Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors: The NBA heavyweight title fight is finally here 

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The 2018 Western Conference Finals we all have been waiting for is finally here, the long awaited Houston Rockets-Golden State Warriors showdown, has been destined to be the NBA’s title fight since day one.

The basketball world is elated to finally see the massive Western Conference Finals, arguably the premier two teams in the NBA are finally going toe-to-toe. The Rockets, are set to prove that they have the league’s best record for a reason, and that they can contend with the defending champs.

Houston’s trip to the Western Conference Finals, answers the questions regarding if the regular season success will translate into the playoffs, which has so far. Now, the only thing left for them to completely silence the critics, is to give the Warriors a run for their money.

Chris Paul and James Harden, are playing some of the best basketball of their lives, and are doing it with great chemistry.

The Rockets’ two best players, under Head Coach Mike D’Antoni, have a figured out a game plan all year that has been working in harmony. Paul’s aggressiveness helps share the responsibility on offense with Harden, creating more opportunities for the team.

These superstars will need to be creative in their attack against the Warriors, and making sure that Clint Capela is going to be apart of it. The Rockets went on a whopping 50-5 record during the regular season with a Capela/Paul/Harden starting lineup, according to Stephen A. Smith, ESPN.

Capela is a key element to his to team for his potential on offense, but mainly his real strength at the defensive end. He is arguably one of the best defensive players in the league, averaging nearly two blocks a game.

When Houston makes plays on the defensive end, they create chances in transition, which often lead to their signature 3-point shots. If they play a well-balanced game, they should have a shot against Golden State.

At the end of the day, these Western Conference Finals are going to require each team’s best to be their best, all superstars going full-throttle.

Charles Barkley, Hall of Famer, told the ‘NBA on TNT’ crew that Game 1 is a must win for the Rockets. I know that Barkley can be very outspoken at times, but I couldn’t agree with him more on this statement.

The Rockets will need any sort of edge they can get in this series, especially since they have home court advantage. Trailing just one game will bring a great amount of pressure, giving them no room for error, because Games 3 and 4 at Oracle Arena will be the toughest road trip all year.

I will be rooting for the Rockets this next week like no other, as if I was a Houston native or a die-hard fan, because it simply will be better for the NBA to see Golden State Warriors finally knocked off by someone other than LeBron James.

It would be a great story for Paul, Harden, and even D’Antoni – elevating their NBA legacies, and show the league that their not just underdogs. While people say that fans love dominancy, dynasties in sports, they also root for parody and upsets.

Photo by Puettmann [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

Why the Conference Finals are really the NBA Finals in 2018

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With the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors sleepwalking their way to the championship yet again, fans really need the Houston Rockets to provide some parody before the 2018 NBA Finals begin.

After the Cavaliers embarrassed the Toronto Raptors with another series sweep, the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference looked anything, but competitive Monday night. The overall impression was that this Raptors team just quit after Game 3.

King James and his Cavs had been haunting the Raptors for years, as they have 10 consecutive playoff wins during the DeMar DeRozan-Kyle Lowry era. It is scary to see the Raptors, being one of the premier teams in the East, not even be a hurdle for the Cavaliers.

The top seed in the east is set to blow up, and may become an entirely different team after failing expectations year after year. While some say the blame should be on Head Coach Dwayne Casey, the real sense is that DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lawry aren’t panning out for the Toronto Raptors.

With all due respect to the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers, no one from the Eastern Conference will be a serious threat, if the Golden State Warriors make the 2018 NBA Finals.

Even though The King is playing some of the best basketball in his life, this specific roster doesn’t have anywhere near the firepower the Warriors do. It is just simple, Golden State has too many weapons.

Now that Steph Curry is healthy, and with his fellow four All-Stars playing at a high level, this Warriors team seems unstoppable.

Yes, LeBron is playing light out, and his team is playing well (especially Kevin Love) – they still are no match for the Warriors. King James might have to average 50 points just to even be competitive with Golden State, because it will be very difficult for his team overall to match the score.

It will be hard to see James lose another Finals, let alone embarrassed. I hope that this doesn’t happen, and think that you might agree: it’s time to see a different NBA Finals matchup.

I guess it would be cool from a historic perspective, seeing LeBron make his way to eight consecutive NBA appearances, and a fourth Cavs-Warriors NBA Finals in a row.

The mutual feeling of seeing a NBA title repeat though, once again, will not be so elated. This is why fans have long awaited the Rockets-Warriors matchup.

Will the Rockets finally be the ones to challenge the Warriors?

Rockets look to close out their 3-1 series over the Utah Jazz tonight, and more importantly, bring their A-game next round against the defending champs.

Photo by Erik Drost (LeBron James vs. Steph Curry) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Why a Rockets’ series loss might be a concern for the Western Conference

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With a surprising Game 2 loss at home to the Utah Jazz, all eyes remain on James Harden and the Houston Rockets to avoid another disappointing second-round playoff exit. The NBA’s best regular season team is not only in jeopardy of living up to expectations, but also falling short to the highly anticipated Rockets–Warriors showdown.

The Rockets’ incredible 29-2 stretch left the league in complete awe, and thinking this team could really give the defending champs a run for their money.

There still had been trepidation however with Rockets’ success during the regular season, for they still have to prove themselves in the playoffs. With momentum swinging back to Utah in Game 3, Harden and his team is yet again surrounded with uncertainty.

The future 2018 MVP and his teammate Chris Paul, has to carry Houston in order to win these next two games on the road. Vivint Smart Home Arena, Salt Lake City, will be completely chaotic this weekend – hoping to boost their Jazz to another playoff upset.

A loss this series could be a tale of two different halves for Harden, Paul, and this Rockets team overall. Another early playoff exit could really insinuate a dark cloud over the legacy of these superstars.

Like Harden, Paul too has dealt with his fair share criticism based on his early round exits in the playoffs. This series will not only be huge for them to live up to expectations, but also to improve their playoff pandemonium.

NBA fans need Houston to win this series because they are the best chance against Golden State, not Utah. Though they did not play like it in Game 2, the Jazz are truly the underdogs in this series.

If the Rockets fall short once again, which Western Conference team can actually challenge the Warriors in the near future?

This thought is scary if you look at the state of NBA’s Western Conference. There is beginning to be a lack of parody in the west actually, rather than the east, for the first time in years.

Big questions remain for some of the “premier” teams in the west like: The Oklahoma City Thunder, the San Antonio Spurs, and now the Houston Rockets.

The Carmelo Anthony/Paul George experiment in OKC looks like it just will be a one-season trial, after the way things played out in the first round. The Thunder have a lot of questions to address this offseason and
it starts with George.

Rumors of Paul George leaving to join the Los Angeles Lakers is one of the league’s best kept secrets, as he has been open about his love for L.A. for quit some time now. With Anthony’s lackluster performance this season, and especially with a quick playoff exit, George is very likely to leave the Thunder coming this offseason.

The next power team in the west, the Spurs, are about to be in serious rebuild. The once heavily contenders are now going to the be ones fighting for playoff position, specifically with their best player, Kawhi Leonard
leaving next season.

How will the Harden, Paul, and the Rockets handle adversity on the road against the Jazz?

Photo by Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA (James Harden) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Heat’s Homecoming with Wade is a great story for the NBA

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Dwyane Wade is going going, back back, to Miami Miami! The Miami Heat re-acquire Wade, the player of their franchise, and the move could not have come at a better time for the team with brinks of playoff contention.

The Miami Heat surprised the league and Wade himself with requesting a trade for their all-time franchise player, officially reconstructing the Cleveland Cavaliers’ All-Star roster LeBron James helped assembled at the beginning of the season. By the time the NBA Trade Deadline concluded Thursday, the Cavs stunned the league with over 6 trades – including former All-Star/MVP caliber players.

Initially the moves made by the Cavs were not understood or applauded, and to which I agree. I mean how could you let go of player like Isaiah Thomas for Jordan Clarkson, and oh, Larry Nance Jr.?

No disrespect to the Lakers’ athletic young guns but Isaiah Thomas is a MVP caliber type of player. To say the Cavs reshaped their roster is an understatement, I mean they had basically cleaned house in a span of 18 hours, per ESPN.

Cleveland’s dramatic change is surprising, but is good for the league in my opinion – especially with trading Wade back to Miami. Someone who is a believer of this trade, and coming back to one’s hometown, commented on the trade.

“I’m excited as hell for him,” LeBron James, friend/teammate, said in a statement. “That’s how it should be.”

James showed nothing but excitement for Wade, as he was likely reflecting on his decision back in 2014 when we returned to Cleveland. This is a good look for King James, and the NBA.

Restoring Wade should make Heat and the Eastern Conference more of a road block for the Cavaliers, giving the league more parody in some aspects of experience vs. youth.

Some critics of this trade believe the Cavs actually have a better chance to return to the NBA Finals now because “they are much younger” – which is ridiculous. Just because the have added a few more athletic players doesn’t necessarily give them an advantage in the postseason, experience is vita — especially in playoffs.

Photo by Erik Drost (Dwyane Wade) [CC BY 2.0],via Wikimedia Commons

Jordan vs. James: Comparing modern NBA super-teams with the classic dynasty era 

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After the Cleveland Cavaliers adopted half the Eastern All-Star roster, it is legitimate that LeBron James transcended the notion of super-teams in the NBA, and now everyone in the league is buying in except for Michael Jordan.

Michael Jordan believes that the super teams are “hurting the NBA.” Whether this statement can be subject to a debate, there is for sure evidence that NBA teams are making roster moves to better their chances in winning a championship.

The Cavaliers’ talent this year is throughout the roof, a team with so many weapons, it makes fans wonder how the hell it can be even possible. King James’ squad is even more deep than the other “super teams” in the league like Boston, Oklahoma City and the Houston.

While teams in the Eastern and Western Conference have made great strides this 2017 offseason to build a competitive team, it is still no match for the proverbial monster that is Cleveland and Golden State.

The Cavaliers have nearly 10 former All-Stars on their roster, over 3 MVPs’, and several star veterans. It is safe to say, this roster is deep.

Now that the LeBron James Campaign has acquired Dwayne Wade off free agency, the Cavaliers are flooded with talent as well as experience. Starting from Wade, to Rose, and all the way to Isaiah Thomas – their guard talent is ridiculous.

I mean, practically half their bench could be a starting-five on another team.

Coming off his MVP Finals performance, Kevin Durant and his fellow MVP Steph Curry, has the NBA world convinced they are still the best team in the league, amidst of all the trades with other powerhouses. The Warriors have done a great job managing their cap space in order to keep their talented roster, even with paying Durant and Curry to max contracts.

The belief the Warriors will be back to the Finals, and that they are still the best team in the NBA, is believable, because they still have all of their championship-caliber players. Besides the two former MVP’s mentioned on this Warriors’ squad, they still have their other star players: Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, and Draymond Green.

Golden State’s bench is also loaded, starting with the athleticism of a Shaun Livingston to the veteran presence of a David West, this Warriors team is well-balanced.

Durant’s mission to win the chip last year was scary; as the 6’10’’ PF scored against the opposing defense at will, and did it every way possible. I imagine KD to have a similar inspiration as he did last year, especially after signing a 2-year, $53M contract with the Warriors.

After seeing these two powerhouses head to head in the Finals the past three years, the question comes into play – is it hurting the NBA? Following Jordan’s comments on the ‘era of NBA super-teams’, I imagine it is somewhat fair to question the domino effect in free agency led behind King James.

LeBron James had influenced the notion of super-teams way back when he joined forces with my Miami Heat in 2010. He flew to South Beach to not just to simply enjoy the beautiful atmosphere in Miami, or hang with his buddy Wade, he went there to win a NBA title.

Since things weren’t working out in his first time in Cleveland, he decided it was time to make a change if he really wanted to win his first ring.

Summer of 2017 has been a record-breaking year for NBA Free Agency; jaw-dropping contract numbers and the amount of trades has gotten everyone’s attention – including legendary Michael Jordan. According to ESPN, Jordan believes the NBA super-teams are hurting the league.

I agree that the essence of building super-teams is throwing off the balance in the NBA, but I don’t necessarily think it’s bad for the league. Jordan is definitely right when he said about the majority of the other teams in the league will be terrible compared to the six powerhouses.

On the other hand, back in the “dynasty” era, the balance of the league was similar with only having six great teams in the league. Realistically, the most dominating teams identified in this era were: Lakers, Celtics, Jazz, Bulls, Pistons, and Knicks.

While Jordan may have points in his perspective concerning super-teams, he is also somewhat subject to being hypocritical in his whole thesis because the dynasty era is very similar to what is gong on right now in the NBA. Both eras have made roster moves in a swift manner in order to win a title and only concerned a handful of dominant teams.

Overall, I am excited to see all of the new players on several teams in the league and see how the powerhouses clash in the playoffs.

Photo by Daydaydiscgolf (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Why next season will be make or break for the Cleveland Cavaliers

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The 2017-2018 NBA offseason has been record-setting, and filled with tons of drama – especially for King James and his Cleveland Cavaliers.

Since the devastating news of Kyrie Irving’s trade request, all and everything in Cleveland has been completely chaotic. With LeBron James’ sudden transition from feeling heartbroken to being extremely pissed off, his team is in serious limbo after reportedly having serious beef with Irving.

The chemistry of James and Irving are vital to the Cavs’ success, which may be the detriment to their team with the likely scenario that the best two players will not be playing side to side. It’s hard to imagine Irving will remain the starting point guard for Cleveland, especially after hearing ESPN report, “Irving wants to be traded, doesn’t want to play with LeBron James.”

Looks like Cleveland is going to have to start planning life without Kyrie, and they most certainly did.

The Cavs acted swiftly just after hearing the news of Irving, picking up the next best available point guard in the open market. Derrick Rose, former MVP, shocked the league after signing veteran minimum 1-year, 2.1 million contract with the three-time defending Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

Thankfully for the Cavs, they will now have two former MVPs and both of them are still in the prime of their careers.

Since his “recent decline” with the Chicago Bulls, Rose just had one of his best season performances in years, averaging over 18 points with the New York Knicks – showing the NBA that he can still ball. Rose is not only on a mission to prove to himself, but to the basketball world, he is a championship-caliber point guard.

Will Rose and Cleveland be revitalized this upcoming season?

Photo by Keith Allison [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

NBA free agency 2017: the money pit that is the NBA

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The 2017 NBA offseason shocked the world when it made it rain this summer, money pouring all over free agency, along with a surplus of stunning trades and record-breaking contracts.

Just when the NBA world thinks it has seen it all with Steph Curry’s eye-opening $200M four-year contract extension, the Houston Rockets completely stupefy the league with offering James Harden the biggest contract extension in NBA history (4-year, $228M). Curry and Harden make history this offseason with becoming the richest men in the NBA, marking themselves as the franchise players.

The rich keep just keep on getting richer.

The Free agency frenzy has been a complete domino effect since day 1, influencing more money incentives with the latest signings. The Tim Hardaway Jr. signing is a great example of this.

When the New York Knicks finally acknowledged that they will be planning for their future without Carmelo Anthony, they surprised the NBA world after shelling out a four-year, $71M deal to the former Atlanta Hawks starting point guard.

Mad money that was being featured the signings of 2017 surprised everyone around the league, including players.

“Even Tim Hardaway Jr. was surprised the Knicks offered him a $71M contract,” according to Colin Ward-Henninger, CBS Sports.

Singings like these set the platform for the open market, setting the bar much higher for NBA
contracts. This helps give role players and upcoming free agents more of a chance to get their money’s worth.

Hardaway Jr. just happened to be a free agent at the right time, at the right place.

With most of the premier players off of the open market, there is still the mutual feeling around
the league that there is still some moves that could be made before the 2017-2018 NBA season begins. In the midst of more NBA trade rumors, via SB Nation, Carmelo Anthony to the Houston Rockets is getting closer to a reality.

Will Melo be the next headline in free agency?

Photo by Keith Allison (Flickr: Carmelo Anthony) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Super Team Syndrome: NBA chasing Golden State in free agency 

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Time flies when you’re having fun, or when you’re a free agent in the NBA.

Since opening day of free agency, the NBA has been a complete feeding frenzy as several teams across the league rush to scoop up top free agents for the upcoming 2017-2018 season.

The 2017 NBA season has started off with a bang, as Chris Paul shocked the Clippers and the rest of the nation with signing to the Houston Rockets even before free agency began. Shortly after Paul signed with Houston, franchise players like Jimmy Butler and Paul George also surprised the league with trades to Minnesota and Oklahoma City.

Minnesota is gradually becoming a building block with Tom Thibodeau recruiting Butler and Bulls teammate Taj Gibson (2-year /$28 mil), while OKC is living life in the fast lane signing Paul George to just a one-year rental.

Many teams like Houston (Harden, Paul,) and now OKC (Westbrook, George), are looking to add another All-star to their lineup, making a run at the super team that is Golden State. While players like Carmelo Anthony, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Lowry, and company are yet to sign with the team.

What a time to be alive if you’re a free agent.

Meanwhile nothings changed with the defending champs, the Warriors continue to strive for greatness resigning Steph Curry and Andre Iguodola to blockbuster deals and Kevin Durant expected to return. Curry becomes the richest man in the NBA with a record setting 5-year, $201 million contract – not even Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson saw that kind of money.

As the Clippers and Celtics are fighting to maintain relevance in their respective conference, there are also many other NBA teams that are in limbo following free agency. While the Clippers retain Griffin, teams like Miami, Phoenix, and Detroit have yet to make a splash this offseason.

Who is going to be able to chase Golden State?

 

Photo by SEAN M. HAFFEY / GETTY IMAGES

Kevin Durant pulls up from 30, finishes off Cavs with the ultimate game winner 

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Kevin Durant has proved everyone that he has ice in his veins after hitting a clutch pull-up 3 over LeBron James to give the Golden State Warriors a one-point lead late in the 4th quarter, pushing the series to a dramatic 3-0 swing.

Durant showed nothing, but poise with his late-game dagger, especially during the most important possession of the game. He hit the biggest shot of the NBA Finals, and his entire career solidifying himself as one of the greatest in the world.

Durant started the NBA Finals letting LeBron know that he’s coming, and now he’s ending it in the same fashion.

Scoring 7 of the team’s final 11 points in the final 3 minutes, KD rallied the Warriors to victory. After carrying GSW to three straight wins, it is safe to say that Durant is the legitimate MVP of the NBA Finals.

Not only Game 3 was heartbreaking for the Cavs, but it is also more demoralizing seeing the way their opponent win. Kevin Durant, once again, single handily dominated Cleveland.

ESPN’s NBA Analyst Stephen A. Smith reacts to the Warriors’ Game 3 win over the Cavaliers, addressing KD’s dominance is something that simply cannot be ignored.

“Take a look at the highlights, he starts off the series basically letting LeBron know that he’s coming, said Stephen A. Smith. “Kevin Durant has been saying I’m here since opening of these Finals.”

KD’s clutch game last night at Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, certainly has everyone’s attention. His mission this year to win the championship is scary not only for Cavs, but also the NBA.

Who is going to stop him and this Warriors juggernaut in the next 4-5 years?

Photo source from Cam Stein, via Flickr.

Miami Heat are ‘playoff-less’, but not hopeless

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The Miami Heat’s 110-102 win over the Wizards should be a celebration rather than just a commemoration, for the team will miss the playoffs by a whisker in a tie-breaker with the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers.

The Heat made history in their miraculous second-half effort of the 2016-107 regular season, rattling off a league-best 20 wins in 24 games just after starting 19 games below .500. They shocked the league with their incredible turnaround, finishing the regular season at 41-41.

The Heat were eliminated with wins from Pacers and the Bulls, mainly accredited to the Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawk’s controversial move to rest all of their starters. The ridiculous decision to rest the starters at the last game of the season left a black eye on the NBA.

The Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks’ ‘forfeit’ negatively impacted playoff seeding, and could be an omen that this could be a future NBA
trend.

Heat fans may be upset, but should be proud of their team; for their resiliency should be respected, and Heat President Pat Riley felt mutual about this. Riley was greatly disappointed that his team missed the playoffs, but was pleased with the effort in their second-half turnaround of the season.

“I love what we built,” said Riley.

Riley and his Heat Nation can feel a great sense of optimism with the chemistry the team had built towards the last half of the season. The Heat’s momentum looks to stay a float when Dion Waiters makes his return.

Waiters shined in big moments when he was in the lineup, averaging nearly 19 points and 5 assists during the two-month stretch before his injury. The Heat went 20-4 with him in the lineup, according to USA Today’s Adi Joseph.

Miami was on pace to win 48 games with the momentum the team had built with the former OKC guard, which could’ve been enough to grab the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference. The team immediately saw the impact Waiters left on the team during their miraculous turnaround of the second-half of season.

The Heat organization have the mutual feeling that, if Dion Waiters was completely healthy, they make the playoffs easy.

Now Miami has to put aside their playoff heartache and focus on the offseason, for they have many decisions to make. While the Heat have there building blocks set – Goran Dragić and Hassan Whiteside, they need to lock down key role players who will be free agents this offseason.

Of those free agents, who will be getting paid big money this 2016-2017 season, is James Johnson.

One of the most improved players of the year, James Johnson, has become a force to deal with at the power forward position. Johnson, just alike his teammate Waiters, impressed his peers with his strength and conditioning.

Not only Waiters and Johnson have improved with their play, they have upgraded their fitness and overall health. Both Heat players have lost weight, and felt mutual it benefited their play.

The work ethic of Erik Spoelstra and his players were certainly recognized this season, and will be even more renowned when they make damage in the playoffs next year. Miami will need to focus on keeping some of their key players on the roster this offseason, wether they have to make a trade or even release veteran players like Chris Bosh.

Photo by Keith Allison [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons