Dunlap Has Work To Do To Keep His Job

In the 2011-12 NBA season, the Charlotte Bobcats had the worst season in NBA history. The team lost 23 games in a row in its 7-59 season, and after Head Coach Paul Silas was fired, there weren’t exactly a lot of suitors knocking down the door to try to take this team over. Owner Michael Jordan had to more or less go off the grid and hire an assistant coach from St. John’s, Mike Dunlap to be his next coach.

Unfortunately, Dunlap still really doesn’t have this team playing well, knowing that Charlotte remains the worst team in the NBA at just 12-40. However, the Bobcats are only being outscored by 8.9 points per game this year, and at least they are staying remotely competitive against some great teams.

But will Dunlap really be able to keep this job with the Cats? The team has a lot of rebuilding to do, and it is going to start with the trade of Ben Gordon, who almost certainly is going to be moved by the trade deadline, probably not for nearly as much as he would have been with had he not gotten into a spat with Dunlap last week.

The team really doesn’t have all that much in the way of superstars, and outside of Kemba Walker, there isn’t much to build around.  Michael Kidd-Gilchrist really hasn’t panned out as a Top 5 pick, and the squad isn’t getting the same type of production out of Gerald Henderson.

Most teams in the Association are just one superstar away from becoming relevant again. However, without a single playoff win in franchise history, and seemingly dysfunctional ownership that really has never hit on a big draft pick, there’s are few that would make their NBA predictions that the losing in Charlotte is going to stop any time soon.

That means that Dunlap, for as well as he has done to already almost double his team’s win total from a year ago, is probably on the way out the door within two years.

Ellis, Jennings On Trade Block

The Milwaukee Bucks are have had a rough month of February, which really erased just about everything good that the team accomplished during a 8-3 run in the month of January. Now, as a team that is hanging onto the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, there is a real question as to whether they are going to blow up the core of this team and rebuild, or whether they will hold firm with the assets that they have to bring to the table.

The truth of the matter is that the team made the bold play last year to go more offensive oriented by trading for Monta Ellis from the Golden State Warriors. The deal cost the team Andrew Bogut, who was injured at the time and only recently became a full-time contributor for Golden State.

With it though, went the identity of the team. The Bucks converted from a team that was one of the solid defensive outfits in the NBA to one that was going to try to run up and down the floor with Ellis and Brandon Jennings. What they have come to find out is that these two players are largely exactly the same, right down to their stats.

Check out these stat lines:

Jennings: .395 shooting percentage, 18.5 PPG, 6.1 APG, 3.3 RPG, 1.9 SPG

Ellis: .401 shooting percentage, 18.4 PPG, 5.5 APG, 3.8 RPG, 1.9 SPG

They’re the exact same player, and that isn’t going to win Milwaukee an NBA title.

There haven’t been many precise deals bantered around yet between the Bucks and other teams, but if we had to guess, we would make our NBA predictions on at least one, if not both of Jennings and Ellis being shipped out of town before the trading deadline strikes in another week.

Dwightmare Still Brewing In Tinseltown

Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it. Dwight Howard wanted to get away from the Orlando Magic badly over the course of the last two seasons, and now, he has what he wanted. He’s playing under the bright lights of the Los Angeles Lakers, he’s playing with some other superstars that are surefire Hall of Famers when push comes to shove. However, with the good comes a ton of scrutiny, both from the LA media and from his teammates.

Yes, matters in Tinseltown are anything but cheery at the moment, as Howard and the Lakers are just 25-28 coming into Thursday’s first-half finale against the Los Angeles Clippers. If the playoffs were to start today, LA would be left out, and it really wouldn’t even be all that close. In the second half of the season, there are still three games to be made up to catch the Houston Rockets.

From a statistical standpoint, Howard hasn’t been a tremendous disappointment this season. His 16.3 points per game are low, but he is still a monster on the glass with 11.9 rebounds per game and is one of the best defensive players in the league, averaging 2.4 blocks and 1.0 steals per night. His foul shooting has been abysmal once again at just 49.5 percent, but what else is new?

The problems with Howard have revolved around what are perceived to be little nagging injuries. First it was his back. Then it was his shoulder. Only Howard knows just how injured he really is and what needs to be done to fix it, but Kobe Bryant and the media have been on Howard’s back about getting back on the court and playing through pain to help out the team.

If we had to make our NBA predictions though, Howard and the Lakers are going to just barely get into the playoffs, only to ultimately get swept away by one of the top teams in the Western Conference. From that point, it’s up to Howard and the Lakers to decide if they want to continue their relationship and ink a long-term contract, or part ways and let the Dwightmare head to another city next season.

2013 All-Star Game Preview

All eyes will be on the NBA All-Star game on Sunday night in Houston, as the best and brightest throughout the league will join together for the always high-flying spectacle.

The West has won a pair of All-Star Games in a row by relatively close margins, winning 152-149 in 2012 in Orlando and 148-143 in Los Angeles in 2011. LeBron James and Kobe Bryant were matched up at the gun last year, but LeBron didn’t ultimately take the shot that could have tied the game, instead electing to pass the ball for someone else to take the big time shot.

You can make your NBA predictions that James is going to remember that one, as he and his Eastern Conference teammates are going to look to get a level of revenge against the Western Conference All-Stars.

The cast of characters in the game largely remains the same for the West. Of the 12 men that were on the Western Conference roster last year, seven were on the team last year. Dwight Howard, who is going to start at center, was a starter for the Eastern Conference a campaign ago. Meanwhile in the East, there are only four returners from last year’s All-Star Game, and there are six first-time All-Stars on the roster.

On one blush, the Western Conference clearly has the more balanced team. The point guards are clearly superior in the West now that Rajon Rondo is out of the game for the East, and everything that James can do for the East, Kevin Durant can do for the West.

Team chemistry could ultimately help out the Eastern Conference, though. The Miami Heat, New York Knicks, and Chicago Bulls have seven of the 12 men on the team. In the Western Conference, the 12 players are represented by eight different teams.

Trade Rumors Heating Up For Mavericks, Hawks

The Dallas Mavericks and the Atlanta Hawks are both going in interesting directions at the moment. Both are going to have the salary cap room to go after the off-season’s biggest free agent,  Dwight Howard, but both have to make sure that they don’t make the wrong move here at the trade deadline. Stars on both teams are clearly on the trading block right now, and with the trade deadline just a week away, there is plenty to discuss with both teams.

It is clear that Dallas needs to make a move, as Dirk Nowitzki just needs more help than he is getting at the moment. Head Coach Rick Carlisle says that neither Vince Carter nor Shawn Marion are going to get moved before the trade deadline. We’re not sure that we totally believe him at this point, knowing that owner Mark Cuban badly wants to make this team a winner, but we have a hard time thinking that these two are going to be moved at this point with the eye really already on next season.

Atlanta’s Josh Smith is clearly a different story. Smith is a free agent at the end of the year, and if the Hawks don’t trade him, he is probably going to end up walking. The Hawks would love to commit to Smith, but he figures to want right around a max contract, the same max contract that Howard is going to command in free agency. Moving Smith to get some draft picks and younger pieces to build around might be just what the Hawks need. They’ll make the playoffs this year regardless, but with or without their best player, they aren’t winning an NBA title.

Our NBA predictions? Carter and Marion are going to stay. Smith is going to go.

Top 10 NBA Power Forwards

With the talent level as high as it has never been in the league, we’re taking the difficult task today of making our NBA predictions for the Top 10 power forwards that the Association has to offer.

It’s clear that there are a few tiers of power forwards in the league. No one is going to debate the fact that Tim Duncan is the dean of PFs in this league, knowing that he is probably the only surefire Hall of Famer that we have at the position today. However, LaMarcus Aldridge is the only man eligible at the power forward spot that is averaging more than 20 points per game this year, and the impact that players like David Lee and Blake Griffin have on their team is huge.

Chris Bosh is often overlooked, as he is the third member of the Miami Heat trio, while Kevin Love is a totally forgotten about man this year since he has only played in 18 games with various injuries and won’t be back any time soon.

Heck, Al Jefferson is probably getting a one-way ticket out of Utah right now, as he has been dangled as trade bait.

Those seven are easy to identify as seven of the best power forwards that the game has to offer. Zach Randolph is going to be asked to carry the Memphis Grizzlies at the PF position, and he had better be one of the best in the game if the team is going to go anywhere in the playoffs. DeMarcus Cousins would be a Top 10 player in the entire league if he could just keep his head on straight.

Meanwhile, our last pick for the Top 10 power forwards in basketball is Ryan Anderson. He’s a new power forward essentially, as he stretches the court like no other. He averages taking 7.5 three-point shots per game and leads the league with 153 made triples on the season.

Rookies That Could Boost A Teams Chances

As the halfway point of the NBA season approaches, it’s worth taking a look at the emerging stars of this year’s rookie class and the potential impact they could have on their teams moving forward.

Let’s start in Detroit, where two first-year pros could continue to emerge. The struggling Pistons have gotten no better since the trade of Tayshaun Prince a week ago—in fact, they’ve dropped three straight games since that swap. Perhaps that means theirs room to grow.

Detroit feature a pair of rookies—Kyle Singler and Andre Drummond—that could improve the bottom-line results for the Pistons in the second half as they continue to gain game experience. While Singler is still finding his way at the shooting guard position, his scoring has been on the rise and it should continue to improve. Drummond, a 6′-10” center, has been a rebounding machine while playing just limited minutes to this point. However, the UConn product could see increased playing time with the departure of Prince and that could be a good thing for the Pistons.

Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards and Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers are the other two standouts worth keeping an eye on. They have been  perhaps the two best rookies of this NBA season to this point and will need to be accounted for before making any further NBA predictions.

Beal has missed the last five games dealing with a wrist injury, but prior to this break he was averaging 13.2 points a game at shooting guard to help be named the NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for both December and January. That came largely minus point guard John Wall in the lineup, who has since returned and sparked the Wizards (13-35) to consecutive wins over the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers.

Given its poor straight-up record, Washington has been largely disregarded by bettors and that has resulted in an excellent 29-17-2 against the spread this season. Beal’s return, combined with a healthy Wall, should continue that positive trend.

Lillard is the de-facto NBA Rookie of the Year at this point following a brilliant first-half that’s seen the point guard from Weber State average 18.4 points, 6.5 assists and 3.3 rebounds a game for the Blazers (25-24). He’s helped keep Portland in the playoff race, but it remains to be seen whether the small-college product can continue this type of production for a full rookie campaign.

Randolph, Grizzlies Going Nowhere

When the Memphis Grizzlies traded Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors, there were rumors that immediately started to swirl over the futures of just about everyone else on the team. Zach Randolph is one of the men that could be moved by the trade deadline, but if we had to make our NBA predictions on his future, he’s going to be staying right here in Memphis.

Randolph just means too much to the Grizz to trade him now. They are still a competitive team, in fifth place in the Western Conference playoff chase, and they’re coming back home for three straight home games starting on Friday night against the Golden State Warriors.

Randolph is also the team’s leading scorer (15.7 PPG) and rebounder (11.7 PPG). The big man had three awful games in a row against the Philadelphia 76ers, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Washington Wizards. In those games, he put up just a total of 20 points with seven turnovers. In the two games since then though, Randolph has really settled down and put together more Zach Randolph-like numbers, averaging 20.5 points and 10.0 boards per game with just a total of two turnovers in those outings.

Memphis has done everything that it can to shed salary to avoid the league’s luxury tax, and by trading Gay, that goal is done. We just have a terrible time seeing how Randolph would get moved unless there was another big piece to the puzzle coming back in return. Perhaps a team like the Los Angeles Lakers could be involved to send off Pau Gasol to Memphis, but after Gasol was injured on Tuesday night, it seems less and less likely that the two Gasol brothers will be reunited in Memphis.

Finding another trading partner with Randolph as the key cog of the deal is surely going to be difficult with just two weeks left to go until the trading deadline.

Smith Continues To Be Glue For Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks have had all sorts of problems over the course of the 2012-13 season. Their backcourt play has been shoddy at times, and Devin Harris and others have spent plenty of time injured, and they have lost their share of close games. Yet through it all, the team enters play on Wednesday night five-games above .500 and comfortably in the No. 6 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Why has this team continued to win games this year? Josh Smith.

Averaging over 35 minutes per night, Smith is the constant in this lineup. He commands respect on both sides of the court, and when he is at his best, there are few in the league that can slow him down. The man from Oak Hill Academy isn’t having his best season, but he is averaging 16.7 points and 8.5 boards per game, ranking first and second on the team in those categories respectively.

When he’s not getting his points, Smith is getting the job done on the defensive end of the court, where he has put up 2.2 blocks and 1.2 steals per game as well.

Smith has really stepped it up over the course of his last six games. In that stretch, he has three games with 20+ points, five games with 10+ rebounds, and five double-doubles. He has blocked 11 shots in those five games, right on his average for the year, and he has five steals as well.

What is underrated about Smith’s game though, is his ability to distribute the basketball. He didn’t have a single assist against the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday night, but he had seven straight games with at least three assists prior to that.

There are very few men at 6’9″ that have the skill set that he does to be able to play every facet of the game at a high level.

Nets Poised To Make A Run At A Championship

While the Brooklyn Nets have cooled off a bit since their blistering run that followed the firing of its head coach in December, they remain in the hunt for a high-seed come playoff time thanks in large part the continued high production from its “core four.”

All-Star Brook Lopez, front-court running mate Gerald Wallace and the backcourt duo of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson have lifted the Nets (28-19) to the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference through Monday. This week they have a trio of games on the docket, starting with the Los Angeles Lakers at home Tuesday followed by road games against the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday and the Washington Wizards on Saturday.

As you consider your NBA predictions for the week, the success of the Nets has largely been predicated on the defensive end. Brooklyn ranks fifth in the NBA in points allowed at just 94.5 points but, curiously, opponents have been able to shoot a very high percentage from the field, including beyond the three-point line.

The reason for the Nets’  success has been its dominance on the defensive glass. Lopez and Wallace have proven themselves as rugged as it comes on the boards, especially the latter. Wallace is proving to be indispensable for the Nets, as he is the “high-energy, do-whatever-it-take-to-win” type that is needed on any successful NBA team.

Lopez, the Nets leading scorer at 18.7 points a game, was recently rewarded for his stellar first-half of by being named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team. He is shooting 52.2 percent from the field, an excellent mark, and is also averaging 2.2 blocks a game, which is good for seventh in the NBA.

Williams, an All-Star the three previous seasons, has regained that form at the point guard position under interim coach P.J. Carlesimo. After struggling the first two months under former coach Avery Johnson, Williams has played much better while bumping his numbers to 16.8 points a game with 7.7 assists and 3.2 rebounds.

Johnson, a six-time All-Star while a member of the Atlanta Hawks, has helped stretch the floor as a consistent perimeter sniper for the Nets. He has scored double-digit points in all but three of the 42 games he’s played this season while averaging 17 points a game.

Big Questions Surround The Celtics

There probably isn’t a team in the NBA that knows that it needs to make a trade more than the Boston Celtics. They are in the eighth slot right now in the Eastern Conference, clinging with everything that they have to a near-.500 record, but they are going to have to play the rest of this season without the injured Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger.

However, the question that has to be answered by GM Danny Ainge is whether the team is going to be a buyer or a seller at the upcoming NBA trade deadline.

It’s a tough call to make for sure. On one hand, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are both commodities that could be traded for some young pieces in a rebuilding effort. On the other hand, there are some young pieces to the puzzle that could be dealt off to try to bring in one more stud to try to give the C’s another chance at making a run towards the NBA Finals.

It’s tough to think that the pendulum has to swing one way or the other, but the worst thing that Ainge could do is to do nothing.

Both the Los Angeles Clippers and the Los Angeles Lakers seem to be interested in the services of both Pierce and Garnett, and if we had to make our NBA predictions, we think that a deal with the Lakers will happen at some point down the line. F Pau Gasol is the main cog that could be sent back from Tinseltown, which could at least make the deal intriguing to try to keep a star in Beantown.

It wouldn’t be the first time that Ainge made a bold move at the trade deadline. Two years ago, he shipped off the beloved C Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder for F Jeff Green, a trade that really hasn’t worked all that well for either side.

Former Kentucky Star Bledsoe Hitting Stride With Clippers

Eric Bledsoe has been able to capitalize on the increased playing time that followed the knee injury to All-Star point guard Chris Paul earlier this month. The former first-round pick out of Kentucky has been able to take charge at the point while also playing a complimentary role in the Clippers deep pecking order, which has continued to keep Los Angeles near the top of the Western Conference.

Going forward without Paul, it doesn’t appear Bledsoe slow down the Clippers  quest through the West. He is proving to be a stat-sheet stuffer with his athleticism and young legs. Bledsoe over the last 10 games has shot poorly, but is still averaging 11.1 points, 5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 2.3 steals a game.

The Clippers did have a four-game losing streak during that stretch, but have since won two straight with Gordon at the point and now get the Toronto Raptors on the road Friday night.

Butler Finding Niche With Bulls

It’s not quite like his days when he was a star with the Marquette Golden Eagles, but basketball fans know that Jimmy Butler is a key cog for a team that is still leading the Central Division at the season’s halfway point. Without Butler, it is clear that the Bulls wouldn’t be nearly as successful of a team a nightly basis.

The numbers for Butler aren’t all that sparkling, as he is averaging just 6.9 points and 3.4 boards per game. However, over the course of the last eight games, the second year man really has shined. He stepped into the starting lineup briefly with Taj Gibson out of the fold, and since that point, he has averaged 15.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.

His minutes have increased also, as he hasn’t had a game with fewer than 28 minutes played since January 19th.

Drummond Key To Detroit’s Rebuilding Plan

The Detroit Pistons are a train wreck once again, but they are starting to take some steps in the right direction thanks to men like Andre Drummond. At not even 20 years old, Drummond has plenty of great years in front of him. He is averaging 7.3 points and 7.3 boards per game, and he is continuing to be a big part of the rebuilding process of this once proud franchise.

Drummond needs to get some more minutes, though. He is only averaging right around 20 minutes per game this year, but if you take his stats and let him average 35 minutes per game, he would be up to 12.8 points and boards per game, and he would put up 2.8 blocks per game, too. That would make him one of the best centers in the league.

Drummond has seven double-doubles in his rookie campaign, and he is going to need to do a heck of a lot more than that to continue to lead the Pistons to more successful seasons.

Lakers Must Resist Trading Dwight Howard

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before—Dwight Howard, considered by many to be the NBA’s best big man—is making rumbles that he’s not happy with his situation and wants out. Here we go again.

Less than half a season since finally forcing a trade from the Orlando Magic, Howard is giving hints that he may walk away from his new team—the Los Angeles Lakers—via free agency at the end of the season.

So, what’s the Lakers to do? The consensus among league experts is the Lakers need to hold on the former NBA Defensive Players of the Year and not pursue a deal prior to the Feb. 21 trade deadline.

The Lakers have been a disaster for most of the season and Howard’s constant whining is an act that wears thin quickly, no doubt. But despite that, L.A.’s sharp 105-96 win and cover against the Oklahoma City Thunder can leave a handicapper quickly formulating the possibilities. Howard is still putting up All-Star numbers (16.7 points a game and a league-leading 12.1 rebounds a game) and remains the league’s most dominant big man.

It would be premature to trade Howard, as the Lakers still have the chance to win a bunch of their games over the remainder of the season.