were some “bad hombres” over there. That comment will not sit well with any hispanic demographic that was still undecided. Hillary followed that up with a subtle use of Holocaustic imagery in reference to Trump wanting to deport a lot of the immigrant population. It was chilling and very effective. Trump attacked Clinton on her own claims of building a wall, as well as her wanting open borders. Clinton defended against both claims. The real critical point of this segment was Trump becoming unhinged when Clinton claimed that Vladimir Putin wanted Trump in office because he wants a “puppet” in the White House. Trump repeatedly claimed “I’m not a puppet” and never fully recovered from the comment. This was the turning point of the entire debate. Clinton took a lot of steam from him here.

Segment 3 – Economy

Hillary grew the lead in this segment. Not only did she thoroughly explain her position and how she wants to build the economy, but Trump did not. He sounded completely ignorant to the issue and continued his self-congratulatory bullshit. He also claimed India and China were growing at 7-8% while the US was around 1%. India and China are farther behind in their development, meaning their economic booms are still happening. It was a completely misguided statement. Trump also attacked Clinton on her experience, to which she took great offense. She destroyed his experience compared to her, referencing his time on a reality show while she was in the decision room when the military killed Osama Bin Laden.

Segment 4 – Fitness to be President

Trump continued his downward spiral by continuing his rhetoric about it being a rigged election and ironically claiming that Clinton has been inciting violence among his supporters. Trump did not hit hard enough on the WikiLeaks issue and Hillary absolutely destroyed him on his issues with women. She cast a vision for the future that Trump just could not project. Hillary continued the assault by using President Obama’s claims that trump should stop whining about the election as well.

Segment 5 – Foreign Hotspots

Hillary again pushed the idea that Trump is operating in his own fantasy world. The issue of Aleppo came up and again, Trump seemed ignorant to the issue. He gave misinformation and Clinton defended the use of a no-strike zone in the region. No real fireworks here.

Segment 6 – National Debt

The big takeaway here is Trump’s claim that he will add 25 million jobs over a 10 year period. It is one of the most unrealistic goals he has in my opinion. Not only is it exceptionally extreme, but he has yet to lay out a plan to get it done outside of “better deals”. It’s a total farce.

One Minute Last Question

Hillary used this time to create a vision toward the future and discuss protecting human rights.

Trump used this time to attack Hillary, and didn’t touch on any sort of plan for the future. It was a bad look.

Summary

All in all, this was Hillary’s most dominate appearance since the general election process began and she was aggressive going after Trump. She was strong throughout, and largely ignored his petulance. Trump’s first 30 minutes were his strongest yet, however once he became bothered, he reverted back to his normal self. Trump says he is not sure if he will accept the results, while his campaign says otherwise. This would be unprecedented if he goes against the result, but that is to be determined. I think Hillary locked up the election, however with just short of 3 weeks left until the election, anything is possible this year.

NBA Preview: Most Valuable Player

Photo: Mark D. Smith, USA TODAY Sports

In the final award preview post, we’re going to take a look at the the MVP race. I have a somewhat controversial list, as Steph Curry is not on it. After winning it the past two years, unanimously last season, I think there’s 0% chance the voters give it to him again. Adding Durant will pull votes from him anyway, and I just don’t see any way that Steph gets it.

That being said, there are definitely some familiar names on here, all for different reasons. Let’s check it out.

Lebron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

You have to put the best player in the league on the list. Period. Lebron may have been coasting a bit last year, but that may not be the case this season. He was angry that Steph won it last season, and it showed in the Finals. If Lebron feels like making the point definitive, he could play in 72 games, try every night and get the Cavs to the best record in the league, even over the looming Golden State team. Conversely, Lebron could see the big picture and choose to rest his body for another shot at Golden State in the playoffs. Ultimately, I see Lebron as the big picture guy, however keyed in Lebron is bar none the best player in the league.

Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors

And looking at Lebron from the opposite coast is Kevin Durant. While I think there’s no chance Steph wins it, I do think he pulls some votes from Durant. So, there’s only one scenario where Durant has a shot. If he can lead Golden State to another record-breaking season (upper 70’s in wins) and average the numbers he did last season in Oklahoma City (28.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 5 apg) then I can see the voters being compelled to give it to him. Before the preseason, I didn’t know how likely this was. However,  after watching the flow and chemistry on the court already for the Warriors, I think it’s definitely on the table.

James Harden, Houston Rockets

An underdog in terms of the betting odds, Harden is an intriguing option. Under the Mike D’Antoni offense, and running the point this season officially, Harden could have a monster year and bring the Rockets right along with him. Make no mistake, the Rockets won’t play any sort of defense, but they also might average 110 points per game. Harden could finish in the 30 ppg, 9 apg range and that would be enough if the Rockets get to a top seed in the West.

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Westbrook is going to play like a man possessed. It’s in his wiring. So let’s look at the differences between last season with Durant and the 2014-15 season without Durant.

  • 2015-16: 23.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 10.4 apg, PER 27.6
  • 2014-15: 28.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 8.6 apg, PER 29.1

Now, obviously the points and PER were higher without Durant, and that may be enough to warrant the award. But I think Westbrook will need a better showing both in team record and teammate stats to pull it out. He does have a better supporting cast this season than a couple years ago, but Russell will still need to prove it.

My Pick: Russell Westbrook

NBA Preview: Defensive Player of the Year

TOM REEL, STAFF / SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS

This is my personal favorite award. It may have something to do with the very creepy Mike Ryan song about Draymond Green from a couple seasons ago found here. But I’ve always appreciated the emphatic block or jump into the lane for the breakaway steal more than the dunk that follows. While nobody can defensively light up the crowd like Steph Curry does with his 3’s, these players get the nod as the most likely to do so.

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

Leonard is the reigning two-time DPOY and it’s easy to see why. Averaging 6.8 rpg, 1.8 spg and 1.4 bgp last season, he is definitely helped by the Spurs culture and commitment to defense. However, with Tim Duncan retiring this offseason, Kawhi is now the face of the franchise (not named Gregg Popovich). Look for him to take that mantel and run with it. Kawhi also had a fantastic 26 PER as well, and finished tied for second in defensive win shares (5.5).

Ideal Starting Lineup: Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol

Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

Probably the most versatile defender in the league, Draymond has definitely made a name for himself. Last seasons issues in the playoffs not withstanding, he is still one of the best defenders in the league and will continue to be that for the Warriors this season. Earning a 19.3 PER and averaging 9.5 rpg are impressive numbers for a guy that’s listed at 6’7” playing the 4/5 positions. However, Green’s numbers don’t reflect the presence he has on the court, as well as the effect he has on his teammates defense. I don’t know that he will be able to overshadow the Warriors offensive players, but if he can anchor their defense, he could finally breakthrough for the award.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia

Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

Drummond is the centerpiece to the Pistons rebuild, and in year two of the Stan Van Gundy era, many expect them to make a leap this year. Drummond is a big reason for that. He averaged 14.8 rpg last year, and with a 24.5 total rebounding percentage, he knows where to be at all times. He was also tied with Leonard in DWS (5.5). Van Gundy has gotten the best out of a defensive center in the past (Dwight Howard) and could have another gem on his hands.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris, Andre Drummond

Al Horford, Boston Celtics

Horford has never been awarded any defensive awards in his 9 year career, and only had 4.5 DWS last season. He averaged 1.5 bpg and had a block percentage of 3.6. Now enter the Celtics. Their commitment to team defense, as well as the length and athleticism on the outside, are the reason Horford is a darkhorse for DPOY this year. Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder could easily be on this list as well, but I believe if anyone on that team has a chance, it’s Horford. The DPOY award usually benefits the front court players, with acknowledgment to Kawhi.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson, Al Horford

Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat

The biggest question is if Whiteside loses motivation now that he has his big contract. If he does, which is a very real possibility if the Heat struggle without Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, then Miami will look like fools. However, if he elevates even further, and develops himself as a more pure defender, we could be dealing with something flat out terrifying. Since joining the Heat, about a season and a half worth of games, some off the bench, he is averaging 11.1 rpg, 3.2 bpg, and has a PER of 25.7. He is an exceptional athlete and if he harnesses his potential, Whiteside may walk away with the award and lead the Heat into the playoffs again.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, Justise Winslow, Josh McRoberts, Hassan Whiteside

My Pick: Kawhi Leonard

Louisville 24, Duke 14 Game Notes

Getty Images/Andy Lyons

I know it’s the middle of the season, but I’ve decided to start a weekly post on my thoughts of the Louisville game from that week, as well as some big picture notes.

The closest thing to Duke’s offense has to be dental surgery. Painful and slow. But, a win is a win and right now, that’s all Louisville needs to do. All the following notes are in order of the game, so it should be easy to follow along.

  • Papa John. What an asshole. Gave out free trash pizza though.

 

  • Lamar had one of the best pass fakes ever. Tucked the ball and completely sold the “I gave the ball to the running back and now I’m chillin” look after. Only the end wasn’t fooled, and unfortunately Lamar overthrew the receiver. But it was a RIDICULOUS fake.

 

  • Again, ridiculous play. Lamar’s pass to Seth Dawkins down the middle of the field was on a rope, thrown off his back foot, all while getting hit by a defender. Lamar is special, but more on that later.

 

  • Brandon Radcliffe had a great first half (and game, fumble aside). He showed great vision, power, and patience.

 

  • Duke’s defense was the first defense to really limit the offense. Clemson’s offense was forced to play with us because their defense was letting Lamar do Lamar things after the chokehold from hell.

 

  • Daww. Engagement.

 

  • Jaire Alexander continues to impress on special teams. Not entirely sure why people keep kicking to him.

 

  • If you had told me before the game that a skill position player would score an 80 yard touchdown, Jeremy Smith probably would have been the last guy on my list. Even below the backups and freshmen. The run came on a blitz, which took a lot of defenders out of it, but man, it was crazy.

 

  • This was definitely Lamar’s most inaccurate game. He was over and under throwing the receivers and struggled on a communication with a couple routes with the receivers. That being said, I thought it was his most disciplined game. He took what was given to him and didn’t make the stupid decisions many true sophomore quarterbacks make.

 

  • There were several plays that proved to me that Lamar is the most elusive man in sports. The way he gets away from defenders is something I can’t recall seeing. It’s insane.

 

  • Duke’s offensive playbook is 7 plays. Read option (always to the running back), hand off to the running back, rollout throw on third down ONLY, punt, field goal, quarterback punt, and quarterback fake punt. That’s it.

 

  • Lamar learned from the Clemson game. There was a read option where the defender came to blow him up after the handoff to the running back, and Lamar spun away from the contact. It was one of his smartest moments of the game.

 

  • We have no kicker. Where’s John Wallace when you need him?

 

  • The defense played a tremendous game. They were asked to maintain their poise and stamina while being on the field for 15 minutes longer, defending the same 3 plays all game. Huge credit to Grantham for his work with the defense.

 

  • I felt like Cutcliffe might have given the rest of the country the blueprint to beating this team. We had more talent, and that won out. But if a more talented team takes that plan, Louisville could be in trouble.

 

  • I feel bad for #31. My immediate thought went back to the 2005 Rutgers game with William Gay. It wasn’t such a black and white call as then, but it was similar. I never wish that on any kid. We got lucky.

 

Additionally, we have a handful of doomsday fans in the fanbase. “Lamar’s Heisman is gone” and “We lost all hope at the playoffs” were things that I saw online. Firstly, we played on Friday before basically everyone else. Secondly, Lamar finished with over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns. Ask a normal quarterback if that’s a game he’d take. And lastly, as seen in the Ohio State and Clemson games, anyone can be beaten on any day. Best thing that can happen for us is for Washington to lose, Ohio State and/or Michigan to lose a game before they play at the end of the season, and if somebody could knock off Alabama that would be great.

Most importantly, and firstly, we have to win our games. NC State, you’re next.

NBA Preview: Most Improved Player

The MIP is is typically an award reserved for second year players making the adjustments learned from their first year in the league and bench players finally given the opportunity to start (sometimes a combination of both). This year is not much different, with one exception. We’ll start by looking at the exception.

Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder

Adams is one of my favorite players in the NBA due mostly to his personality and look. He looks like a pirate and it’s fantastic. Last season he averaged 8 ppg, 6.7 rpg, and had a slightly above average PER of 15.5. He made a difference in the playoffs for the Thunder and, in my opinion, cemented himself as the starting center on this team. Eyes Kanter is offensively talented, but depending on how much Russell Westbrook is relied on as the primary (and possibly only) scorer on the team, they may want to go with the defensive anchor of Adams over Kanter. If that’s the case, look for Adams to have a monster year.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Russell Westbrook, Victor Oladipo, Kyle Singler, Ersan Ilyasova, Steven Adams

Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers

Turner flashed his low post dominance last season, getting to a 15.4 PER despite only putting up 10.3 ppg and 5.5 rpg. Turner projects as a defensive anchor for the Pacers going into the future, and given the opportunity to start, should flourish. The presence of Al Jefferson will give Turner an experienced old head to learn from and grow his offensive abilities.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Jeff Teague, Monta Ellis, Paul George, Thaddeus Young, Myles Turner

D’Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers

Before we go on, let me say this. All four of the players on this list are players I really enjoy watching. Russell is someone I have really high hopes for and I think that he has matured and grown a lot since the nightmare that was his rookie season. Russell averaged 13.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg, and 3.3 apg last year, but only had a 13.2 PER with 0 win shares. Advanced metrics don’t love Russell, but his growth should change things in that department.

Ideal Starting Lineup: D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Timofey Mozgov

Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks

Probably the most intriguing player from last seasons draft, Porzingis could be in for a big time season. Averaging 14.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg and earning a PER of 17.7 in your rookie year is no small feat. The additions of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in the offseason have elevated expectations in an already hungry New York market. Add in Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks fans are understandably excited. Look for the Knicks to sneak back into the playoffs this year potentially.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Derrick Rose, Brandon Jennings, Courtney Lee, Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis

My Pick: D’Angelo Russell