Wednesday, December 24, 2014

J-Speaks: Holiday Slate on the Hardwood

It is that time of the year again. In less than 24 hours, jolly old St. Nick and his reindeer will be flying across the planet delivering gifts to all who have been nice this year. Families and friends will be exchanging those gifts, creating new memories and moments of love, appreciation and respect that can last a lifetime. Later on in the day, some of the most talented NBA players and teams with aspirations of hoisting up the Larry O’Brien Trophy this June will be on display on ESPN, ABC and TNT.
The first game on the Christmas Day at noon on ESPN features the Washington Wizards (19-8), who are third in the Eastern Conference at the underachieving New York Knicks (5-25), off to their worst start in franchise history.
No team has played more on Dec. 25 than the New York Knicks, who will be making their 51st appearance.
The 2014-15 edition of the Knicks have left a lump of coal in the stockings of their fans.
They have lost every possible way this season.
The Knicks have lost nine games this season by double-digits.
In games decided by six points or less, they are 3-11. At the Dallas Mavericks (20-10) on Nov. 26th and versus the Toronto Raptors (22-7), the No. 5 team in the West and the Eastern Conference leaders respectably, they took them to overtime and lost by a combined total of 12 points.
Their one quality victory came at the Cleveland Cavaliers in their home opener and the return of LeBron James 95-90 on Oct.30, which seems like eons ago.
When the Knicks Hall of Famer and 11-time NBA champion Phil Jackson as team president late last season, hired Derek Fisher fresh from being a player on the court a season ago and re-signed Carmelo Anthony (23.7 ppg-5th NBA, 6.7 rpg) this summer, it was thought that this season was going to be one of ups and downs. There have been way too many low points this season than high ones.
For the Washington Wizards, they have been ascending this season.
First time All-Star a season ago in starting lead guard John Wall (17.8 ppg-leads team, 10.4 apg-2nd NBA, 2.1 spg-2nd NBA) has been off the charts with his play and his leadership. He leads all guards in the NBA with eight games of 20-plus points and 10-plus assists and double-doubles with 16, which is tied with forward LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers and center Nikola Vucevic of the Orlando Magic.
His backcourt mate Bradley Beal (15.1 ppg-2nd team, 46.4 3-Pt.%) who missed the start of the season with an injured wrist has picked up where he left off a season ago.
The addition of veteran swingman Paul Pierce (13.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg) has given this young up and coming team experience, leadership and a clutch performer in big games that they were lacking a season ago.
Starting center Marcin Gortat (13.0 ppg, 8.2 rpg-leads team, 54.1 FG%), who was re-signed in the off-season has played very well this season as he has garnered 10 double-doubles so far.
The new additions of forwards Kris Humphries (7.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Rasual Butler (10.8 ppg, 52.2 FG%, 51.3 3-Pt.%) have added depth and stability for the supporting cast which also consists of Nene (10.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg), center Kevin Seraphin and Otto Porter, Jr., who has made some serious strides in his second season.
Of their 19 wins so far this season, 14 of them have come against the East in 18 chances. Despite their 99-91 loss versus the Chicago Bulls (19-9) on Tuesday night, Wizards is 13-4 at the Verizon Center this season, representing their best start in years.
They have one victory over the Knicks already this season, a 98-83 output at Madison Square Garden back on Nov. 4.
Pierce and Temple lead the way in that one each scoring 17. Seraphin had 15 points off the bench. Wall had 11 points, seven assists. His understudy veteran guard Andre Miller had 12 points off the bench and forward Drew Gooden was also in double-figures with 10.
The NBA on ABC begins its season at 2:30 p.m. with a match-up of last season’s Western Conference Finals between the Oklahoma City Thunder (13-16), last season’s runner up at the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs (18-11).
When this season began, many thought that these two teams who finished as the top two seeds in the West a season ago with the Spurs as the No. 1 Seed and the Thunder at No. 2. That has not been the case so far in 2014-15.
Reigning 2014 MVP in Thunder forward Kevin Durant missed the first 17 games because of a foot injury.
The team was also without their other All-Star player guard Russell Westbrook, who broke his hand in the second game of the season at the Los Angeles Clippers on Oct. 30, a 93-90 loss. Westbrook missed 14 games as a result.
Since the return of the dynamic duo though, the Thunder went from being out of the playoff picture completely to know being to being just a 1 ½ games out of the eighth and final playoff spot.
After seven consecutive wins from Dec. 5 to Dec. 16 and nine victories in their last 10 outings, the Thunder have dropped three of their last four outings. The last loss was a tough one as the Thunder lost 115-111 versus the surging Portland Trail Blazers (23-7) 115-111 in overtime.
After trailing by 11 at intermission, the Thunder stormed out of the gates in the third quarter outscoring Portland 30-19 and they lead 78-91 with 5:04 remaining.
Portland went on 20-7 run, which was capped by All-Star guard Damian Lillard’s three-pointer with three seconds left in regulation to square the game at 98-98.
Lillard finished with 40 points, 11 assists and six boards on 11 for 21 from the floor, which included a career-high eight three-pointers in 12 chances. He also went 10 for 11 from the free throw line.
Westbrook, who had 40 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and three steals missed a game-winning three at the end of regulation and fouled out with 1:39 left in overtime.
Westbrook and Lillard became the first two opponents to have a 40-10-5 performance since Hall of Famers and NBA champions Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics and Clyde Drexler of the Trail Blazers did it in a game back on Mar. 15, 1992, that the Celtics won 152-148 in double overtime. Bird had a triple double of 49 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists, while Drexler had 41 points 11 assists and eight rebounds.
Hall of Famer of the Detroit Pistons Isiah Thomas, current NBATV analyst and former Denver Nuggets’ guard Alex English accomplished this feet back on Dec. 13, 1983. That contest between the Pistons and Nuggets was the highest scoring game in NBA history as the Pistons won 186-184 in triple overtime. Thomas had 47 points, 17 assists and five rebounds and English also had 47 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.  
In their 114-109 loss at the Golden State Warriors (23-3) last Thursday night Durant, who had 30 points in just 19 minutes in the first half sprained his right ankle late in the half when he stepped on forward Marreese Speights’ foot. While X-rays were negative, Durant has not played since and his status for Thursday’s contest at the Spurs is unknown.
Speaking of the defending NBA champs, prior to their 125-118 victory versus the Los Angeles Clippers (19-10) on Monday night, the Spurs have lost four games in a row. Two of those setbacks were in triple overtime, where they became the first team since the 1951 then Baltimore Bullets to play consecutive games that went triple overtime.
The first came at the hands of the Southwest Division rival Memphis Grizzlies (21-7) 117-116 a week ago.
Grizzlies’ starting center Marc Gasol, who had 26 points and nine boards sent the contest into the first overtime by banking in a three-pointer at the end of regulation. Randolph had 26 points and 21 rebounds. Reserve swingman Vince Carter had 18 points, hitting 5 for 8 from three-point territory and guard Mike Conley had 14 points, 10 assists and eight boards.
The second triple overtime loss came at the hands of the Trail Blazers 129-119, who beat the Spurs for the second time in a four-day span.
Lillard scored 26 of his career-high 43 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, going 16 for 29 floor the floor, including 4 for 9 from three-point range. Aldridge had 32 points, 16 rebounds, five steals and two blocks.
A big reason for the Spurs struggles in recent games has been the fact they have been without some of their key people. Starting forward Kawhi Leonard (15.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg) has been sidelined because of a torn ligament in his hand and right now there is no timetable for his return.
Starting guard Tony Parker (16.5 ppg-leads team, 5.3 apg), who had been sidelined the last handful of games because of left hamstring injury returned to the lineup losing and scored 26 points on 11 for 18 shooting on Monday night versus the Clippers.
The Spurs as a team got back on track as well Monday night with season-highs of the aforementioned 125 points, shooting 63.3 percent from the field and producing 37 assists. Their 56.5 percent accuracy from the three-point line (13-23) was their second best output of the season.
The one silver lining through the Spurs four straight losses has been the play of All-Star forward and future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan (16.0 ppg, 11.0 rpg-leads team, 2.3 bpg-4th NBA).
In the triple overtime loss versus the Grizzlies six days ago, the five-time champion had 23 points, 16 boards, five assists and three blocks, but went just 5 for 15 from the free throw line. The Spurs as a team went just 13 for 27 from the charity stripe for 48.1 percent, which cost them in the end.
Against the Trail Blazers last Friday night, Duncan had 32 points, 10 rebounds, two steals and four blocks in the loss.
Another player who showed out in the Spurs triple overtimes losses was guard Danny Green. He had 25 points, seven boards and five blocks versus the Grizzlies, while going 9 for 17 from the field, including 7 for 13 from three-point range. Green followed that up with 27 points and 10 boards going 6 for 9 from three-point land against the Trail Blazers.
One of the major reasons that the Spurs have been able to play at a consistent level the past few seasons is the fact that they have been able to utilize their entire roster. Head coach Gregg Popovich has not been afraid to sit some of his older players to keep them fresh during the season and for them to be at their best at playoff time.
In the last three seasons when either Duncan, Parker or Ginobili (12.9 ppg, 4.9 apg) have sat out a game because of injury or to get rest, the Spurs have won 70.3, 69.4 and 75 percent of their games respectably. This season, they have won just four of those games in 10 tries.
With that being said, these are the defending champs. While the Golden State Warriors, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and Clippers may be ahead of them in the standings and the Thunder creeping up behind them, the Spurs are going to do what is in their best interest to give themselves the best chance to repeat.
The most anticipated match-up of the day will be the 5 p.m. contest between the Cleveland Cavaliers (17-10) at the defending Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat (13-16).
The main story line in this one is the return of four-time MVP LeBron James (25.2 ppg-2nd NBA, 5.2 rpg, 7.6 apg-leads team) to the place he went from great player into back-to-back NBA champion.
James’ return to Cleveland teaming up with All-Star lead guard Kyrie Irving (20.0 ppg, 46.7 FG%, 37.5 3-Pt.%) and All-Star forward Kevin Love (16.9 ppg, 10.5 rpg-leads team), who came over this summer from the Minnesota Timberwolves has had its ups and downs.
There have been nights where the Cavs have looked like the best team in the East and then there have been nights where they looked lost and confused, especially at the defensive end.
With such a group of talent, the Cavs are ranked just 14th in points allowed at 99.6; 25th in opponent’s field goal percentage at 46.9 and 25th in rebounds per game at 40.9.
While head coach David Blatt may be new to the NBA, his players have been around the block before. At some point though, they have to take it upon their shoulders to string some consistent play together on both ends and become the championship contender we all envision them to be.
Since their 5-2 start to the season, they have lost 13 of their last 21 games, which includes a four-game losing streak from Dec. 1 to Dec. 7.
A big reason for the team’s struggles is that Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have missed time because of injury. Bosh (21.6 ppg-2nd team, 8.2 rpg-leads team) is currently on the mend the last five games because of injured calf. He will not play versus the Philadelphia 76ers tonight, but hopes to return for versus the Cavs on Thursday.
Wade (22.8 ppg-leads team, 5.5 apg, 3.8 rpg), who had missed eight games early in the season because of a hamstring issue, has been playing well lately as he is back to being the featured player in the Heat offense this season with James back in Cleveland. In the last 10 games, he has averaged 24.2 points, 4.9 assists and 4.2 rebounds.
One of the big problems that the Heat have had this season is the inability to get consistent scoring from the rest of the supporting cast.
While prized free agent Luol Deng (14.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg) has been consistent and starting guard Mario Chalmers (12.5 ppg) has been steady, the team has been unable to get any consistent offensive punch from Shawne Williams (8.4 ppg, 44.0 3-Pt.%), Norris Cole, Chris Andersen, Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts.
McRoberts, who signed as a free agent this off-season had surgery on his knee on Monday and according to reports could be out the rest of the season and Andersen has recently returned from a sprained ankle.
The one thing that has been consistent from the Heat, has been their play at the defensive end ranking 8th points allowed at 97.8 per contest.
The most anticipated moment of this contest is how the home crowd of American Airlines Arena will greet James. Will they cheer him at the start for helping to guide along with Wade, Bosh and Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra to four straight Finals appearances and two consecutive NBA titles in 2012 over the Thunder in six games and the Spurs in 2013 in seven games or will they just boo him?
The NBA on TNT doubleheader will begin with two teams head in different directions as the Los Angeles Lakers (9-19) take on the Chicago Bulls (19-9) at 8 p.m.
For the Lakers, the only positive thing that has happen for them this season was when All-Star guard and former MVP Kobe Bryant passed Michael Jordan to become the 3rd all-time leading scorer in NBA history nine days ago in the Lakers 100-94 win at the Minnesota Timberwolves (5-21).
Since a three-game winning streak from Dec. 9-Dec. 14, which included a 112-110 overtime win at the Spurs, the Lakers have lost three consecutive contest at the Indiana Pacers (10-19) 110-91 back on Dec. 15; versus the Thunder 104-103 this past Friday night and this past Sunday at the Sacramento Kings (12-16) 108-101.
For the Bulls, this season has been about a number of things.
For starters, the health and return to form of 2011 MVP Derrick Rose.
After sustaining to very serious knee injuries over the past two seasons, Rose has been trying to get back to the form that made him one of the best in the league and the Bulls a title contender.
At the start of this season, Rose was in and out of the lineup because of minor injuries and illness.
He has been in the lineup on a consistent basis recently and he showed on Monday night versus the Toronto Raptors (22-7) that he is rounding into form.
Rose scored 15 of his team-high 29 points in the fourth quarter as the Bulls rallied from a 12-point deficit to beat the Raptors for the second time this season 129-120.
Bulls’ guard Jimmy Butler, a Most Improved Player candidate had 27 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and five steals going 7 for 16 from the field and 11 for 11 from the free-throw line. Back-up guard Aaron Brooks had 17 points off the bench. Starting center Joakim Noah (9.0 ppg, 9.7 rpg) had 14 points and prized free agent forward Pau Gasol had 14 points, nine boards and three blocks. Rookie Nikola Mirotic had 12 points and Taj Gibson (12.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg) had 10 and seven rebounds off the bench.
In the Bulls’ 99-91 victory at the Wizards on Tuesday night, their fourth in a row, Rose led the way again with 25 points on 10 for 17 from the field. Gasol had 18 points, nine boards and two blocks. Brooks had 13 points six assists. Gibson had 12 points and seven boards and Butler had 11 points and six rebounds.
Besides having a healthy Rose (17.5 ppg, 5.0 apg) back, the Bulls are a more balance team then they have been over the past couple of seasons. While this team has been and always will be a defensive team first and foremost, especially under head coach Tom Thibodeau; they have become a team that can consistently score, whether it is inside or out.
The Bulls are eighth in the league in scoring per contest at 103.2, the highest in the Thibodeau era. They are seventh in the league in three-point percentage at 36.7 percent and 12th in assists per game at 22.0.
The editions of Gasol (18.0 ppg, 11.5 rpg-leads team, 2.0 bpg-leads team), Brooks (11.1 ppg, 47.6 FG%, 44.7 3-Pt.%) and Mirotic (8.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 40.8 3-Pt.%), the emergence of Butler (22.1 ppg-leads team, 6.2 rpg, 1.6 spg-leads team) at the offensive end to go along with the mainstays Noah, Gibson, Mike Dunleavy (10.0 ppg, 44.5 FG%, 40.8 3-Pt.%), Kirk Hinrick (7.6 ppg, 38.0 3-Pt.%), the Bulls are the favorites to win the East. If not now, when?
The night cap will feature Pacific Division rivals who have gone from the outhouse of the Western Conference to championship contenders as the West leading Golden State Warriors (23-3) take on the back-to-back Pacific Division champion Clippers.
This is a rematch of last season’s first round series when the No. 3 Seeded Clippers defeated the No. 6 Seeded Warriors in a thrilling, electric high tempo seven-game series.
When the Warriors relieved current NBA on ESPN/ABC color analyst Mark Jackson of his head coaching duties and replaced him with new head coach Steve Kerr, many asked why?
Well so far the transition has been seamless as the Warriors are a top the West off to their best start in franchise history.
Prior to their 115-105 loss at the Lakers on Tuesday night, the Warriors had won a franchise best 16 straight contest and 18 wins in their last 19 games. That also included a franchise best 10 straight wins away from ORACLE Arena.  
The Warriors winning are from being the most efficient offense and defensive team in the league.
They are third in points per game at 108.1 and 11th in points allowed at 98.7. They are first in opponent’s field goal percentage surrendering 42.2 percent shooting and in field goal percentage at 48.1 percent. The team is tied for fifth in the league in three-point shooting connecting on 37.5 percent of their attempts and tied with the Mavericks for fourth in three-pointers made at 9.7 per contest. There are ranked fourth in opponent’s three-point percentage giving up just 31.9 percent.
On top of that, the Warriors are fifth in the NBA in rebounding per game at 45.3 per contest and they lead the NBA in block shots per game at 6.5.
The back court tandem of All-Star Stephen Curry (23.4 ppg-leads team, 7.7 apg-leads team, 38.6 3-Pt.%) and Klay Thompson (21.6 ppg-career-high, 45.6 FG%, 44.4 3-Pt.%) also known as “The Splash Brothers” have been incredible this season.
The team has gone to another level thanks to career seasons from Draymond Green (12.4 ppg, 7.9 rpg) and Marreese Speights (11.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg). Harrison Barnes (10.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 51.4 FG%, 41.5 3-Pt.%) has had a bounce back season where he is the starting small forward.
New Sixth Man Andre Igoudala, Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa have been solid off the bench for the Warriors this season.
The only concern for the team this season has been the health of forward David Lee who has played in just one game this season prior to his return from a hamstring injury in the Warriors’ 128-108 win versus the Kings this past Monday night and center Andrew Bogut (7.1 ppg, 9.3 rpg-leads team, 2.2 bpg-5th NBA), who has been missing in action because of a knee problem.
The aforementioned Clippers as mentioned have won the Pacific Division for two straight seasons and have made the playoffs for three consecutive seasons, which has only happened once in franchise history, 1974-76 when they were the Buffalo Braves. Last season, they won a franchise record 57 games a season ago.
The 2014-15 Clippers have been inconsistent to say the least this season.
They managed to pull things together with 11 wins in 12 tries, which included a nine-game winning streak from Nov. 24-Dec. 10.  
The engine of this high flying car is All-Star tandem of forward Blake Griffin (23.1 ppg-leads team, 7.7 rpg, 4.7 apg) and guard Chris Paul (18.1 ppg, 9.7 apg-4th NBA, 2.0 spg-5th NBA).
Anchoring the paint on both ends is DeAndre Jordan (9.3 ppg), who leads the league in rebounding at 13.4 rpg, field goal percentage at 70.5 percent and is second in block shots at 2.4 per contest.
The Clippers feature one of the very best shooters in the league in J.J. Redick (16.1 ppg, 46.4 FG%, 42.8 3-Pt.%) and Sixth Man extraordinaire Jamal Crawford (16.1 ppg).
With talented players like this lead by one of the best coaches in the game in Glenn “Doc” Rivers, it begs the question, why are the Clippers, who have championship aspirations have been so up and down.
For starters some of the other role players like Matt Barnes (8.8 ppg), Jordan Farmar (4.6 ppg), Spencer Hawes, Glen Davis and Hedo Turkoglu have been inconsistent with their production.
On top of that, the Clippers have inconsistent at the defensive end of the court.
They rank just 21st in points allowed at 101.3; 20th in opponent’s field goal percentage at 46.3 percent; 28th in rebounding at 40.2 and 18th in opponent’s three-point percentage surrendering 35.5 percent.
This five-game slate of Christmas Day games plans to be a very special one.
Game one will feature a team on the rise in the Wizards against a team that hopefully will at least make this game competitive as they will be playing for the 51 time on St. Nick’s day.
Game 2 will feature last year’s Western Conference Finals participants in the Thunder and the defending champion Spurs trying re-establish themselves in the loaded West.
Game 3 between the Cavs and Heat will have a lot of fireworks before as LeBron returns to the place he became a champion.
The Lakers at the Bulls is a game where Bryant, playing his 17th game on Christmas Day, will try to lead the Lakers, who have been playing on Christmas day since 1999, to a victory over one of the top teams in the East.
The nightcap between the Warriors and Clippers will feature two teams who not too long ago could only dream of winning a title. Now they are two arch rivals that have high octane offense and some of the top players in the game who bring it at the offensive end.
Have a Merry Christmas and enjoy the games.  
Information and statistics are courtesy of; 12/24/14 2:30 a.m. edition of “NBA Tonight” on ESPN 2 with Cassidy Hubbarth and Bruce Bowen;;;

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

J-Speaks: Rondo in Big-D

When the Dallas Mavericks re-signed All-Star forward and arguably the best player in team history Dirk Nowitzki; re-acquired center Tyson Chandler and signed back guard J.J. Barea off waivers, both of whom helped the Mavs win their first ever title four years ago and signed or acquired key role players like Richard Jefferson, Al-Farouq Aminu, Charlie Villanueva and Raymond Felton, they made it no secret they wanted to contend for another championship. So far, the team has played pretty well this season in the tough Western Conference with a 20-9 record. Still, the team was missing another key component, a top notch lead guard. They took care of that last week.  
The Mavericks acquired All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo (8.4 ppg, 10.7 apg-leads NBA, 7.3 rpg) and forward Dwight Powell from the Boston Celtics. The Celtics received guards Jameer Nelson and Jae Crowder, forward Brandan Wright, a 2015 conditional first round draft pick; 2016 second round pick and a $12.9 million trade exception last Thursday.
“Obviously I’m excited to be here, coming from a great situation in Boston and very thankful for all the things they did for me and the fan base, but I’m ready to start a new chapter here as a Dallas Maverick,” Rondo said at his introductory press conference on Friday night.
“There obviously a championship caliber team with the players they have on their roster. Their style of play. Coach [Rick Carlisle] is just a guy that doesn’t control much of the game. He lets the players make the plays.”
The addition of Rondo, a four-time All-Star and NBA champion gives the Mavericks a true floor general who can truly run a team as good as any lead guard in the business. He is a one man fast break, who can grab a defensive rebound and in the blink of an eye can at the offensive end in a matter of seconds.
Rondo is the league leader in triple-doubles over the last three seasons reaching double-digits in points, rebounds and assists nine times in 90 games. Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star forward Kevin Durant is second in that time frame with six in 170 games and so is Chicago Bulls All-Star center Joakim Noah with that same number in 163 games. Tied for third is four-time MVP LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers with five in 176 games and swingman of the Charlotte Hornets Lance Stephenson who had five in 181 games.
Above all else he knows how to win, as helped the Celtics along with Kevin Garnett, now with the Brooklyn Nets; Paul Pierce, now the Washington Wizards and All-Star guard Ray Allen to the title in 2008 over the Los Angeles Lakers in six games and back to The Finals in 2010, where the Lakers defeated the Celtics in seven games.
Along with the physical tools that Rondo will bring to the Mavericks, he will bring something that they have not had since the departure of Jason Kidd four years ago, a guy with a high basketball I.Q.
That alone will make the Mavericks an even better offensive team, which they were darn good before the trade leading the league in scoring (110.1) and field goal percentage (48.1%) and seventh in assists (23.6) per contest.
In his first game as a Maverick, he had modest numbers of six points, seven boards and nine assists in Dallas’ 99-93 come from behind win against the San Antonio Spurs (18-11), who played without Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Danny Green. The Mavs also snapped a 10-game skid to the Spurs.
“It was a long day. I went through a lot of plays this morning and before the game. Shot a couple of hours before the game twice,” Rondo said after the game.
“For the most part, it was fun. I had a great time with my new teammates and the most important thing is that we got the win.”
A closer look at the numbers though, three of Rondo’s nine dimes came on three three-pointers by starting backcourt mate Monta Ellis, who had 13 of his of game-high 38 points in the fourth quarter.
“He was great. He’s still got to get the feel for it, but he did a wonderful job of finding guys,” Ellis, who went 15 for 23 from the floor, including 5 for 6 from three-point range said after the game.
One big concern the Mavs had about adding Rondo to their roster was how would he and t last season’s prized free agent signing Monta Ellis co-exist.
Ellis, the Mavs leading scoring at 21.1, assists man at 4.5 and steals at 1.7 said to Cuban before he pulled the trigger on the deal, “Dude plays hard. Get him here.”
Ellis was very complementary about Rondo after the win versus the Spurs this past Saturday.
“He made plays for others. He really loosened up the defense and we was able to knock shots down.”
The rest of the Mavericks feel the same way the addition of Rondo makes the Mavericks a serious championship contender.
“I think he’s one of the top point guards in this game. He understands what it takes to win. He going to have a bunch of weapons around him. He’ll be great for us defensively,” Chandler said last week.
“Mark has made it clear that he was dedicated to building a championship team and this is a prime example of him executing that and taking one more step closer to that,” Parsons, who had 16 points and 11 rebounds in Rondo’s debut last Saturday night.
“I think any trade in the middle of a season is always a little of a risk. Always a little bit of a gamble, but if you can bring in a talent of that caliber, you got to do it,” Nowitzki, the 2011 Finals MVP said last week.
That vote of confidence will not be just important for the rest of this season, but for the future. Rondo is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season and how the Mavericks fair this season will go a long way in determining if the team has their floor general for years to come. Cuban, who finalized the deal in the “Green Room” of The Finale of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” with Stephen Colbert last week made that point clear at the press conference.
“Were past the days of renting a player. We want him to be here a long time. I think with any of our guys that come in, we want to earn his desire to stay here,” Cuban said.
“We got to convince him that he wants to be here because we’ll want him.”
In talking with Celtics’ head coach Brad Stevens and general manager Danny Ainge leading up to the trade, Carlisle found out from them that Rondo is a relentless worker, a winner and one of the best competitors they have ever been around. Some of the same traits that Kidd, now the head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks had.
“There are definite similarities, but they’re different players. Rajon’s are different. He has a different style,” Carlisle said at Rondo’s introductory press conference this past Friday night.
“I see him as a guy who hasn’t reached his ceiling as a player as good as he’s been.”
His competitive spirit and will to win are two main reasons Rondo draws comparisons to Kidd, who was the lead guard on the Mavericks title team back in 2011 when they defeated the Miami Heat in The Finals 4-2.
The Mavericks will need all of that from Rondo and then some, especially since he will be contending with some of the best point guards in the West night in and night out like Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers; Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors; Mike Conley of the Memphis Grizzlies; Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs; Jrue Holiday of the New Orleans Pelicans; Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder; Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers to name a few.
Besides being able to hold his own against the opposing team’s lead guard, Rondo will also have to be a more effective offensive players for the Mavericks.
So far this season, Rondo is shooting just 39.8 percent from the field and just 33.3 percent from the free throw line.
In his aforementioned debut this past Saturday night, Rondo went just 3 for 11 from the field and missed his lone free throw attempt. He had a solid game of 13 points, 11 assists and three steals in the Mavs 105-102 loss to the surging Atlanta Hawks (20-7) on Monday night, but shot just 6 for 15 from the floor.  
Those are shooting numbers that are going to have to improve, especially when the Mavs play stiffer competition, which are expected to be close and tight games.
Rondo must also get back to being that pesky, get right after you defensive player that he was in the early part of his career with the Celtics, prior to the torn ACL he sustained back in Jan. 2013.
That would go a long way in helping the Mavericks improve at that end of the floor, where they are 23rd in points allowed (102.5); tied for 16th in opponent field goal percentage at 45.7 percent and 28th in three-point percentage allowed (38.8 percent).
After holding the Spurs, granted without some of their mainstays, to just 41.6 percent shooting for the game and to just 16 points in the fourth quarter this past Saturday, the Mavericks gave up 49.4 percent shooting in the aforementioned three-point setback to the Hawks.
When this season began, the Dallas Mavericks were in the conversation of being a contender in the Western Conference. With the acquisition of Rondo, they are a serious contender. Whether they are better than the Warriors, Grizzlies, Clippers, Spurs and Thunder to name a few remains to be scene. One thing is for sure, the Mavs are all in to win it all this and Rondo feels he is the missing piece to make that dream a reality.
“I feel like we can win any game. Fortunate enough to play with future Hall of Famers and great teams and a coach in [Glenn] ‘Doc’ Rivers. To get back to that situation, being able to play with future Hall of Famers. A great coach and a team that’s ready to contend for a title, I’m fired up and ready to go,” Rondo said.  
Information, quotes and statistics are courtesy of; 12/18/14 6 p.m. edition of ESPN’s “Sportscenter” with Lindsay Czarniak and Matt Barrie; 12/19/14 7:30 p.m. edition of “NBA Countdown” on ESPN with Sage Steele, Mark Jackson and Jalen Rose; 12/20/14 1 a.m. edition of “NBA Tonight” on ESPN 2 with Cassidy Hubbarth and P.J. Carlesimo; 12/20/14 3 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime” with Rick Kamla; 12/21/14 8:30 a.m. edition of “NBA Tonight” on ESPN 2 with Cassidy Hubbarth and P.J. Carlesimo.

Monday, December 22, 2014

J-Speaks: Kobe Passes Michael

Ever since he entered the NBA out of high school nearly twenty years ago, Los Angeles Lakers’ All-Star guard and NBA champion Kobe Bryant’s game, mannerisms and competitive approach to the game have been compared to Hall of Famer and NBA champion Michael Jordan. In many ways they are similar and in a number of ways they are very different. For many that have followed Jordan going back to his North Carolina days feel he is the best among the two and always has been. Some who have followed Bryant from the beginning feel he is the best among the two. While that debate may never be settled, one thing that is set in stone is Bryant’s place on the all-time scoring list, which he moved up a week ago at the Minnesota Timberwolves.
This past Sunday night at the 5:24 mark of the second quarter, Bryant sank two free throws giving him nine points in the contest and surpassing the player he had always been compared to Jordan to become the third all-time leading scorer in NBA history.
“Step aside MJ, ‘The Mamba has moved right on by you,” were the words of Time Warner Cable Sportsnet Lakers’ play-by-play analyst Bob McDonald said after Bryant’s second free throw moved him into third place.
Only Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at 38,387 points and Karl Malone at 36,928, both of whom played for the Lakers have scored more points than Bryant in the NBA.
When the moment happened, the game was stopped and Bryant received congrats from his teammates and from some of the Timberwolves players, who were just entering the world when Bryant began his NBA journey straight out of high school in 1996. T’Wolves owner Glen Taylor presented Bryant with the ball and the crowd at the Target Center gave Bryant a standing ovation. 
Bryant finished the night with 26 points to go along with six rebounds. His point total in his Hall of Fame worthy career stood at the end of the Lakers (8-17) 100-94 win over the T’Wolves (5-18).
What made the moment even more special is that it took place where the Lakers called home for the first 12 seasons of the franchise before to Los Angeles, CA in 1960 and the rest they say is history.
“It’s a huge honor. So much work to get to this point. It’s unbelievable. Time has flown by,” Bryant, who scored 10 points in the final five minutes to seal victory for L.A., said to Lakers’ sideline reporter Mike Trudell after the game.
In a statement given to the Associated Press about Bryant passing him, Jordan, owner of the Charlotte Hornets said, “I congratulate Kobe on reaching this milestone. He’s obviously a great player, with a strong work ethic and has an equally strong passion for the game of basketball. I’ve enjoyed watching his game evolve over the years and I look forward to seeing what he accomplishes next.”
On twitter, Hall of Famer and NBA champion Earvin “Magic” Johnson said Bryant, a 16-time All-Star was a top-five player in NBA history.
As mentioned earlier, both of these great players have a lot of similarities. For starters, both of these players did not starting winning championships, Jordan with six and Bryant with five, until Phil Jackson came into the fold. Under his coaching, both players learned the importance of making their teammates better. They both learned to take pride in playing with maximum effort on the defensive end and more than anything else they saw the game through a different prism.
It was about practicing hard day in and day out. Taking pride in doing the little things like watching film, working hard in the weight room and making sure that each of their teammates understood that in order to be great, they had to eat it, sleep it and breathe it every day during the season and in the off-season.
The great example of that is what occurred last week when Bryant in a practice a week ago prior to playing the defending world champion San Antonio Spurs.
Bryant during what he felt was a lackluster practice lit into not only his teammates but GM and former Lakers’ player Mitch Kupchak. In a profaned-laced tirade, Bryant called his teammates soft as Charmin. 
It worked because the Lakers in one of their better efforts of the season beat the Spurs in their own building on national television 112-110 in overtime a week ago.
Although he shot just 7 for 22 from the field, Bryant had 22 points to go along with nine assists, five boards and four steals.
The rest of the team picked up the slack as guard Nick Young had 29 points off the bench going 9 for 14 from the floor and his six three-point in the closing moments of overtime gave the Lakers the victory.
Jeremy Lin had 14 points and eight assists off the bench. Carlos Boozer and Jordan Hill posted double-doubles of 14 points and 13 rebounds and 14 points and 10 boards respectably. Wesley Johnson scored 13 points and five boards for the Lakers.
“Look, we can criticize my style of leadership all day long,” Bryant said to reporters after the thrilling victory.
“You can sit there, and it’s uncomfortable, it’s whatever, but I’ve been doing that since high school. We play this game to win championships, and I have five of them. It’s worked pretty well throughout my career.”
I am sure that Jordan has pulled that same move many times. The one Bryant did was one that was caught on tape.
One other similarity between Jordan and Bryant along with the coach they were able to reach the mountain top is the fact they each had a partner in crime on the court that helped them reach those proud moments.
Jordan had fellow Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen who went through the tough times when they could not get passed the Detroit Pistons of Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Bill Laimbeer and the late great head coach Chuck Daly back in the late 1980s to their two three-peat title runs in the 1990s.
Bryant had Shaquille O’Neal in the early stages of his career and they went from underachieving to making it to the Finals four times in five years winning back-to-back-to-back titles from 2000-2002. The Lakers made three straight trips to The Finals from 2008-2010 and winning two straight titles led by Bryant and Pau Gasol, who is now with the Bulls.
Maybe the biggest similarity between these two players is the fact that they played for ownerships that were not always on the same page with the coaching staff and the players.
Coming into the 1997-98 season, there was a lot of question was this the last stand for the Chicago Bulls as constituted. Pippen was looking for a big contract extension, which he felt he deserved. Jackson and owner Jerry Reinsdorf had tough working relationship at best despite winning five titles in seven seasons.
Despite all the uncertainty, the Bulls had a remarkable regular season going 62-20 and earning the No. 1 Seed in the Eastern Conference. Jordan won his fifth Most Valuable Player Award.
In the postseason, they defeated the then New Jersey Nets 3-0 in the first round. They defeated the Charlotte Hornets in the Semifinals 4-1. They found a way to get past the Indiana Pacers lead by Hall of Famer and current NBA on TNT color analyst Reggie Miller and head coach Larry Bird in seven games.
In The Finals, Bulls met up with the Utah Jazz and the Hall of Fame tandem of John Stockton, Malone and head coach and former Chicago Bull Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan.
Many thought that this time around the Jazz would defeat the Bulls this time around, especially since they had home court advantage. After winning Game 1 over the Bulls, Jordan and company stole Game 2 and routed the Jazz back in Chicago in Game 3 96-54 and a tight Game 4 to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. The Jazz against all odds found a way to win Game 5 83-81 to send the series back to Utah 3-2.
Stockton in the late stages of Game 6 hit a three-pointer to give the Jazz an 86-83 lead. Jordan moments later scored on a driving lay-up to cut the Jazz lead to one and then moments later stole the ball from Malone. He then managed to hit a jumper from the foul-line area that gave him his 15th and 16th points of the fourth quarter, 45 points in the game and the Bulls and 87-86 lead with 5.2 seconds remaining.
A three-point attempt by Stockton moments later fell short and the Bulls won the series in six games for a second straight season, their six title in eight seasons and their second three-peat. Jordan was named Finals MVP for the sixth time in his career.
That summer, the team traded Pippen to the Rockets. Dennis Rodman was not re-signed and key players like Longley and Steve Kerr, who hit the game-winner in Game 6 of the 1997 Finals was dealt and Jackson was not re-signed being replaced by former Iowa State University head coach Tim Floyd.
After the Lakers won their third straight title, the team was uneven the next season beginning 11-19. They managed to turn things around and finished 50-32. After defeating the T’Wolves in the opening round of the playoffs, the Lakers lost to the eventual NBA champion Spurs in six games.
The team retooled during that off-season bringing in the likes of Malone and Hall of Famer Gary Payton to go alongside O’Neal and Bryant. They finished 56-26, earning the No. 2 Seed in the West. They defeated the Rockets, Spurs and T’Wolves in the 2004 Postseason, but fell apart against the Pistons in The Finals in five games, losing all three in Detroit as the Pistons captured their third championship in franchise history.
In the next two seasons that followed, Jackson did not return as head coach. O’Neal was traded to the Heat, where he along with Dwyane Wade helped them win the title in 2006.
Upon his exit, Jackson wrote a book about the 2003-04 Lakers season, in which he criticized Bryant and called him “uncoachable.”
Things changed one-year later when the organization brought Jackson back and after missing the playoffs for just the fifth time in franchise history going 34-48, the Lakers made it back to the postseason and lead their first round series with the Phoenix Suns 3-1. Unfortunately, the Suns won the final three games to take the series 4-3.
The next season, the Lakers played to a championship form again and the acquisition of Gasol put them back into the championship mix. They went 57-25 in 2007-08. They defeated the Nuggets, Jazz and Spurs in the first three rounds. They fell in six games to the arch rival Boston Celtics in The Finals 4-2.
The Lakers in 2008-09 went 65-17, finishing atop the West again. They defeated the Jazz, Rockets and Nuggets in the postseason to win the West for a second straight season. The Lakers captured their 13th NBA title by defeating the Orlando Magic in The Finals 4-1.
The Lakers finished the 2009-10 with the best record in the West for the third consecutive season. In the playoffs, they defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Jazz and the Suns to win their third straight Western Conference title.
In The Finals, they faced the Celtics for the 12th time. Trailing for much of Game 7 and Bryant having a rough go of it offensively, the Lakers somehow erased a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win the game and capture their 16th NBA championship overall, their 11th in Los Angeles. Bryant captured MVP honors for the second straight year.
In the years that have followed though, Lakers have gone from the top of the NBA to the bottom.
In the next two postseasons, the Lakers lost to in the Semifinals to the eventual West champion Thunder and they fell in the first round to the eventual Western Conference Champion Spurs. 
A big part of that is the fact that players like Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Gasol did not function well together. Nash since coming over from the Suns in a sign-and-trade three years ago has been hampered by injuries.
Ever since Jackson has left the sidelines, his replacements in Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni were unable to take the Lakers to championship heights and the task of getting back to just being respectable is up to former Laker champion Byron Scott.
One of the big differences between these two players is the styles they played in.
Jordan and the Bulls were winning their titles and they did not have that traditional dominating center. In this period of time the Knicks, the Bulls biggest rival in the 90s had Patrick Ewing. The Charlotte Hornets had Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning. The Houston Rockets had Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon. The Spurs had Hall of Famer David Robinson. The Orlando Magic in the middle of the 90s had O’Neal. In the Bulls titles, their big men in the middle were either just role players or players at the end of their careers like Bill Cartwright, Cliff Levingston, current Bulls color analyst Stacey King, former Piston John Salley, Luc Longley, James Edwards, Bill Wennington and Robert Parrish.
On top of that, the Bulls point guard during those title runs was Pippen. His ability to run the team was something different and his size and lateral quickness gave opposing lead guards nightmares when trying to bring the ball up to run the offense. Just ask “Magic” Johnson, who had to deal with Pippen during the 1991 Finals, where the Bulls won four straight games following a Game 1 setback to take the series 4-1.
Bryant had O’Neal and Gasol, which gave the team the ability to play inside along with the principles of “The Triangle” offense of ball movement and player movement. They also used their ability to make shots from distance with the likes of Brian Shaw, now the head coach of the Denver Nuggets; Robert Horry, Tyronn Lue, current Knicks head coach Derek Fisher, Shannon Brown, Ron Artest, now Metta World Peace.
Maybe the biggest difference between Jordan and Bryant is the fact that Bryant will finish his career with the Lakers while Jordan did not.
Back in Sept. of 2001, Jordan announced his return to the NBA with the Washington Wizards.
While he played in just 60 games that season because of torn cartilage in his right knee, Jordan still lead the team in scoring at 22.9 and assists at 5.2 during the 2001-02 season.
The next year, Jordan played in his 14th and final All-Star game in 2003. He passed Abdul-Jabbar as the all-time leading scorer in All-Star Game history, a record that eventually broken by no other than Bryant.
Jordan was the only Wizards player to play in all 82 games that season, starting in 67 of those 82. He averaged 20.0 points, 6.1 rebounds 3.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game. At age 40 during the season, Jordan scored 20 points or more on 42 occasions; 30 points or more nine times and 40 points or more three times. 
It is these two seasons that make you wonder what could have been if Jordan, Pippen, Jackson and some of the other cast had remained together in Chicago after 1998.
In a lot of ways, Jordan and Michael are similar. Both had the aforementioned Phil Jackson as their head coach. Both had a Hall of Fame sidekick to help them in Pippen, O’Neal and Gasol respectably. More so than anything, both new how to control the crowd, control the game and control the moment. When they were on the court, they gave the fans at home and in the arena their money’s worth.
Both players are also very different. The most Jordan ever scored in a game is 69. Bryant’s highest scoring mark was 81, the second-highest point total in NBA history. Jordan played in era were the power of the league was in the East. Bryant played at time and still does where the power of the NBA is in the West. The biggest difference between these is the fact that Jordan was a professional athlete that did not take a public stand against any injustice, which is very understandable. Bryant like many NBA players of today have no problem standing up and bringing attention to anything that the public feels needs to be put on notice.
A great example of this is that Bryant and many star players like Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James, Brooklyn Nets guard Deron Williams showed solidarity with many New Yorkers and many across the country by wearing T-Shirts bearing the phrase “I Can’t Breathe,” in support of the grand jury’s decision not to indict NYC Police Officer Justin Damico, the person whose chokehold of Eric Garner killed him.
While the debate between who is better between Jordan and Bryant will go on forever and while many might feel one is better than the other two things are for sure. One, we do not have a Kobe Bryant without a Michael Jordan and Bryant has scored more points in his career and the third most in NBA history and Jordan has the fourth most.
Information, quotes and statistics are courtesy of 12/14/14 7 p.m. contest between the Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves on Time Warner Cable Sportsnet with Bob McDonald, Stu Lantz and Mike Trudell; 12/15/14 1:30 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime” with Rick Kamla, Rick Fox and Brent Barry;;;;

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The start of the 2014-15 NBA season has been nothing but short of spectacular, exciting, humbling and disappointing. Members of the 2011 draft class earned some well-deserved contract extensions and have played to the level of those extensions in the early part of this season. A perennial 50-plus win team and one of the best stories in the league last season have risen their level of play and are leading their respective conferences. Four of the NBA’s flagship franchises have begun this season behind the eight ball and show no signs of turning things around anytime soon. Here is the good, the bad and the ugly for the months of Oct. /Nov. in NBA.
The Good
Hot starts by the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors
At the start of last season, the Atlantic Division was supposed to belong to the Brooklyn Nets. A slow start to the season opened the door for the Toronto Raptors, who shook off a slow start and won a franchise record 48 games to capture the No. 3 Seed and win the Atlantic for the second time in franchise history.
In the playoffs however, they lost in seven games to the aforementioned Nets.
This season, the Raptors (16-5) exploded out of the gates with 13 wins in their first 16 opportunities, leading the Eastern Conference.
Leading the charge is the explosive starting backcourt of Kyle Lowry (18.6 ppg, 6.4 apg), who had a career season a year ago. That earned him a new four-year $48 million contract this off-season. Alongside Lowry is first-time All-Star a season ago DeMar DeRozen (19.4 ppg-leads team). They both have picked where they left off a season ago, which has resulted in the Raptors having the best record in the East to this point.
The addition of Lou Williams (14.9 ppg, 44.9 FG%, 40.9 3-Pt.%) has given the team an offensive force off the bench. Just ask the Cleveland Cavaliers, who got an up close view of the scoring effectiveness of Williams who scored 36 points off the bench going 9 for 19 from the field, 3 for 8 from three-point range and 15 for 15 from the free throw line to lead the Raptors to a 110-93 victory at the Cavaliers on Nov. 22, their fourth win in a row. In that same contest, Lowry had 23 points and eight assists and DeRozen had 20.
Also, the steady growth of starting center Jonas Valanciunas (11.9 ppg, 8.3 rpg-leads team, 57.8 FG%-leads team) and starting small forward Terrence Ross (10.7 ppg, 41.9 3-Pt.%) is a major reason the Raptors have gone from a good story a season ago to a serious contender at least early on.
In their 104-100 win versus the Phoenix Suns, their fifth consecutive win on Nov. 24, Valanciunas had a career-high 27 points on 10 for 11 from the floor to go along with 11 rebounds.
The Raptors got their sixth win in succession at the Atlanta Hawks two nights later 126-115 with DeRozen leading the way with 27 points. Williams had 22 points off the bench against his former team and back-up guard Greivis Vasquez had 21 and Lowry had 14 points and 13 assists.
Two nights later though, the Raptors’ six-game winning streak ended at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks 106-102. They not only lost the game, but they lost DeRozen who in the early stages of the third quarter slipped and fell to the ground and began kicking his leg in great pain. He eventually was able to get to his feet and walked very gingerly to the Raptors’ dressing room.
The first time All-Star a season ago was diagnosed this past Saturday with a torn left adductor longus tendon in his leg and is out indefinitely.
The Raptors finished the month with a 129-122 loss at the Los Angeles Lakers last Sunday night. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant finished with the 20th triple-double of his career with 31 points 11 rebounds and 12 assists.
Lowry tried to pick up the slack for the absence of DeRozen had 29 points and nine assists for the Raptors, but shot just 10 for 28 from the field, including going 1 for 8 from three-point land. Swingman Terrence Ross scored 20. Williams and Vasquez, who started in DeRozen’s place at two-guard each had 19 points. Forward Patrick Patterson had 10 points and 13 rebounds off the bench for Toronto.
Without one half of one of the most explosive backcourts in the league, the Raptors for an extended period of time will have to get more out of the likes of Ross, Valanciunas, Patterson and Williams  if they want to stay atop the Eastern Conference.
In the last three seasons the Golden State Warriors have gone from perennial bad team to one of the best in the Western Conference. Last season they went 51-31 marking the first 50-plus win season in two decades.
Their season came to a disappointing end last April losing to their Division rival Los Angeles Clippers in seven games in the first round.
The organization decided to shake things up and relieved then head coach Mark Jackson of his duties and hired five-time NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls and the San Antonio Spurs and former NBATV/NBA on TNT color analyst Steve Kerr.
This was a bold and risky move by the organization. The one thing that was in their favor was the fact that the team was stacked with talent lead by dynamic backcourt of Stehpen Curry and Klay Thompson and supported by guards Leandro Barbosa and Shaun Livingston; a solid front court that features center Andrew Bogut, forwards David Lee, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Marreese Speights.
The team has so far been nothing short of sensational at 18-2, leading the Western Conference. They shot out of the gates 5-0, consisting of a 95-90 victory at the Portland Trail Blazers (16-4) on Nov. 2; a 121-104 victory versus the arch rival and Pacific Division rival Clippers (15-5) on Nov. 5 and a 98-87 win at the Houston Rockets (16-4) on Nov. 8.
Following two straight defeats at the Phoenix Suns (12-10) 107-95 back on Nov. 9 and versus the defending champion San Antonio Spurs (15-5) 113-100 on Nov. 11, the Warriors closed out the month of November with nine consecutive victories.
What has helped the Warriors get off one of the best starts in team history is the fact that they are one of the most efficient teams in the league on both ends.
They rank fourth in the league in points per game at 106.9. The Warriors are No. 4 in three-point percentage at 37.7 percent and in three-point makes per game at 9.5. On top of that, they lead the NBA in assists per contest at 26.0 and Curry leads the team at 7.7 assists per contest, after averaging 8.5 a season ago.
The strong offensive output is the lead by Curry, who is averaging 23.1 points per contest. Second to him is Thompson, who is averaging a career best 21.0 points per game.
Rounding out the double figure scorers for the team are Green, Speights and Barnes who are having career seasons scoring wise.
Green, who has been filling in as the starting power forward in place of Lee, who has been on the shelf because of a hamstring injury is third on the team in scoring at 13.3 points per game, while also averaging 7.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game while shooting 45.5 percent from the floor and 36.7 percent from three-point range.  
Speights, an early contender for Sixth Man of the Year, is the fourth best scorer on the Warriors averaging 12.3 points per contest off the bench along with 5.1 rebounds per game and shooting 54.2 percent from the floor.
After struggling for much of his second season last year, Barnes, who is back as the starting small forward for the Warriors has come into his own in this third season averaging 11.2 points per contest, 6.4 boards on 51.6 percent shooting from the floor and 42.2 percent from three-point range.
On defense where they Warriors have gotten better and better over the past two seasons, they are ranked fifth in points allowed at 95.7; they are leading the league in opponent’s field goal percentage at 40.9 percent and in blocks per game at 6.5. They are third in the league in rebounding per game at 45.9. They also get 8.7 steals per game, which is tied for seventh in the league and are sixth in the league with 15.6 forced turnovers per game.
In their 11 games of their 13-game winning streak, Golden State surrendered just 94.9 points per contest. Their last 11 opponents have manage to shoot just 41 percent against them and teams have managed just 20.9 assists per contest.
One big for the Warriors continued improvement at the defensive end has been the play of Bogut who is averaging 9.4 boards and 2.3 blocks per contest, which is ranked fourth in the league. His interior presence in the paint has been a good as gold for the Warriors. The only question is can he continue to stay healthy so that the can continue their amazing play at the defensive end.
Two years ago, the Warriors took the league by storm and came within two games of appearing in the Western Conference Finals.
Last season in the eyes of the organization, they took a step backwards not getting out of the first round.
The hiring of Kerr, who is coaching for the first time, could have gone the other way. With that being said, the five-time champion has played for two of the best coaches in NBA history in Phil Jackson and Spurs’ head coach Gregg Popovich. He has been able to take bits and pieces from both and has incorporated them into his own style. One area that can be seen is that the Warriors share the ball very well at the offensive end. Above all else, from their best players to the bench guys, the team has a cohesiveness that is very rare and that has translated into a level of winning in the Bay Area that has been a long time coming.
The question is can the Warriors sustain this hot start though. The defending champion Spurs are laying in the weeds and it will not be long before they make a serious run for that top spot in the West the Warriors occupy right now.
If David Lee can come back and be that offensive presence in the paint and Barnes, Speights and Green continue to play at a high level, the Warriors have as good a chance to be in the Western Conference Finals.
The 2011 Draft Class Gets Paid
For a long time when each new draft class enters the NBA, the question all surfaces is this the next coming of great talent in the NBA? Will members of this class lead their team’s from the valley of nowhere to the top of the NBA mountain where champions reside? Who of this draft class change the way we see the game of basketball?
Well several players of the 2011 draft class have taken their teams at least from the valley of nowhere and have put their team’s at least in the conversation of becoming a consistent playoff contender; an important building block for the future and a couple even into the conversation of being a championship contender.
The No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 draft class in guard Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers this off-season got a five-year $90 million contract extension.
His resume in his first three seasons consist of him winning Rookie of the Year (2012) and made the 2012 NBA All-Rookie First Team. Being a two-time All-Star, capturing MVP honors with a 31-point 14 assists performance in leading the Eastern Conference to a 163-155 win over the Western Conference at the 2014 All-Star Game a season ago. He helped Team USA capture Gold at the FIBA World Cup in Spain this past summer.
With all of his individual accomplishments, Irving has yet to lead the Cavs to the playoffs. His chances of achieving that this season became greater with the return of LeBron James  and the additions of Kevin Love, Mike Miller and Shawn Marion to name a few.
While the team struggled out of the gates with a 5-7 mark after a 110-93 defeat versus the Raptors on Nov. 22, the Cavs have won seven consecutive games, which includes three straight victories to close the month of November.  
With the new additions, James in particular, anything less than an appearance in the NBA Finals would be considered a failed season for the Cavs. Irving’s ability to play at a high level not just in the regular season, but in the postseason, where he has yet to be, will be very important in helping make the Cavs dream a reality.
So far he has played at okay averaging 21.2 points and 4.8 assists per contest on 47.9 percent from the floor and 41.8 percent from three-point range.  
Another player who was a major factor in helping Team USA capture Gold this past summer in Spain was starting two-guard of the Warriors Klay Thompson.
On Oct. 31st, the 11th overall pick in the 2011 out of Washington State and the son of former NBA champion Mychal Thompson signed a four-year $70 million contract extension and 24 hours later, he scored a career high 41 points going 14 for 18 from the field in the 127-104 victory versus the Lakers on Nov. 1.
Each season, Thompson has improved his scoring going from 12.5 points in his rookie season of 2011-12 to 16.6 the next season; to 18.4 a season ago and to 21.2 so far this season.
While he has been known as a sharp shooter, he has expanded his game to where he can more than hold his own guarding the opposing team’s best player on the perimeter. At the offensive end, Thompson can is as good as any perimeter player not just scoring on the perimeter, but putting the ball on the floor and scoring at the rim or getting to the free throw line more consistently, where he is shooting at 87 percent this season.
His floor game has been pretty good as well averaging nearly 3.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game.
Ever since his entrance into the NBA, he and his backcourt mate Stephen Curry, who is the father of Dell Curry, one of the best shooters in league history have taken the Warriors from a perennial bottom dweller in the West to a championship contender especially this season.
Two years ago the duo dubbed “The Splash Brothers” helped lead the Warriors back to the playoffs for the first time since 2007 as the No. 6 Seed. They upset the No. 3 Seeded Denver Nuggets in six games, but fell in six games to the San Antonio Spurs in the Conference Semifinals.
Last season, Curry and Thompson helped guide the Warriors to a 51-31 record, the team first 50-plus win season in 20 years.
The duo set an NBA record that season by making a combined 484 three-point field goals a season ago, besting their mark from the year prior by one.
They entered the playoffs as the No. 6 Seed again, but lost to the Pacific Division champion Clippers in a thrilling seven game series.
Despite the great season, the Warriors let Head Coach Mark Jackson go and they hired former NBATV/NBA on TNT color analyst Steve Kerr.
So far, the team has made out great with nine consecutive wins to close out November and with their 112-85 victory versus the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday night, the team tied a franchise record with 11 consecutive wins and right now are neck and neck with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Thompson had 23 points in the contest on 8 for 16 from the field, where five of those field goals came from three-point range in eight tries.
A player who unexpectedly made Team USA this past summer and turned his great season a year ago into a major pay day was Denver Nuggets’ forward Kenneth Faried.
In the first two seasons of his career, Faried put up solid numbers with 10.2 points, 7.7 boards on 58.6 percent shooting in his rookie season and 11.5 points and 9.2 rebounds on 55.2 percent shooting in his second season.
In a season where the Nuggets were without key member of their team because of injury, it gave opportunity to the likes of Faried, who really capitalized averaging 13.7 points and 8.6 rebounds per contest on 54.5 percent shooting.
His stellar third season earned him a contract extension of four years and $50 million that the 22nd overall pick out of Morehead State signed back on Oct. 8, when the 22nd overall pick out of Morehead State.
He really kicked it into high gear the last two months of the season averaging 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per contest in the month of March and 21.0 points and 13.0 rebounds in the month of April last season.
On Apr. 2, he scored a career-high 34 points in a 137-107 victory over the Pelicans.
This past summer, his trade hustle and relentless energy which has become a trade mark in the early part of his career helped him become a member of Team USA this summer and that same intensity was a big reason the team went 9-0 on their way to capturing Gold in Spain.
During the FIBA World Cup games, Faried averaged 12.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game and he was named to the All-Tournament Team.
With several Nuggets back in the fold like J.J. Hickson, Darrell Arthur, Nate Robinson, Danilo Gallinari and JaVale McGee, the number for Faried (11.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg) have been down a little bit.
However, his energy and effort are just as important as the talents of the other players. He brings something to the table that you cannot teach. You either have it or you do not.
If the Nuggets (9-12), who have been up and down in the early part of this season can bring the consistent energy and effort Faried has going back to his early years of playing on the courts of Newark, NJ, the Nuggets can get back into the difficult playoff chase in the West.
Other members of the 2011 draft class that received contract extensions include Charlotte Hornets lead guard Kemba Walker, who received a four-year $48 million contract extension; Utah Jazz guard Alec Burks, who got a four-year $42 million extension; forward Markieff and Marcus Morris of the Phoenix Suns received four-year $52 million contract extensions and Orlando Magic starting center Nikola Vucevic received a four-year $53 million extension.
What each of these players has in common is that they are on teams where they are trying to get into the conversation of becoming a consistent participant in the playoffs.
Last season, the Hornets, then the Bobcats made the playoffs for just the second time in team history with a 43-39 record making them the No. 7 Seed. They took on the Miami Heat and got swept 4-0.
A major reason for the team’s turnaround a season ago was the addition of Al Jefferson in free agency, who gave the then Bobcats a presence in the paint, especially at the offensive end. That allowed Walker and the other perimeter players like Gerald Henderson and Gary Neal to name a few more room to operate on the perimeter. The result, Walker had a solid season tying a career-high in scoring per game with a 17.7 average.
This season though, the now Hornets (4-15) have struggled out the gates with nine straight defeats to close the month of Nov. and their 102-95 setback versus the Chicago Bulls (12-8) six days ago was their 10 straight defeat.
The Hornets ended their 10-game slide in dramatic fashion last Friday night when Walker scored on a driving layup with four seconds left to defeat the New York Knicks 103-102.  
The additions via free agency and the draft of Lance Stephenson, Brian Roberts, Jason Maxiell and P.J. Hairston have not panned out and Walker is scoring just 14.3 points per game is only shooting just 36 percent from the field.
While they have been singing the blues over the past couple of seasons in Utah (6-16), Burks is part of team that at least has talented players to build towards the future and he is a big part of that.
The 12th overall pick out of Colorado has really emerged last season scoring 14.0 points on 45.7 percent shooting from the floor and 35.0 percent from three-point range coming off the bench.
This season as Utah’s starting shooting guard, Burks has been very steady scoring 13.4 points and grabbing 4.5 rebounds per game, but is shooting just 40.7 percent from the field.
He along with starting point guard Trey Burke, swingman Gordon Hayward, forward Derrick Favors, center Enes Kanter, rookie guard Dante Exum, back-up center Rudy Gobert are the nucleus that Jazz fans, under the direction of new head coach Kirk Snyder are counting on to get them back to being a consistent playoff contender and championship contender like they were back in the 1990s lead by of Hall of Famers John Stockton, Karl Malone and head coach Jerry Sloan.
In the history of the Orlando Magic, they have had two big man in future Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal and current Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard lead them to the NBA Finals although they could not get them to the finish line in 1994 and 2009.
On Aug. 12, 2012, the team acquired center Nikola Vucevic in a four-team trade involving the Howard, Andrew Bynum, Arron Affalo, Andre Iguodala and others.
Since arriving in Orlando, Vucevic and been a fixture in the middle with his scoring and rebounding presence.
In his first two season with the Magic, the 16th overall pick in 2011 by the Philadelphia 76ers out of University of Southern California (USC) has garnered 82 double-doubles. In 2012-13, Vucevic has averaged 13.1 points and 11.9 rebounds per game and last season he averaged 14.2 points and 11.0 boards per contest.
Back on Dec. 31, 2012 in a 112-110 overtime loss versus the in-state rival Miami Heat, Vucevic had 20 points to go along with a single-game team record 29 rebounds.
He was rewarded this past off-season with a four-year $53 million extension.
So far this season, he has garnered 13 double-doubles, which leads the NBA and he is averaging career-highs with 18.6 points, second on the team and 11.7 rebounds per game, which is fifth in the league.
That move has allowed the team to put its focus on taking care of other areas. In the draft over the past two seasons they have drafted their starting backcourt in Victory Oladipo, the No. 2 overall pick a season ago out of Indiana and rookie lead guard Elfrid Payton, the No. 10 overall pick this past June out of Louisiana-Lafayette. The Magic also drafted this past summer forward Aaron Gordon, the No. 4 overall pick out of Arizona, who is out for the next six to eight weeks because of surgery to repair the fifth metatarsal in his left foot.
Through free agency this summer, the Magic signed sharp some veterans in shooting forward in Channing Frye, guards Luke Ridnour, Willie Green and Ben Gordon.
Last season, they acquired their current starting power forward in Long Island native and cousin of Frye in Tobias Harris and they acquired this past summer their starting small forward from the Denver Nuggets in Frenchman sharp shooter Evan Fournier.
Rounding out the team’s nucleus is forwards Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O’Quinn. 
The talent is there, the question now is can it call come together and soon under third-year head coach Jacque Vaughn. So far the team is 9-14, on the outside of the playoffs looking right now. You only have so long to have losing season after losing season.
One team ahead of the curve in terms of become a playoff contender is the Phoenix Suns.
After an awful 25-57 season two years ago, the Suns had a 23-game improvement but missed out on the playoffs by one game.
Two key contributors to that turnaround a season ago were the Morris’ twins Markieff and Marcus.
Both were primetime contributors off the bench a season ago as Markieff averaged 13.8 points, 6.0 boards on 48.6 percent shooting and Marcus averaged 9.7 points and 3.9 rebounds on 44.2 percent shooting.
Back on Sept. 29, Markieff, the 13th overall pick out of Kansas and Marcus, the 14th overall pick by the Rockets, who was traded to the Suns back on Feb. 21, 2013 received a] four-year $52 million contract extensions.
So far this season, now the starting power forward, Markieff is averaging a career-high 14.9 points 6.6 rebounds on 46.7 percent shooting.
On Nov. 17, he scored a career-high 30 points to go along with seven boards, five assists and four steals in a 118-114 win at the Boston Celtics (7-12). In that same game, Marcus, who is averaging 9.4 points and 3.9 rebounds shooting 38.2 percent from three-point range had 13 points, five boards and seven assists as well in the victory at the Celtics.
The Morris twins ability to score inside and stretch the floor have been great in complementing the likes of starting guards Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe as well as center Miles Plumlee, forward P.J. Tucker, swingman Gerald Green and Isaiah Thomas.
So far the Suns (12-10) has held their own in the tough Western Conference and through their moves the past two off-seasons has emerged as a consistent playoff contender and whose future is very bright.
Mavericks’ Star Player Making History
Back in the 1998 Draft, the Dallas Mavericks acquired the draft rights to a sharp shooting forward from Wurzburg, Germany named Dirk Nowitzki, the ninth overall pick.
Many people did not know who he was and really did not expect much from him.
After 17 seasons, he not only made his presence known across the NBA landscape as well as the world, he helped turned the Mavericks from a perennial loser into a consistent playoff participant and lead the Mavs to their first ever NBA title when they defeated the Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals in six games. Nowitzki capture the Bill Russell Finals MVP Award.
Along the way he has been named the MVP of the league, which happened in 2007. He has been All-Star 12 times; a four-time All-NBA First Team selection; a five-time All-NBA Second Team selection and a three-time All-NBA Third-Team selection.
On Nov. 11, Nowitzki scored 23 points to surpass Hall of Fame center of the Rockers Hakeem Olajuwon as the highest scoring player in the league that was born outside North America as the Mavericks defeated the Sacramento Kings 106-98, garnering their 21st consecutive regular season home victory over the team from the capital of California.
The history making points came when Nowitzki hit a jumper from inside the three-point line in the early part of the fourth quarter.
Along with becoming the highest scoring foreign player in NBA history, Nowitzki moved into ninth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list passing Olajuwon, also known as “The Dream.” Nowitzki at that time had 26,953 total points.
“You know to pass ‘The Dream’ is unbelievable,” the 36-year-old Nowitzki, who is in his 17th season with the Mavs said after the victory.
“He was unguardable on the block. His footwork, his skill level, his hands, his touch was second to none, so I’m pretty proud.”
Six days later in a 107-80 victory at the Hornets, Nowitzki scored 13 points and surpassed the 27,000 point mark. He joined Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Karl Malone as the only players in NBA history to score 27,000-plus points with one NBA franchise.
In the Mavs 106-102 victory over the Raptors back on Nov. 28, Nowitzki had 15 points and eight rebounds and became the 23rd player in NBA history to make 1,500 three-pointers in his NBA career when he connected on his only make in seven tries at the 7:27 mark of the open period. He now has a total of 1,503 three-point connections in his career and sometime this season he will move into the top twenty surpassing former Vancover Grizzlies’, Kings, Atlanta Hawks, Washington Wizards’, Miami Heat and New York Knicks guard Mike Bibby and former Los Angeles Lakers,' Denver Nuggets’, Mavericks’, Warriors’, Portland Trail Blazers’ and Spurs guard Nick Van Exel.
Along with achieving this amazing milestones, the Mavericks have gotten off to a solid start at 16-6 so far this season, No. 7 Seed in the West.
The additions of center Tyson Chandler, in his second tour of duty with the Mavs along with the Chandler Parsons, Richard Jefferson, Jameer Nelson, Al-Farouq Aminu and J.J. Barea, who is also in his second tour of duty with the Mavs has been great.
Those additions along with the continued steady play of Nowitzki and the great play of last season’s free agent acquisition of Monta Ellis has put the Mavs back in the conversation of winning another title.
The Bad
Injuries Shelve Marquee Players to Start Season
Like most professional sports it is about the team coming together to achieve a common goal. Most of the time it is to win a championship. On top of that, it is also about some key individuals who take the spotlight in leading that team to that goal.
The 2014-15 season began with a number of marquee players on the shelf because of injury.
For the Oklahoma City Thunder (7-13), the dynamic duo of forward Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have combined to play in just five games because of injury.
Durant, last season’s MVP missed the first 17 games because of a fracture in his right foot. Westbrook broke his right hand in just the second game of the season back on Oct. 30th, a 93-90 loss at the Los Angeles Clippers.
The result, the Thunder won four of their first 16 contest. So far this season, they have averaged just 92.5 points per game and rank 29th in assists per contest at 19.2.
Westbrook made his return last Friday versus the New York Knicks and he came back with a vengeance, finishing with 32 points, seven boards and eight assists in 24 minutes in the Thunder’s 105-78 victory.
The Thunder’s lead guard became the first player in the 24-second shot clock era to have 30 points and eight assists in 24 minutes or fewer.
To put this in an even bigger perspective, Westbrook in the first quarter had 14 points on 6 for 7 shooting and the Knicks had 13 points on 4 for 22 from the floor as a team. With Westbrook on the court, the Knicks managed just 36 points going just 14 for 40 from the field, 0 for 8 from three-point land and having just seven assists.
“I’m just blessed to be able to get back out on the floor with my teammates,” Westbrook, who went 12 for 17 from the field, including 3 for 4 on three-pointers, said to ESPN’s Marc Stein after the game last week.
This past Tuesday, the Thunder got their All-Star forward back in Durant, who scored 27 points on 9 for 18 shooting in the 112-104 loss at the New Orleans Pelicans.
In his second game back, Westbrook put in 21 points, six boards and seven assists, but shot just 6 for 20 from the field.
With the West loaded with so many good teams, the slow start by the Thunder this season has put them behind the eight ball in a major way and just making the playoffs will not be an easy task.
In the past six seasons in the West, the No. 8 Seed has averaged 48 wins. Four years ago, the Thunder were the No. 8 Seed with a 50-32 mark.
For them to even have a chance to make the post-season this year, where the Thunder currently are four games out of right now, they have to go 43-19 the rest of the way to even give themselves a chance.
With Durant and Westbrook back now, the team can start developing chemistry with the rest of the cast in Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson, Anthony Morrow, Perry Jones, Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison to make this major run to the postseason
Another team that sustained injuries to key people are last season’s Eastern Conference runner-up the Indiana Pacers (7-14).
Their injury problems began this summer when their All-Star forward Paul George suffered a fractured leg during a Team USA scrimmage.
While he has started working on his conditioning on an underwater treadmill, George is still expected to be out for this season.
Things went from bad to worse as starting lead guard George Hill has yet to play this season because of a left knee contusion; starting power forward David West and back-up guard C.J. Watson missed the first twelve games of the season because of a sprained right ankle and right foot injury respectably.
West and Watson made their 2014-15 season debuts back on Nov. 28 versus the Magic.
West finished with 18 points and six boards on 8 for 17 from the field in the 98-83 victory. Watson had nine points and four assists off the bench in 18 minutes.
The Pacers have been able to stay afloat in the playoff race because of the solid play of center Roy Hibbert, who averaged 12.9 points, 7.7 boards (leads team) and 2.4 blocks (3rd NBA) per contest.
The team has also gotten major contributions from its free agent guard Rodney Stuckey, the Pacers leading scorer 12.9 points per contest.
The absence of George, Hill, West and Watson has given playing time to forward Chris Copeland (11.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 34.5 3-Pt.%), forward Solomon Hill (11.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and guard Donald Sloan (11.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 5.0 apg) and forward Lavoy Allen (7.1 ppg 7.7 rpg)
In that 15-point win versus the Magic, Stuckey lead the way with 24 points on 9 for 15 from the field. Hill had 11 points and four rebounds and Allen had 10 points and 14 rebounds.
The solid play from the rest of the team in the absence of Hill, West and Watson has allowed the Pacers to be within striking distance of making the playoffs again. A recent three-game losing streak however, with their last loss at the Portland Trail Blazers this past Thursday night has not helped.
What has allowed the Pacers to stay afloat to start this season has been the fact that they have remained true to their identity of being a defensive team first and foremost.
They are ranked seventh in points allowed surrendering just 96.9 per contest and they are second in rebounds per game at 46.0.
The good thing the Pacers have in their favor unlike the Thunder, the East aside from the Bulls, Cavs, Washington Wizards and Raptors is very weak. If they can string a run together, they can easily be back in the playoff mix.  
The Ugly
NBA Flagship Franchises at the Bottom
The National Basketball Association has been around for nearly seven decades. In that period of time the Lakers, New York Knicks, Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers have a combined total of 38 championships.
When it comes to players in the Hall of Fame and game changers, these three teams have had some of the best to ever lace them up from guys like Larry Bird, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Patrick Ewing, Earl “Pearl” Monroe, Dr. Julius Erving, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Shaquille O’Neal, Wilt Chamberlin, Dennis Johnson, Bob Cousy, Maurice Cheeks, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale and many more.
This season, all four of these franchises are a far cry from those moments of glory and the supposed stars of those teams and who hoped to become stars have individually been okay or played great, but have not lifted their team to that plateau.
The Sixers in particular are building to a championship culture starting at the very bottom.
Aside from last season’s Rookie of the Year in the 11th overall pick guard Michael Carter-Williams out of Syracuse, forward/center Nerlens Noel, the sixth overall pick last June and center Joel Embiid, the third overall pick out of Kansas, the team is made up of players who otherwise would be playing in the D-League or overseas.
Just two years ago, the team from the city of “Brotherly Love” was just one game away from the Eastern Conference Finals as they lost to the Celtics in the East Semifinals in seven game.
Key members of that team like head coach Doug Collins, Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner, Lavoy Allen, Lou Williams, Jodie Meeks, Spencer Hawes, Elton Brand Andre Iguodala and Jrue Holiday are all with other teams now as they all left via free agency or they were traded.
The journey to get back to respectability has been one that has been filled with a lot of losing streaks for the Sixers over the past two seasons.
Last year, they set a franchise record and tied the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers for the longest losing streak in NBA history dropping 26 consecutive games.
The Sixers dropped their first 17 games of this season, losing all 15 games in Oct. and Nov., before finally getting into the win column last Wednesday night with an 85-77 win at the Minnesota Timberwolves (4-16).
The hope for the rest of this season is that Carter-Williams and Noel can develop into the key building blocks that can lead the Sixers to brighter and better days ahead. That some of the players who are getting a chance now like Tony Wroten, K.J. McDaniels, Robert Covington, Hollis Thompson, Henry Sims and Alexey Shved show well enough that they can be a part of the Sixers going forward. More than anything, they need Embiid to rehab from his back injury and return whether it is this season or next season and they need Dario Saric, the 12th overall pick in last summer’s draft to make an immediate impact when he does play for the Sixers.
Both the Laker and the Knicks have a number of things in common. Both have superstar players in Kobe Bryant for the Lakers and Carmelo Anthony for the Knicks. Both are cities with fan bases that expect them to win every year. Both are parts of teams that are struggling to win.
The Lakers are next to last in the West with one loan victory against a Western Conference opponent in 15 chances.
The Knicks have not only three victories against Eastern Conference opponents and are in the middle of an 8-game losing streak and they are in the middle of their worst start in franchise history.
They have lost every which way possible. They have been blown out and they have suffered gut wrenching losses like the one they had back on Nov. 14 when Jazz guard Trey Burke scored on a fade away jumper at the buzzer to beat the Knicks 102-100.
The other thing that these two franchises have in common is the fact that the supporting cast is not one that is championship caliber.
For the Lakers, the likes of Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis, Wayne Ellington, Wesley Johnson, Nick Young and Ryan Kelly are all talented players and were very high draft choices when they entered the league. Unfortunately, they never materialized into players that were able to be traded, amnestied in the case of Boozer and some are just players that on championship caliber teams would be solid players.
In the case of the Knicks, the likes of Andrea Bargnani, Samuel Dalembert, Cold Aldrich, Jose Calderon, Shane Larkin, Pablo Prigioni, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Jason Smith and Amar’e Stoudemire are all players who have worlds of talent, but have been inconsistent.
In the cases of Stoudemire and Bargnani, injuries in their careers have set them back. When each was brought to the Knicks via trade or in the case of Stoudemire, signing a five –year, $100 million contract as a free agent four years ago, they were expected to be big parts of the Knicks becoming a championship caliber team. The furthest the Knicks have gotten since Stoudemire has arrived in New York is the East Semifinals two years ago.  
What has also happened for these two teams also is that they have had serious bad luck.
Since he was acquired from the Suns a couple of seasons back, two-time MVP guard Steve Nash has managed to play in just 65 games the past two seasons because of injury and he has yet to get back on the court this season.
Their prized first round pick, seventh overall out of Kentucky Julius Randle broke his right tibia in the season opener a 108-90 loss versus the Rockets on Oct. 28.
On top of that they had a chance to bring Phil Jackson back into the fold as head coach a season ago, but they never pounced on that chance and it has hurt them. Also, they allowed two of the best front court player in the game in Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, who helped the Lakers win championships 2009 and 2010 walk in free agency of the past two summers.
While both of these teams have a long road back to playoff contention, the Knicks right now seem to have the upper hand. Why? For starters, they have Jackson in the front office. Their superstar player in Carmelo Anthony is signed for a lengthy period. Also the contracts of Stoudemire and Bargnani will be off the books this off-season.
The Lakers on the other hand have an aging star in Bryant who has battled back from two serious injuries and has played well this season tied with emerging superstar forward/center for the New Orleans Pelicans Anthony Davis and Rockets guard All-Star guard James Harden for NBA scoring lead at 25.2 per game.
Bryant is at the tail end of his career and when he does finish out his two-year contract for about $49.0 million, what plan do the Lakers have for this summer to bring in better players to get the Lakers back in the championship conversation?
The one flagship franchise that has given faith and hope to their fan base is the Celtics. For starters they have a headline player in guard Rajon Rondo, who is a free agent at season’s end.
In Rondo the Celtics have a bargaining chip that they can turn into draft picks or players to help guide the team into the future.
The current roster right now has some very talented building blocks in rookie guards James Young and Marcus Smart; forwards Jared Sullinger, Jeff Green and Brandon Bass; centers Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller and guards Marcus Thornton, Evan Turner and Avery Bradley.
Two years ago, they signed Brad Stevens, who led Butler University to two straight NCAA title games as their new head coach and the team has played much better this season.
Whether they can make a serious push for the playoffs this year is uncertain. With that being said they have a puncher’s chance of getting back into the conversation of being a playoff team in the near future because of what they already have and what could be coming their way in the future.  
Information, quotes and statistics are courtesy of; 11/1/14 3 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime” with Rick Kamla, Steve Smith and Dennis Scott; 11/13/14 6:30 p.m. edition of NBATV’s “The Starters” with Trey Kerby, J.E. Skeets, Tas Melas and Leigh Ellis; 11/18/14 2 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime” with Matt Winer, Steve Smith and Brent Barry; 11/29/14 1:30 a.m. edition of “NBA Tonight” on ESPN 2 with  Doug Kezirian and George Karl; 11/29/14 10 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime” with Rick Kamla, Steve Smith and Sekou Smith; 12/5/14 1 a.m. edition of “Inside the NBA” on TNT with Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal;