Podcast: And Then There Were Eight

Mark and McNeill jumped on the mic to break down the NBA Conference Semifinals. Some of the topics include the impact Chris Bosh’s abdominal injury will have in the Miami Heat, Kevin Garnett jumping into his Delorian, the Lakers not playing with any passion and the epic roll the Spurs find themselves on.

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Clippers Ride Their Reserves Into Round Two

As the Los Angeles Clippers pursued their first playoff series victory since 2006 and just their second since 1976, you had to know that entry into the second round wouldn’t come in routine fashion.

So it was natural, then, that securing a date with the Spurs in the Western Conference semis required a full seven games and a win on the road in the deciding Game 7 with the Clippers’ star tandem (Chris Paul and Blake Griffin) hobbled. Leave it to L.A.’s previously perennial laughingstocks to slumber through three fairly uninspired quarters of the decisive game, only to unexpectedly come alive with a 27-16 fourth quarter eruption to seal the series against the Memphis Grizzlies.

In a way, it brings to mind the achievements of their lovable loser brother-in-arms from the soccer world, Manchester City, who rallied with two injury time goals on Sunday to win their first English Premier League championship in 44 years.

Although Paul is being credited with legitimizing the club after an off-season trade from New Orleans and Griffin continues to be one of the NBA’s foremost must-see players, they were nowhere to be found when the Clips went on their difference-making run. Instead, it was the unit internally known as “the Goon Squad,” the unlikely quintet of Kenyon Martin, Reggie Evans, Eric Bledsoe, Nick Young and Mo Williams, that turned what had been a one-point deficit to start the fourth into a 71-61 advantage during what was a 15-5 run.

Going back to the beginning of the season, there was no guarantee that any of the five men would even be in Lob City right now. Martin opened the 2011-12 season in China after signing a one-year deal with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers during the lockout (he was free to sign with Los Angeles on February 3). Evans was a free agent without many suitors (he wasn’t even offered a contract by his former team, the bottom-feeding Toronto Raptors). Bledsoe began the season on the sidelines while recovering from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee and, like Williams, faced heavy competition for minutes in the backcourt from Paul, Randy Foye and Chauncey Billups. Young was one of several talented headaches the going-nowhere Washington Wizards.

But for a 6:14 stretch in the club’s biggest game of the season, all five men put any talk of the Clippers being a three-man team (Paul, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan) on the back burner (not to mention all the flopping / whining talk targeting the team). Instead, they’ve offered up hope of depth, which will be a key issue going into their second round encounter with the firing-on-all-cylinders Spurs.

We don’t know the extent of Paul’s groin woes or Griffin’s sprained knee, but anything less than 100% will be problematic. Paul will need to be at full health to keep Tony Parker in check, while a healthy, explosive Griffin would have a big opportunity to exploit San Antonio’s weakness in playing above the rim.

Once again, then, the secondary Clips will have a chance to come up big. Evans will be asked to bang down low against Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair, while Martin will have to get his mid-range game going (he did on Sunday with 11 points on 5-7 shooting). Bledsoe will be critical in easing the pressure on Paul and may even get the bulk of the Parker assignment. Young and Williams, meanwhile, will look to offer long range shooting options, while also trying to keep San Antonio’s impressive group of young supporting players (Danny Green, Gary Neal and James Anderson) at bay.

You won’t see many folks projecting much more than maybe one victory for the Clippers in their second round tilt (including in our own, well-written series preview). Of course, those same people probably wouldn’t have projected a team needing  to rely on significant, Game 7 production from Martin-Evans-Bledsoe-Young-Williams – and to get it.

Clippers Playing With Mental Toughness, Grit

The Los Angeles Clippers rose to prominence this year due to a flashy style of play which earned them the team the nickname Lob City. With Chris Paul throwing alley-oops to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the team was constantly being featured on highlights reels and endeared themselves to fans.

That style of play, while flashy and exciting, isn’t one that normally allows a team to win a playoff series. With the Clippers playing the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round, it was expected that injuries, inexperience and lack of toughness would result in a quick exit from the playoffs.

Los Angeles appeared to be in over their heads in Game 1 until they orchestrated one of the classic rallies in the history of the NBA playoffs. With only eight minutes left in the game, the Clippers rallied from a 27-point deficit to steal a win from the claws of the Grizzlies.

Adding to the intrigue is the fact Paul had to beg his head coach, Vinny Del Negro, to stay in the game. The all-star point guard and MVP candidate showed a ton of intestinal fortitude by wanting to fight in a fourth quarter that many people had stopped watching.

“Unfortunately, that’s how we play,” Paul lamented to the media. “We get killed in the first three quarters and in the fourth quarter we like to try to stand up for ourselves, and we found a way to win tonight.”

Memphis was able to recover to win Game 2 at home and appeared ready to steal home-court advantage back in Game 3. However, once again the Clippers showed a lot of resiliency and toughness as the Grizzlies offence went nearly 10 minutes with only one field goal to start the fourth quarter.

The Grizzlies had gone on a 25-14 run to take a 71-64 lead late in the third quarter when then the Grizzlies fell into a nasty shooting funk that extended into the fourth quarter. All-Star big man Marc Gasol made a field goal with 7:10 left to push the Grizzlies lead to 77-71, but that was Memphis’ last basket until the first of Gay’s two three-pointers in the closing seconds that added a bit of drama to the end of the game.

“We shut down and only scored 15 points in the fourth quarter,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins vented. “We took too many quick shots and gave up second-chance points. We gave them the back door and Blake (Griffin) took advantage of it.”

If you take out those six points by Gay in the final seconds then Memphis would have only had one field goal in the entire fourth quarter.

The reason Memphis was shut down in the fourth quarter is because the Clippers used a physical style of play that caught the Grizzlies off guard and put them on their heels.

That physical style of play has originated from a couple of the team’s veterans setting a painful example by playing through an assortment of injuries while still playing with reckless abandon on the court.

Caron Butler played through a broken hand on Saturday afternoon. When he injured it less than a week ago, the team’s medical staff thought he would be out four to six weeks, not four to six days. Butler played through the pain on Saturday, and while he didn’t contribute a lot to the final box score, just being on the court seemed to inspire his teammates.

Chris Paul has been playing through a groin injury this entire series that has slowed him down. He broke through in Game 3 for a double-double by scoring 24 points and dropping 11 dimes.

Reggie Evans, while not injured, has been a complete beast on the glass this series and he did a great job in Game 3 with 11 rebounds.

Heading into this series, Memphis was supposed to be the franchise which would thrive on their toughness and grit. But, three games into this series it’s Los Angeles who has a 2-1 advantage thanks to their grit and mental toughness.

If this gritty style of play keeps up then the Clippers may be on their way to shedding the Lob City nickname moniker that they despise.

A Look At The MVP Candidates

Now that this compressed NBA season commenced, there are a plethora of players that deserve the regular season MVP. Theoretically, an MVP is defined as a player who has the most importance to his respective team. Players like Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Derrick Rose can all win it this year, but just like the tag line to previous NBA playoffs has been, there can be only one.

Lebron James – Miami Heat

Based on his Player Efficiency Rating, he is having the best single season in NBA history. His season averages are 27. 1 PPG, 7.90 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.8 steals, and just under 1 block per game. His stats are not the biggest or best ever seen, but his efficiency is on course to be the best of any NBA player in any single season in history.

To put this in perspective, Wilt Chamberlain averaged a career high of 31.84 PER in the1962-63 season. Michael Jordan reached 31.8 in the 1987-88 season. Lebron is currently at 32.4 PER, and is well on track to surpassing probably the consensus top two players to ever play in the NBA.

To make this more unique, with the help of Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, he has helped the Heat clinch the second best record in the Eastern Conference. On offense, James can post like a power forward on one possession and then handle the ball like a point guard on the next possession. On defense, he can guard four positions: the point guard, shooting guard, and both forward positions.  

These qualities are enough for Lebron to become a three-time MVP, but when he joined forces with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, two of the top-10 players at their positions, he automatically disqualified himself from the MVP discussion.

Kevin Durant –  OKC Thunder

Kevin Durant is one of the fastest rising Superstars in the NBA, and is on the cusp of becoming one of the greatest players of his generation. Durant, along with Russell Westbrook and James Harden, has turned the small market OKC Thunder into one of the hottest teams on the planet; and possibly the first dynasty of the 2010’s.

Durant has led the OKC Thunder to the second best record in the Western Conference with a 47-19 record. His season averages are 28.03 points, 7.98 rebounds, 3.50 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.3 blocks per game.

This season, Kevin Durant averaged a career high, in rebounds, assists, and blocks. He is also the first three time scoring champion. This season, Durant has had grueling duels with fellow MVP candidate, Kobe Byrant .  These scoring duels have been reminiscent of Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins, or Isaiah Thomas and Bernard King.

One devalued aspect of Kevin Durant’s 2012 campaign is his ability to share the limelight and the shots with his All-Star teammate, Russell Westbrook. Throw in Durant’s bewildering ability to deliver in the clutch, something James has yet to do, all of these components make a very strong case for Durant to win this year’s MVP.

Chris Paul –  LA Clippers

Chris Paul is one of the top Point Guards in the NBA. This season’s turnaround in Clipper land is reminiscent of the impact Jason Kidd had on the Nets in the 2001-2002 season. Although the Clippers are seen as the JV team in LA, the gap has been considerably closed between Clippers fans and Lakers fans for basketball superiority in LA.

Since Paul’s arrival in the offseason, he has changed the culture of the Clippers from a perennial looser into a contender. 

Paul’s season averages are 19.8 points, 3.55 rebounds, 9.05 assists, and 2.5 steals; and his 26.82 Player Efficiency Rating is only second to Lebron James.  Paul’s contributions have been brilliant and his ball distribution has taken his teammates from marginal players to above average players.

For a guy who only stands 6-feet tall, he makes an impact on the defensive end of the ball as one of the league leaders in steals. His well-rounded game separates himself from past MVP’s at the point guard position, such as Steve Nash and Allen Iverson.

Kevin Love – Minnesota Timberwolves

What’s love got to do with it? Believe it or not, Kevin Love is making a strong case for MVP.

His improved play has given him the label as the best power forward in the league. He is putting up numbers not seen since the days of Moses Malone. When you look at his season averages you would think they came straight out of a video game. His season averages are 26.04 PPG and 13.36 rebounds. 26.06 PPG is a career high for Kevin Love; some season stand out games include a 42-point, 10-rebound game against the Spurs, and a 51-point game against the OKC Thunder. 

One of the factors that will affect Kevin Love’s MVP status in a negative way is his team record, as they are not in the playoff hunt. They made tremendous strides to improve their overall team record. For a franchise that has been dead in the water since they traded Kevin Garnett in 2007, they are on their way back to relevancy in the NBA due to the stellar play of Kevin Love.

Derrick Rose -  Chicago Bulls

The defending NBA MVP is having an impactful season just as he had last season. The Chicago Bulls are the number one team in the Eastern Conference for two consecutive years and this season Rose averaged 21.8 PPG, 7.87 assists, and 3.36 rebounds per game. His points are down by 3.16 from last season and he has played in fewer games this season due to injury but his impact on the team remains the same.  He is the team scoring and emotional leader, and without Rose, the Bulls are just a middle-of-the-road team.

Lamentably, there can be only one winner for this prestigious award. Only the truly great, and impact players have won this award.  For players to justify winning this award, they have to take their teams and level of play to a higher plateau, and most importantly win games.

As the late Al Davis famously said, “Just win, baby. Just win”.

Podcast: 2012 NBA Playoffs Preview

After nearly a year, the Hoops Addict Podcast is back on a regular basis. I’ve linked up with Mark Cheel with the intention of bringing back the Podcast on a weekly basis and we started with a preview of the 2012 NBA Playoffs.

Mark and I break down why Atlanta can give Boston a scare, we debate if Utah’s frontcourt can muscle San Antonio out of the playoffs, we lament that the Clippers lack of a strong coach will result in Blake Griffin and Chris Paul not lasting as long as they should in the playoffs as well as the rest of the first round match-ups.

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