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NBA: Ten Surprises To Look Out For This Season

The NBA season couldn’t return quick enough, and with official tip off already underway, it’s time for ChiSide’s annual NBA season outlook. This year I’ll be posting my thoughts on the unexpected. Last season brought us the unforgettable “Linsanity”, the emergence of the Denver Nuggets and the various trades that put the league on its head the league. With a full 82-game season slated, expect more of the same; expect the unexpected.

1. Kyrie Irving vaults himself into a top 15 player in the league

The 2011 number one overall selection had a rookie season better than superstar point guards Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook had. The next step for him is to become the players both are. While Irving does not have another Kevin Durant-type on his team, the Cleveland Cavaliers have a solid foundation that could make huge strides if Irving steps his game up significantly, which transitions into my next surprise…

2. The Cleveland Cavaliers will be a lot better than you think

Head coach Byron Scott has ironed out the kinks in his first two seasons managing the club. After a 19-win first year, Scott got the Cavs to 21 wins in 66 games (equivalent to 26 wins in 82 games), a seven game improvement. If all goes according to plan (barring key injuries), Cleveland can crack 40 wins. If Irving becomes transcendent, power forward Anderson Varejao stays healthy and second-year center Tristan Thompson makes a jump, the Cavs can win a lot of close contests in a weakened Eastern Conference that has lost superstars Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard.

The X-factor for Cleveland will be none other than Varejao. The crafty Brazilian, in my opinion, is as good as Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah. Varejao is one of the league’s best floppers (yes, this is a good thing) and draws offensive fouls at an astounding rate. He averaged 11 points and 11.5 rebounds in 31 minutes of play through 25 games last year. Noah averaged 10 and 10 last year in 30 minutes throughout a whole season. There’s no doubt that Varejao’s presence is vital to this team’s success.

3. The Los Angeles Lakers will not lead the league in wins

The Western Conference is tough and the Lakers have the oldest starting five in the league with an average age of 32. In addition to a full 82-game schedule, head coach Mike Brown will be preserving the legs of his older starters for a late playoff run. It would not be far-fetched if the Denver Nuggets were able to finish the regular season off with two-to-five more wins than the Lakers. Continue reading

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Chicago Bulls: Quiet Offseason Clears Way For Favorable Future

After leaving fans with a bad taste in their mouths at the conclusion of last season’s first round playoff exit, center Omer Asik and guard C.J. Watson have moved on to greener pastures.

In a league where teams can drastically improve overnight (see: 2011 Miami Heat, 2012 Brooklyn Nets), high expectations are to be had when the offseason rolls around. This goes especially for young, contending teams. Where high expectations are held, high expectations are rarely met. This is an adage that generally holds true and can explain what many bewildered Bulls fans are feeling right now in this frustrating free agency bid. Let’s recap some of the moves made so far: first, management lets superstar duster Brian Scalabrine walk (along with more prominent players such as rotation guard Ronnie Brewer, backup center Omer Asik, and backup point guard C.J. Watson). Players like Scals don’t grow on trees. Then, they trade the sharp-shooting Kyle Korver to Atlanta in exchange for a briefcase full of Benjamins and a trade exception (more on this later). And just like that, the bench mob is downgraded into something that resembles  more of a sob. Continue reading

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The NBA Finals Post

After a heartbreaking Game 7 defeat, Boston Celtics guard Keyon Dooling said it best:

“Everybody should relax a little bit,” Dooling said. “He is great for the game. He is our game. We need to uplift him, instead of try to tear him down. He is a guy who is the most unselfish superstar I have ever seen. He rebounds the ball, assists the ball and empowers his friends from his community. He is a model citizen. He should not have a stain on his reputation. I hope that it stops.”

No, Dooling wasn’t uplifting any of his teammates. He was praising his opponent, Miami Heat’s Lebron James.

As a Chicagoan, a cursory glance at my Twitter feed during Heat games reveals the same old jabs and jeers at the three-time MVP: “Lebron sucks!”, “Lebron will never get a ring!” “*Insert unoriginal fourth quarter joke here*”. It’s all non-sense. This is a new year, and frankly, I don’t see where Lebron went wrong. He shut his mouth and played the best basketball of his life. The beauty of these NBA Finals is that he has the chance to quiet the noise. What’s even better is that he can accomplish the feat over the greatest competition available, leaving no excuse for fans to continually deride him.

Everyone wanted Lebron to falter in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but I did not. I wasn’t ready to watch the Thunder steamroll a far inferior (and a far more dull) opponent in another unexciting Finals. This year’s matchup may be will be the most exciting in a decade. When was the last time we saw the top two MVP vote-getters, the Sixth Man of the Year and five total All-Stars competing for the O’Brien trophy? I don’t know if that’s happened since MJ left the game. As much as you hate Lebron, trust me, you wanted him here all along. This is when you should be rooting for him to fail.

Not to take anything away from OKC’s prized possession, forward Kevin Durant. He brings as much to the table as James does, but in a more reserved manner. Durant doesn’t have to deal with media scrutiny, as he is the antithesis of James’ public persona: beloved,  uncriticized, uplifted. There’s not much to say about him that is new.  The clash of differences between the two stars, however, summons the cliché “good vs. evil” storyline, which just adds to the fire. You wouldn’t have found that in a Thunder-Celtics matchup.

I’m going to continue the format of five thoughts for the series as I did in my NHL preview. I’ll try and keep the stats to a minimum (doubtful). Here we go:

1. The Presence of Bosh

It was obvious that Miami’s previous two victories couldn’t have happened without the return of Bosh. It may have taken an epic Game 7 80% shooting performance that included knocking down a career high three of four three pointers for fans to realize that he’s an undervalued asset to the Heat’s success. During the regular season, the Heat were 42-15 with Bosh on the floor and a mere 4-5 without him. In the playoffs, they are 7-2 with Bosh playing 5-4 without Bosh seeing action. If Bosh continues red-hot shooting from outside, this series can end a game or two early as defense will have to respect him and stretch the floor, opening lanes for Lebron and Wade to penetrate.

2. Turnovers

An overlooked factor all playoffs has been OKC’s atypical ball protection. During the regular season, the Thunder led the league in turnover ratio, but was able to improve vastly upon that throughout the playoffs, by becoming the second best team in protecting the ball. This can be attributed to the Thunder playing opposition that weren’t exactly huge generators of turnovers, which the Heat are. The Heat, however, didn’t force many turnovers against a usually turnover-prone Boston team. It’s safe to say that PG Russell Westbrook is much more reckless with the ball than Rajon Rondo, though, so the stats may fluctuate back to their norms.

3. Heat X-Factor: Dwyane Wade

Wade has been surprisingly inconsistent in this year’s playoffs. The absence of Bosh may have had a huge affect on that, allowing teams like the Celtics to double-team him constantly, turning him into a jump shooter (one skill he does not excel at). The Thunder do not have the quickness on the perimeter to close out space as the Celtics could do, so we may see more of those patented 25-5-5 games.

4. Thunder X-Factor: Russell Westbrook

I feel as if the Thunder live and die by Westbrook’s play. When the Thunder drop games, you can’t help but look towards Westbrook to see a sub-35% shooting night coupled with a near one-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio. On the other hand, Westbrook has the capability of taking control of the game and scoring at will. The Heat defense will be his toughest task to date, and I really don’t see him breaking it more than one time all series.

5. Thoughts & Predictions

I think this series will mirror the Thunder-Spurs series. Pundits all around will assume the Thunder have the edge, and they will look good… for two games. Lebron will turn on his “Game 6 face” and go off for another spectacular 40+ point-near-triple-double performance in a win to tie the series or take the lead. Durant will be impossible to quiet, as usual, but will not be able to close out the series thanks to a few careless Westbrook games. Like the Spurs, the Thunder won’t know what’s coming after facing three teams with mediocre defending. The Heat will suffocate Westbrook and Harden and force turnovers which will lead to dozens of fast break buckets. Bosh will render Ibaka ineffective by forcing him to the perimeter. Four to five of the games will be instant classics, possibly overtime thrillers. Most will end with only a 3-5 point disparity between the two teams. With that said…

Heat in six games

Finals MVP: Lebron James

And I’ll leave you to a completely irrelevant song that has been on repeat in my Itunes 24/7 since Sunday night:

 

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NBA Midseason Hardware & Predictions

With All-Star weekend marking the midway point in the season, I figured it’s time to give away some midseason awards. Continue reading

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What if the rap game were the NBA?

Recently I was thinking about how NBA players and the rap game go hand-in-hand. Lots of players are friends with rappers and some players even try their darn hardest to earn respect in the rap game. This got me wondering which NBA players are comparable to current rappers in today’s modern era. Here are my thoughts on who is who:

Jay-Z is Kobe Bryant

This has to be the easiest analogy one could make about the rap game/NBA. Both are living legends who are still active in their respective industries. Jay-Z and Kobe are both “winners”, as Jay has 11 “rings” (platinum albums) while Kobe has five NBA Championship rings. Oh, both are married to bangin’ chicks as well.

Kanye West is Lebron James

This one might come under fire by hip-hop and Ye fans, but the similarities are striking. It’s no lie when you say that both are disliked people by the general public. Kanye had his moment(s), Lebron has had his. However, both have proven their worth in their industries and are extremely important to both of their games. Both men have single-handedly altered each of their games in someway both for the positive and negative. It’s also important to think of both as “all-around players”. Lebron can do just about everything on both ends of the court, while Kanye can produce, rap, write, and (try to) sing.
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2011 NBA Finals: Chi Side’s Predictions

Happy Playoffs! For over a month now we have been given the opportunity to watch one of the best playoffs in NBA history, and they all come to an end with this series. Here’s the schedule, and click after the jump to check out Blake and my series predictions.

Best of seven (2-3-2 format)

Game 1 — Tue May 31, Dallas at /Miami 9 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 2 — Thu June 2, Dallas at Miami 9 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 3 — Sun June 5, Miami at Dallas 8 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 4 — Tue June 7, Miami at Dallas 9 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 5* — Thu June 9, Miami at Dallas 9 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 6* — Sun June 12, Dallas at Miami 8 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 7* — Tue June 14, Dallas at Miami 9 p.m. ET, ABC
*If necessary

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Analyzing Scottie Pippen’s comment on Lebron James; A Lebron vs. Jordan comparison

By now you’ve probably heard what former Bulls’ forward and legend Scottie Pippen had to say about Lebron James. If not, this is what he said:

“Michael Jordan is probably the greatest scorer to ever play the game,” Pippen said. “I may go so far as saying LeBron James may be the greatest player to ever play the game.”

Is Scottie speaking out of spite or does he actually believe Lebron has a shot at taking away the “greatest player of all time” claim away from Jordan? It probably wasn’t easy for Pippen, a fantastic player in his own right, to be overshadowed by Jordan throughout every single Bulls’ championship team. On his own, Pippen would have been most team’s best player.

But are Pippen’s comments as insane as people make them out to be? I’m not so sure. He made the mistake of saying Lebron is already the greatest to play the game, when in reality he meant that Lebron “may end up as” the greatest. When you look at it from that standpoint, things don’t seem as crazy, do they?

As the most unbiased person I know, I get into a lot of arguments with my fellow friends and sports fans. For example, I predicted that the Heat would beat the hometown Bulls in six games. I’m as big of a Bulls fan as anyone, yet I just didn’t think we had enough to get over the hump this year. I look at things from a realist’s standpoint and from that standpoint, the Bulls weren’t looking too good coming into this series and the Heat finally learned how to play together and were playing hotter than ever. Anyways, back to the original topic: Lebron vs. Jordan.

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