Hey Lockout, Go DIME Yourself!
Ten games to watch as we welcome in 2012.
by Doobie Okon | @doobieSLAM
Christmas come…on time?
Hey, at least the holiday came and went with plenty of hoops sprinkled in.
And with that, I ended up being wrong—we do have basketball here in 2011-2012. Barely ’11 at least. It’s all good though, I’m happy…cause we have some mother$%*#ing NBA basketball yo!
Sorry, I just couldn’t contain myself. Only a couple days into this strike-shortened season, it feels good to know that the fans, at least, will not get screwed by that horrid owner-PA debacle to now be granted 66 games which, honestly, sounds a little better than 82 to me anyway.
What have we learned so far? Well…I’m still utterly frustrated with this League and concerned with the future for many franchises and cities as players continue to form superstar teams. David Stern—don’t get me started. Billy Hunter—don’t get me started. Chris Paul, Dwight Howard—I mean, I could go on and on, but that is certainly for another day.
The important thing is, there is a future. And for the moment at least, let’s all be happy and grateful that we have some mother%&*#ing basketball!
You didn’t need me, Shaq or Nostradamus to tell you that all five Christmas games were going to be a joy to watch, not just because it marked the beginning of this season we so narrowly saved, but for the star-power across ten legitimate playoff hopeful franchises. (Warriors have hope…it’s something.)
So now that each team has played at least a game and we’ve had a couple days to settle into the excitement of a much-welcomed NBA season, here’s the first Dime of the year: 10 games to watch as the calendar turns. Happy New Year to all!
1) Clippers at Spurs: Weds, 12/28, 8:30 (ET)
Imagine being a Clips fan when the Chris Paul-Lakers deal was announced. “Big bro Lake scored another one.” Did they even really care? The Clippers are so used to this by now that you’d figure they’d be happy enough to still have Blake at this point.
Now, imagine being a Clips fan now. Suddenly, there are visions of CP3 alley-oops to Blake Griffin for the next decade. DeAndre Jordan is now a viable, freakish center. Chauncey Billups is your backup point guard? And you’ve got Caron Butler and Ryan Gomes running the floor next to Chris Paul. Suddenly, your whooping said big brother’s ass in a pre-season game. Destroying the Warriors on opening day. Every pundit has you finishing above the Lakers, possibly finishing high enough for a home-court playoff series and maybe even a serious postseason run? Suddenly, with help from the draft and David Stern, the Clippers are now a force.
While the Clippers are certainly on the upswing with their dynamic duo, it seems as if everyone and their mother will again dismiss or underestimate the San Antonio Spurs. Me? Yeah…I want to give up on them, but you simply can’t. Sure, many things went wrong in last year’s opening round series after winning the most games (61) in the West during the regular season. TD, Parker and Manu remain, but we all see Duncan declining at somewhat of a rapid rate. Even with the down numbers, he still poses more of an offensive threat than many PF’s and could still count for a large role.
Manu had another vastly underrated year, where he did everything you could ask for on the court but even he is about to enter his 10th year. What I love about the Spurs, and always have, is the way they have managed the rest of the team behind their big three. DeJuan Blair, Tiago Splitter and James Anderson are all young and viable backups and I see Splitter really coming on this season in more minutes. Finally, I watched San Diego State all last year—absolutely loved Kawhi Leonard. One of the best draft picks of 2011, although San Antonio is no stranger to that. The Spurs should finish in the top three, but now eyes are squarely on how they’ll perform in the postseason.
Prediction: Clips handled the Warriors easily on the road while the Spurs exacted some revenge on the Grizz in a defensive gem. This matchup between the two 1-0 squads should be an absolute dandy. Clippers prove themselves in a close, ye gigantic road victory. Note: while CP3-Blake speaks for itself, it might just be Billups, Butler and Jordan that put this team into real contention.
2) Mavericks at Thunder: Thurs, 12/29, 8:00 (ET), National TV: TNT
Thunder at Mavericks: Mon, 1/2, 8:30 (ET), National TV: NBA TV
Aging defending champs against the youthful team widely picked to replace them in the Finals? Done.
Because of the super-compressed schedule, there should be numerous instances where certain teams will play each other twice in a week’s span, with plenty of home and homes. In that case, you’ll get many two-for-one’s from me in the Dime, like here with the 2-0 Thunder and the 0-2 Mavericks.
Dallas has now gotten manhandled in their first two games, albeit against two very good opponents in Miami and Denver. A number of reasons come to mind, but for the most part none of them make total sense. Sure this team lost their defensive stalwart in Tyson Chandler, except anyone in L.A. will tell you that Lamar Odom is a consummate teammate, a winner and a difference-maker on the court. The Mavericks are indeed Celtics-old, but why would Dirk suddenly get that much worse since last year? He hasn’t, and won’t, but he’s only looked okay at best early on. Still love JET, Marion and Kidd and what they bring to the table, yet the entire team has performed flat out old and slow so far, especially on the defensive end. Their timely ‘D’ won them the title last year, so that’s first on the docket to fix, Carlisle. Beyond that…well, that’s why you’re the coach.
Oklahoma City Thunder—yeah, it’s your time. Durant should win MVP. James Harden could score the Sixth Man. Scott Brooks won’t win Coach of the year only because the Thunder are now expected to win the West—but still a great coach. Perk looks healthier, stronger and better. And Russell Westbrook…yes, he could remain an enigmatic PG with his turnovers and decision-making at times. But he put up 22/8/5 last year from the point guard position next to KD and, oh yeah, just turned 23 last month. No more future OKC…the time is now.
Predictions: Dallas should be amped to turn their early frustrations around, especially against a powerhouse in OKC. The Thunder, although playing well to begin the season, have a nasty, jam-packed schedule against some tough opponents in the next couple weeks. Both teams should take care of business at home.
3) Nuggets at Blazers: Thurs, 12/29, 10:00 (ET)
You have to feel for both of these teams to be honest. Doesn’t mean that either won’t be good though.
Denver surprised everyone by going 19-7 after trading ‘Melo last year, but that just goes to show you that the NBA can be about team basketball and defense and not just superstars. After watching them dismantle the Mavericks in Dallas Monday night, what jumps out at you is the Nuggets’ depth. Their starting unit isn’t insanely impressive, but with the fresh legs coming off the bench in the form of Andre Miller, Rudy Fernandez, Al Harrington, Corey Brewer, and rookies Jordan Hamilton and Kenneth Faried (neither played Monday), other teams will have much trouble playing a full 48 minutes against Denver. And keep in mind, the Nuggs are without China-trapped J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin and Wilson Chandler!
Portland is likely doomed to be a Playoff-spot thief with no serious aspirations for the title. Brandon Roy has retired, which is such a shame for the 27-year old phenom and the Blazers. Greg Oden’s future is still in doubt and Andre Miller and Rudy Fernandez will be in Portland that night only as members of the Nuggets.
However, LaMarcus Aldridge is still a beast and hopefully his heart condition won’t hinder him. The rest of the starting squad is quite good, as I love Gerald Wallace and like Wes Matthews, Ray Felton and Nic Batum. And you can’t get better than Jamal Crawford off the bench. Portland, unfortunately, just doesn’t match the personnel of some of the better teams in the West and will have trouble with strong frontcourts, especially in the playoffs. Camby is serviceable, but dude’s getting up there. I was impressed with Portland’s overall talent as I watched them hold off the furious Sixer comeback, but it just seems that it will be another early playoff exit for those that blaze the trail.
Prediction: Nuggs take this one by five on the road.
4) Knicks at Lakers: Thurs, 12/29, 10:30 (ET), National TV: TNT
Them New York ‘Bockers. Ok, I’ll give it to ‘em. They’re trying. Trying ever so hard to keep up. But still the problem largely remains on the defensive side of the ball. New York picked up two amazing superstars last year in Amar’e and ‘Melo, but neither could defend David Stern in sneaks and you might as well call their head coach (this is too easy…) Mike ‘Antoni. Do I like Tyson Chandler? I like Tyson Chandler. But for those in NYC who agreed that he was a simply a supporting role to Dirk’s Oscar, don’t suddenly think Chandler’s some kind of savior in the middle. The Knicks looked pretty good for 2.5 quarters against Boston, and despite having major ‘D’ issues, will finish as a top team in the top-heavy East.
The Odom move seems to have really hurt the Lakers, not to mention losing another good bench player in Shannon Brown. Los Angeles still has their own big three in Kobe, Pau and Bynum, only they present the same problem I thought Miami was going to suffer from last year—a lack of anyone else. L.A.’s still rocking World Peace, but Metta won’t help this team get any betta.
I forgave L.A. for the X-mas loss to the Bulls in what was a tight, defensive battle, but then L.A. just looked so normal in losing at Sac-town. Unless they somehow score Dwight later, the Lakers might have suddenly transformed into Hollywood’s little brother in a hurry. Too much time left to say anything definitive…and Kobe’s still Kobe.
Prediction: This old-school rivalry is much sweeter now that the Knicks are relevant again, I’ll admit. The Lakers will have a day off before this matchup after opening the season with three games in three days, so it will be LA by 5.