Talking Point: What next for the Lakers?

Time to ponder: Tough times ahead for Mike D'Antoni?

Time to ponder: Tough times ahead for Mike D’Antoni?

No longer the best team in Los Angeles and no longer genuine Championship contenders.

Last season was far from satisfactory for the Lakers. Losing to their main rivals in February as the Clippers clinched their first ever Division title before being carried into the play-offs by Kobe Bryant only to lose their superstar to injury prior to a 4-0 first round defeat at the hands of San Antonio.

Dwight Howard was pleaded to stay but opted to join the Houston Rockets in search for a first ring before the Lakers decided to activate Metta World Peace’s amensty clause and release a key member of their 2010 winning roster. So who do they bring in?

Chris Kaman, Nick Young, Wes Johnson and the returning Jordan Farmar are the four players recruited by G.M Mitch Kupchak so far. Not exactly the caliber of players expected at a 17-time Championship winning franchise which speaks volume of the state of the Lakers especially given the fact that one of those joined the Purple & Gold of LA because of ‘no other options’.

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Neal before the King? Fight for Finals MVP

Battle: LeBron tussling with Tim Duncan

Battle: LeBron tussling with Tim Duncan

Prior to the 2013 NBA Finals, many were predicting a second consecutive Championship for Miami with LeBron James again claiming MVP honours. However, the series has not gone accordingly so far with San Antonio opening up a 2-1 advantage with the next two games on their home floor and ‘King James’ is being outshone.

Ultimately, you would imagine that the Finals MVP award will go to a player on the Championship winning side (Jerry West 1969 being the only exception) and were Miami able to turn the series around, LeBron seems to be the only viable contender from the Heat given the little support he has received so far.

There are several contenders for the Spurs with the creator in Parker, the shooter in Green, the defensive stalwart in Leonard and the solid veteran in Duncan, who does everything for Gregg Popovich. He might not be making a lot of shots but his defensive presence is huge for San Antonio especially when Thiago Splitter is not on the floor. Continue reading

Can the Heat Streak be the greatest?

LeBron is the favourite to retain his MVP title

LeBron is the favourite to retain his MVP title

Miami Heat are just NINE games away from equalling the best-ever win streak in the NBA – but can they go one better and make history?

Erik Spoelstra’s men have not won 24 consecutive games the easy way with TEN of those by winning margins in single figures, FIVE 10+ points deficits not including a double-overtime marathon against Sacramento.

The whole team has stepped up at one stage or another with bench contributions from the likes of Shane Battier, Ray Allen and Chris Andersen often proving vital. The winning mentality is phenomenal and their game-by-game approach is working wonders for their confidence.

Asked how they’ve managed to keep the run going, Battier simply responded ‘Faith’ which epitomises the character of the reigning NBA champions. A good team morale is important, sure, but things are made considerably easier when you have LeBron James on your team..

Many believe the 3x time MVP will soon become the four-time MVP after yet another stellar season. The self-proclaimed ‘King James’ has had a number of incredible plays, in the 24 win Heat Streak alone:

The driving game-winner against Orlando; a triple-double including a trio of triples in a pivotal spell in the comeback win in Cleveland; a devastating dunk on Jason Terry; the winning jumper in the same game v Boston; dropping 39 points in the battle v KD; the NBA record of six straight games with 30+ points with a shooting percentage of 60+. Incredible indeed.

LeBron may be the star player but take nothing away from the four other starters in this team. During the streak, Dwyane Wade has been influential and even stole a Player of the Week award of LBJ which goes to show the level he was playing at. Mario Chalmers has produced a number of key cameo roles while Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem do their job on the boards.

You’d expect Miami to win their next five games despite facing a road trip to Chicago, but then they take on the Western leaders San Antonio. Gregg Popovich’s side are finding a way to cope without Tony Parker and have been impeccable on their home floor this season and they definietly provide the biggest challenge to Miami‘s historic bid.

Miami then take on New York Knicks at the American Airlines Arena and if they pass that test then the Lakers’ record streak of 33 should be equalled and then broken within three days as the Heat take on Philadelphia and Milwaukee at home in April.

There are no easy games in the NBA but the streak can definitely continue to role for the Miami Heat.

Is Amar’e’s injury a blessing in disguise for the Knicks?

Missing men: Amar'e Stoudemire with Carmelo Anthony

Missing men: Amar’e Stoudemire with Carmelo Anthony

The New York Knicks have announced that Amar’e Stoudemire is expected to miss between 6-8 weeks due to knee surgery but how much of a blow will this be?

Even before the announcement was made Tyson Chandler claimed there is more to the Knicks than Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire and the 2013 All-Star could be half-right with that statement in terms of form on the court.

The New York franchise made a storming start to their 2012-13 campaign with a 21-9 record through November and December before a slump in form in the new year which coincided with the return of Stoudemire.

‘STAT’ made his return on New Year’s Day and played in just 29 games before another knee problem surfaced. The 6x All-Star averaged his lowest points total (14.2) since his rookie season for Phoenix Suns without counting the 2005-06 campaign when Stoudemire featured in just three games after undergoing microfracture surgery.

That’s not to say that 30 year-old has not been playing well because the Knicks have been cautious with his return and Stoudemire has not started a game this season but still managed to post 20+ points in a game on six occasions. The days of an occasional 3-pointer seem to have gone with the adapted role and his physical presence inside has seen a shooting percentage of 57.7 from the field.

However, when it comes to the play-offs, it’s important to have efficient squad depth and this period without Amar’e could work as a benefit for the Knicks as they utilise their fringe players while JR Smith will see his role off the bench increase. The likes of Kenyon Martin, Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby will be expected to step up with an increase in their court-time.

One thing is for sure; head-coach Mike Woodson will want ‘Melo’ back playing as soon as possible because being second in the scoring charts around the likes of KD, LeBron and Kobe is no mean feat. Anthony has taken the game-high honours in 35 games so far this season which is an incredible achievement having played in a total of 50.

The Knicks do have other scoring options even without ‘Melo’ and ‘STAT’ with Smith showing his capability with a 36 point showing against OKC Thunder while Ray Felton top scored in the recent win against Utah. Chandler dominates the glass more often than not and their potency extends beyond the arc with Jason Kidd and Foot Locker 3-Point contestant Steve Novak dangers from long range.

The lead up to the play-offs will be an interesting period for New York as they jostle for position with the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern conference whilst looking to build some momentum ahead of the post-season. They are currently on course to emulate if not beat their 3rd place conference finish back in 2000 which was also the last time they progressed beyond the first round in the play-offs before falling to the Pacers in the Eastern final.

If ‘Melo’ hits the ground running on his return then the Knicks should be in a good position come the time of the play-offs with an adaptable roster all stepping up to the plate awaiting the return of Amar’e to boost their hopes for a first NBA Championship since 1973.