Anthony Takes Over, Wins Opener For Knicks
Teams that contend for championships always have a player who can take over a game at any time. The Knicks have that player in Carmelo Anthony, whose 17 points in the fourth quarter led New York to a 106-104 win over the Paul Pierce-less Boston Celtics.
Though New York lost rookie Iman Shumpert and Jared Jeffries to injuries during the game, the Knicks played sterling fourth quarter defense after being dominated by Rajon Rondo in the third quarter. It was Boston’s PG who took over the game in the third stanza, and Rondo finished the contest with 31 points, 13 assists and five steals.
Tyson Chandler came alive in the fourth quarter and finished with seven points and six blocked shots, but the Knicks still lack depth especially with Shumpert (two to four weeks) and Jeffries (one to two weeks) out. Mike Bibby will help, but Josh Harrellson and Bill Walker will have to step up.
Boston’s bench outscored New York’s reserves 32-15, mostly because of the excellent and encouraging play of Brandon Bass. Bass was acquired from Orlando in a sign-and-trade for Glen Davis, and Davis was considered redundant by the Celtics because of Kevin Garnett’s presence. Bass provides Boston another very capable rebounder in addition to a matchup problem for bigger players since they have to contend with Bass’ ability to hit the mid-range jumper. Bass scored 20 points on 9-13 shooting to go with 11 rebounds in 28 minutes.
While Boston had a lot of encouraging things go well for them on Sunday, it was Anthony who took over and won it for New York.
Dallas Has Some Work To Do
It’s going to be a recurring theme in the league because there was such a short preseason and a large amount of player movement, but the defending champion Mavericks are going to have to figure out some continuity in their rotation.
Miami basically brought back the same team that was two wins away from a championship, and their chemistry was excellent in the blowout win over Dallas. LeBron James and Dwayne Wade were magnificent, Udonis Haslem and James Jones have already emerged as go-to role players and Norris Cole looks like he’ll be a contributor off the bench. The continuity the Heat had is exactly what the Mavs lacked.
After losing Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and Caron Butler, Dallas will have to integrate new players. Vince Carter, who is 34 but looks about 60, is no longer a starter on a contending team. I know they like bringing Jason Terry off the bench, but they’re going to fall behind every time Carter is in the lineup. They’ll get more out of Lamar Odom and Delonte West, but Rick Carlisle is going to need larger contributions from Ian Mahinmi and Roddy Beaubois for the Mavs to go a round or two deep into the playoffs.
Evaluating The Lakers’ Weaknesses
The Lakers certainly have holes in their roster, but their big men may not be as big a problem as people thought.
Lamar Odom is undoubtedly a tough player to replace, but Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy played quite capably against a Chicago front line that is probably the best in the league top to bottom. McRoberts and Murphy combined for 16 boards and Los Angeles actually outrebounded the Bulls, last year’s top team in rebound margin.
Where the Lakers will face problems is at the point guard position and in the three-point shooting department. In a division featuring point guards like Chris Paul, Steve Nash, Steph Curry and Tyreke Evans, the trio of Derek Fisher, Steve Blake (who played very well on Sunday) and encouraging rookie Andrew Goudelock will not cut it. Add in PG’s from other Western teams like Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, Jason Kidd and Mike Conley and Mike Brown is not dealing with a position of strength at the one. L.A. was 4-16 from three on Sunday, and they will need contributions from Jason Kapono and Matt Barnes to remedy their problems from long range.
Opening Night Preview
Toronto @ Cleveland- The debuts of Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson is supposed to usher in a new era for the Cavaliers, and they’ll open up against one of the few teams probably worse than Cleveland.
Detroit @ Indiana- Hopes are high for the Pacers after adding David West in the offseason as Brandon Knight makes his Pistons debut.
Houston @ Orlando, 7 p.m., NBATV- The Magic had trouble scoring against Oklahoma City on Sunday night, but will the Rockets be able to keep their chemistry after the Chris Paul trade went awry? Can Kevin McHale coach?
New Jersey @ Washington- The Nets will be without Brook Lopez for the forseeable future, and Mehmet Okur is set to replace him in the starting lineup. There is a lot of optimism in Washington with Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton joining John Wall and company.
Milwaukee @ Charlotte- Stephen Jackson makes his return to Charlotte immediately against the rebuilding Bobcats, who debut first-round pick Kemba Walker.
Oklahoma City @ Minnesota- The Thunder could be tired out against the TimberWolves, which gives them a fighting chance in Ricky Rubio’s debut.
Denver @ Dallas- The Mavericks need to figure out their rotation against a talented Nuggets team which has youth and depth, two very important elements in this compressed season.
Memphis @ San Antonio- In a first round rematch from last year, San Antonio will look for revenge against a young and optimistic Grizzlies team. Lots of contrasting styles in what could be a budding division rivalry.
New Orleans @ Phoenix- The Chris Paul-less era begins against a Suns team which could be beginning its last season with Steve Nash at point guard. Chris Kaman and Emeka Okafor will have a chance to do some damage in the paint.
Philadelphia @ Portland- Two young and very interesting teams collide, but the Blazers’ underrated front line of Nicolas Batum, Gerald Wallace, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas will be tough for the Sixers to contend with. That Wallace-Andre Iguodala matchup will be worth watching.
LA Lakers @ Sacramento, 10 p.m., NBATV- The debut of Jimmer Fredette makes for good national TV against an LA team playing its second game of a back-to back-to back (three games in as many days). Mike Brown will find out how deep his bench is, with Pau Gasol on DeMarcus Cousins being a matchup to watch inside.
Chicago @ Golden State- Watching Derrick Rose and Steph Curry against each other will be an absolute pleasure, but Chicago should be too much inside.
10. Not Hot In Cleveland
It wasn’t exactly pretty for the Cavs after LeBron James left the team to go to Miami. The 2011 calendar year began and Cleveland couldn’t buy a win, not even with the money they saved on not having to pay James’ contract. The Cavs played 16 games in January and lost them all, most notably a 112-57 loss against the Lakers. It was part of a 26-game skid that began in December and didn’t end until Feb. 11.
All in all, it was a pretty disastrous 2010-2011 season for the Cavs. They finished a woeful 19-63, but trading Mo Williams to the Clippers gained Los Angeles’ first-round pick, which ultimately turned into number one overall selection Kyrie Irving. Add him to fourth overall pick Tristan Thompson and the Cavs have a young core to build around. Perhaps the worst is over, because 2011 seemed like rock bottom in the Rock N’Roll city.
9. Fear The Bear
The most unlikely success story in the NBA was by far the Memphis Grizzlies. Thanks to interior players Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, along with guards O.J. Mayo and Mike Conley, Memphis was playing well towards midseason. But after Rudy Gay was lost for the season with a separated shoulder, the Grizzlies needed some help if they wanted to make the playoffs. Enter Tony Allen.
Allen took Gay’s regular minutes and scored 26 points in the team’s first game without Gay. Memphis went 15-10 down the stretch and reached the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference. In their first game against the heavily favored Spurs, Randolph put up 25 points and 14 rebounds in a 101-98 upset win. The team seemed to jell together extraordinarily well in a six-game shocker over San Antonio.
Randolph was efficient against San Antonio, but not as much against Oklahoma City. His averages were better, but the Thunder bigs kept him at bay. Memphis lost three of its last four and fell to the Thunder in a great seven game series. The Grizzlies will be back all healthy and improved and will be feared this year as a sleeper team in the league.
8. Rolling Thunder
One of the best young cores in the league is coming together before our very eyes. Kevin Durant led the NBA in scoring this past season at 28.6 points per game and Russell Westbrook has become the best young point guard in the league not named Derrick Rose. Combined that duo with solid role players like Serge Ibaka, James Harden, Daequan Cook, Thabo Sefolosha, Eric Maynor and Nick Collison and you have a contending team for at least the next several years.
In need of interior toughness, OKC brought in C Kendrick Perkins in a trade with the Celtics, sending Jeff Green to Boston. That deal ended up proving costly for the Celtics, but it worked out quite well for GM Sam Presti and company. The Thunder won the Northwest Division title with a 55-27 regular season record.
Durant took over in OKC’s first round win over Denver, averaging over 32 points per game as the Thunder dispatched the Nuggets in five games. Memphis took the Thunder to a seventh game before Durant scored 39 points in the decisive contest, with Westbrook putting together a triple-double. The run ended for the Thunder against the Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals in five games, but the future is quite bright for OKC.
7. Blake Griffin Takes Over
After missing the entire 2009-2010 season with a stress fracture in his left knee, injuring it while dunking in a preseason game, nobody was quite sure what to expect out of the former top overall pick out of Oklahoma. What the Clippers got was their first bona fide superstar since Bill Walton.
Griffin’s debut was a 20 point, 14 rebound performance in a loss to Portland and everyone knew this kid was some kind of special. Griffin averaged 26 points and over 13 rebounds per game in the month of December, and everyone wanted a piece of the superstar in the making.
Griffin made the Western Conference All-Star team and won the dunk contest in emphatic fashion, jumping a Kia (the official car of the league) to win it. His dazzling dunks, especially on lobs and alley-oops consistently made SportsCenter and though the Clippers missed the playoffs, their luck finally turned around with top picks. Griffin finished the season averaging 22.5 points and 12.1 rebounds per game, and his success should only improve with Chris Paul now joining him in the starting lineup.
6. Derrick Comes Up Roses
The regular season storyline was supposed to be dominated by the Heat, Lakers and Celtics. The play of PG Derrick Rose not only made the Chicago Bulls the best team during the regular season, his individual play garnered the respect and adoration of fans nationwide.
No player in the league, not LeBron James, not Kobe Bryant, not Kevin Durant, was more valuable to his team during the season than Rose. Rose not only improved on the defensive end, but worked on his three point shooting and free throw shooting as well. He was hitting over 33 percent of his three-pointers and averaged an even 25 points per game to go with 7.7 assists per contest.
After quickly dispatching Indiana in the first round of the playoffs, the Eastern Conference’s top seed got an incredible series from the NBA’s Most Valuable Player against Atlanta. Rose averaged 29.8 points and 9.8 assists in the six-game series win over the Hawks, including a 44 point effort in the pivotal third game. Rose was limited below his season average as Chicago fell to Miami in the Eastern Conference finals, but Rose, still just 23, is going to be the king of Chicago for a long time.
5. New York Area Trade Madness
They called it the Melodrama and it began in 2010 with an agreed three-way deal with the Nets acquiring Carmelo Anthony from Denver. Assuming you’ve been following the NBA, you would know that the deal fell through and that Anthony is a member of the New York Knicks.
Anthony was going to be a free agent after the 2010-2011 free agent and New Jersey only wanted to acquire Anthony if he would agree to a contract extension to remain a Net long term. Anthony never agreed to it despite numerous meeting and overtures from Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, and eventually said he would only sign a contract extension to the Knicks. The Nets ultimately walked away from the trade talks. So the drama, and the tension, shifted and mounted to New York as the Feb. 23 trade deadline approached.
With the Nuggets threatening to hold on to Anthony until the offseason, the Knicks eventually relented and sent a large package of players and picks to Denver, including Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton and Timofey Mozgov, for ‘Melo, Chauncey Billups and a few role players.
Anthony paired with Amar’e Stoudemire to form a star duo, but the Nets did not leave the trade deadline empty handed. New Jersey quietly orchestrated a trade with Utah to acquire PG Deron Williams for a package including Derrick Favors. It was a wild trading season in New York, and both local teams emerged with an excellent player.
4. Chris Paul’s L.A. Adventure
Everyone saw this situation coming except the commissioner’s office. Megastar point guard Chris Paul asked the league owned New Orleans Hornets for a trade almost immediately after the lockout came to its merciful end. The cascade of trade rumors began instantly.
First it was the Celtics rumored to offer Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green followed by the Warriors and Clippers offering a good package of young players. However, Golden State and Los Angeles would not part with Stephen Curry or Eric Gordon because Paul would not guarantee he would agree to a contract extension to anyone but the Knicks (sound familiar?).
Then the Lakers came in and put together a three-team deal with Houston that would get Paul to Los Angeles, Pau Gasol to the Rockets and a slew of young players and draft picks to the Hornets. New Orleans General Manager Dell Demps put together a great deal for his team and all indications were that it was a done deal and Paul would team with Kobe Bryant for the rest of the all-time great’s career. Not so fast.
Commissioner David Stern put the kibosh on the trade, negating the deal as the official owner of the Hornets for “basketball reasons.” There was speculation that small market owner, most notably Cleveland’s Dan Gilbert, complained that the league shouldn’t deal another superstar to the Lakers.
So that trade was cancelled, and the Clippers came back in to negotiate with the league, now led by Stern underling Stu Jackson and not Demps. After a week of haggling and a couple of close calls, Paul was dealt to the Clippers for a package including Eric Gordon and Minnesota’s 2012 first round pick. With Paul, Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams, negotiating the trades of superstars will probably never be the same again.
3. Miami’s Big Three Falls Short
Expectations were high to say the least when the Heat acquired LeBron James and Chris Bosh to team with Dwayne Wade. It was championship or bust for the trio of superstars and Miami was a legitimate contender throughout 2011. The three players combined to average nearly 71 points and nearly 22 rebounds per game and Miami took the Southeast Division title with a 58-24 record and the second seed in the Eastern Conference.
Once the playoffs began, the Heat kicked it into another gear after dropping two games in the first round to Philadelphia. Miami quickly dispatched Boston, perceived as the Heat’s biggest treat in the conference, in five games before eliminating Chicago in five games as well to advance to the NBA Finals.
They would face the upstart Dallas Mavericks, and James, Bosh, Wade and the team came in as the overwhelming favorite to take the title. As we all know, Miami came up short and dropped the series in six games to the Mavs. James gained a reputation in the series for not being able to finish games in the fourth quarter, and it could be his legacy until he wins a championship with the Heat.
2. Dirk and Dallas Win Unlikely Championship
For the better part of the last decade, Dallas Owner Mark Cuban has tried to build a championship team around German superstar Dirk Nowitzki. There was no real indication during the regular season that 2011 would be a special year for the Mavericks, who have never won a title in franchise history.
Nowitzki averaged nearly 28 points per game during the regular season, but it was the additions of Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion that added a new defensive element to the Rick Carlisle-coached team. The defense, ranked 10th in the league in points allowed during the regular season, helped the Mavs to the third seed in the conference.
After defeating Portland in the first round, almost everyone believed their postseason run would end against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals. Boy, was everyone in for a surprise. Dallas swept the Lakers in four consecutive stunning results, including a 122-86 exclamation point in Dallas that ended LA coach Phil Jackson’s coaching career in an untimely and unexpected manner. Dallas then crushed Oklahoma City in five games for the Western Conference crown, and the big, bad Heat stood between the Mavs and their first championship.
It became a series of comebacks for Dallas. The Mavs came back from 15 down in the fourth quarter to take game two on the road, and Nowitzki fought a fever to lead a late run to take game four to even the series at two games. With the help from guards Jason Kidd, J.J. Barea and Jason Terry, Dallas won the final two games and defeated Miami in six to claim the world title.
1. NBA Lockout Slices 16 Games From Regular Season
Players, owners, league officials, team employees and fans everywhere braced for impact. The NBA collective bargaining agreement expired on June 30 and the owners and players were making no real effort to negotiate a settlement. Everyone involve d settled in for what was expected to be a lengthy work stoppage that would threaten the entire 2011-2012 season.
The league claimed that 22 of the 30 weren’t profitable and that teams lost $300 million last season. The owners wanted a hard salary cap, shorter and less expensive contracts and about 57 percent of league revenue, known as basketball related income. The players essentially wanted the CBA to remain the same. The two sides met just twice between the beginning of July and the end of August and there was clearly no sense of urgency for the two sides to reach an agreement.
Preseason games were cancelled on Sept. 23 and the impact of the lockout finally became real. Players and owners had a long bargaining session on Oct. 1, but players union leader Billy Hunter said the sides were still “miles apart.” Three days later the rest of the preseason was cancelled and David Stern cancelled the first two weeks of the regular season on Oct. 10, really signaling that the lockout could wipe the entire season out.
A little more than a week after Stern wiped out regular season games, progress was finally being made. The owners were willing to only take 50 percent of BRI rather than the original 57 they wanted. Bargaining sessions lasted at least several hours each day as writers stood vigil in the lobbies outside the conference rooms and NBA fans everywhere remained hopeful that the season could be saved.
However, the league stood its ground on a host of other issues and the talks reached an impasse. Stern said the entire season was in jeopardy and the union threatened to disband and file an antitrust lawsuit against the league, which would have definitely ended any chances of having a season. Those suits were filed on Nov. 15, but the two sides did end up returning to the bargaining table on Nov. 22.
As the Thanksgiving weekend approached, there was renewed optimism that the two sides would reach an agreement. On Nov. 26, after a 159 day lockout, the two sides reached a tentative agreement that would have a 66 game season begin on Christmas. Everyone involved breathed a heavy sigh of relief, as there would indeed be basketball in 2012.