Halfway Mark NBA Report

Baseline Basketball’s halfway mark report on the NBA. As the All Star festivities end the real fun begins. This is the part of the season when the fight to the finish line gets rough, teams are wheeling and dealing players and the teams who are for real usually separate themselves from teams that are not. Here Baseline Basketball asks NBA writers Michael Sykes and Samar Gaines a few questions. Read there thoughts below. 

1. Who will win the East this year? 

Mike: I have the Miami Heat winning the East this year. It seems like a no-brainer pick to me. There is no team with enough fire power to match them on the offensive end with their Space and Pace offense. They get in your head with their vicious traps on defense and play the passing lanes better than any team that I’ve ever seen. Miami is first in offensive efficiency and seventh in defensive efficiency, according to Basketball Reference. Not to mention LeBron James is having the best season that has ever been recorded in NBA history right now. He’s posting a 32.40 PER right now which is far and away the best ever.

Samar: Barring injury the Miami Heat will win the East. The Heat’s offense is finally looking like what Pat Riley hoped for when he brought LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh together. LeBron and Wade are two of the best finishers in the league. They have three-point shooters to space the floor with Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller, Shane Battier, James Jones and Norris Cole. Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem can score inside or step out and hit the 15-18 foot jumpers. Defensively this team likes to pressure the ball handler and create turnovers. Like Mike mentioned, LeBron James is having his best season and over the last 10 games Dwyane Wade is averaging 24.5 ppg while shooting 57%.

2. Who will win the West this year? 
Mike: I have the Oklahoma City Thunder winning the West in a close race with the rest of the top teams in the conference. The West is really tight right now–there are  nine games between the Thunder and the No. 9 seed and only three-and-a-half between the third place Clippers and the ninth place Trailblazers. Right now, though, the Thunder are three games ahead of the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs are hot right now, but the Thunder are too. They share the best record in the league at 27-7 with the Miami Heat and have a two-time scoring champion in Kevin Durant to back them up. I don’t see them slowing down anytime soon.
Samar: As good as the Oklahoma City Thunder have looked I’m going to surprise some people and pick the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs have the second best record in the West despite Manu Ginobili missing major time with injuries. Heading into the all-star break the Spurs were winners of 12 of the last 13 games. According to Basketball-Reference.com the Spurs are sixth in offensive rating and 16th in defensive rating. But over the last 15 or so games the Spurs defense has been much better and it’s all led by Tim Duncan. While Duncan has lost a lot of his athleticism, his basketball IQ remains off the chart, and he uses that to make sure he and his teammates are in the right spot defensively. Offensively Duncan no longer has to be double teamed so the Spurs play more of an up-tempo style. They like to get out on the run and shoot the three. Gregg Popovich has been able to get the most out of guys like Danny Green, Gary Neal, Cory Joseph and Kawhi Leonard.
 
3. What team should get the number one pick ?  
Mike: I believe that the Charlotte Bobcats should get the No. 1 pick. Hopefully the ping-pong balls work out in their favor because they need a dominant force in the middle like Kentucky’s Anthony Davis. Right now, their defense allows 100.8 points per game which is 27th in the NBA. This team is 29th in the league in defensive efficiency and 30th in offensive efficiency. I believe that a turn around on any team should always start on the defensive side of the ball and Davis would be the perfect center piece for that task.

Samar: I agree that Charlotte should get the pick because they really have the least talent, but how fun would it be if the Washington Wizards end up getting that pick? Think of this: John Wall at the point with a frontline of JaVale McGee, Jan Vesely and Anthony Davis. They could run with any team in the league and defensively a front court of Davis and McGee would be very hard to score on. Selfishly I want this to happen for Wall’s career. Getting Davis can help him turn this Wizards team around almost immediately.

4. Does Derrick Rose’s injuries worry you? 
Mike: They do worry me a little. If they are lingering, it would definitely put a ball and chain on the powerhouse that is the Chicago Bulls. Rose says that he should be fine thanks to his new chiropractor Stuart Yoss. With that being said, though, this makes me feel that the Bulls will make a move to acquire a more consistent threat in their front court like Pau Gasol or Dwight Howard. Rose’s teammates must be a threat for this team to thrive and last postseason it didn’t happen. Joakim Noah and Luol Deng must step up to the plate and make plays. Then Rose’s back will pose no threat to the title contending Bulls.
Samar: As a big-time fan of Tracy McGrady whenever I hear back spasms I’m automatically worried. McGrady would miss games almost every year with back spasms and the fact that Rose dealt with back spasms in high school is a bad sign that this will be recurring. While I am very concerned, Rose is a very hard worker and if anybody is going to put in the work to make sure they overcome this it’s Rose.
 
5. How far will the Knicks go this season? 
Mike: The Knicks will simply go as far as Carmelo Anthony, not Jeremy Lin, takes them. At the end of the day Carmelo is the best player on that team. At the end of the games when it’s time for the money ball they’re going to go through Carmelo. Lin must focus on beating the traps that are going to be thrown at him and cut down on turnovers. If they can do that then the Knicks are as good as any team in the NBA. I believe that they’ll be the sixth seed by the end of the season and play Philadelphia in the first round. I think they’ll be able to get by them, but get eliminated by the Bulls in the second round. But who knows, if the team’s chemistry can improve by that time then they could be in the finals.
Samar: It all depends on the seeding at the end of the season. If they are a seven or eight seed this team will be one and done. But if the Knicks can get the sixth or higher seed and avoid the Bulls and Heat this team is talented enough to beat a three, four or five seed. The Knicks have been a better team with Jeremy Lin playing the point guard position, but as anyone who saw the game vs. the Heat on Thursday, great defensive teams can completely take him out of games. This team still has major problems with the inconsistent play of Amar’e Stoudemire, the turnover problems and they have better chemistry with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. I have serious doubts that they will be able to fix these problems this season.
 
6. Do you see Dwight Howard moving soon? If so, to where? If not, why not?
Mike: I don’t see Dwight Howard going anywhere through the rest of the season. The reason why is that no team seems to have enough to give the Orlando Magic back for Dwight. His top suitors right now are Los Angeles and New Jersey depending on what report you’re reading. In Los Angeles, you’d likely get Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum back in return. Gasol is coming into the twilight of his career soon and he won’t be able to reciprocate half of what Howard was able to do for Orlando. Bynum will be able to, but with his shady injury history you’d also want some other pieces and draft assets in return. The Lakers don’t have that. With New Jersey you would only get back Brook Lopez and a few draft picks that would lose value because of the combination of Deron Williams and Howard. Unless you can swing a third team into this deal, which is possible, I don’t think the Magic pull the trigger.
Samar: I really think Dwight is getting moved right after all-star weekend. I  think the only reason he has lasted on the Magic this long is because the all-star game was in Orlando. It just makes too much sense for the Lakers to make a move for Dwight now and if you’re the Orlando Magic why wait and lose him for nothing? If I’m Orlando and LA wants him so badly they will have to send Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol to Orlando and Orlando can send  Hedo Turkoglu, Chris Duhon, Dwight Howard and Ryan Anderson to the Lakers. Orlando gets Bynum and Pau, whom they can flip in the offseason if they’d like too, while shedding Turkoglu and Duhon’s contracts off their books. The Lakers get Howard to anchor the defense and some much-needed outside shooting with Anderson and Hedo.
 
7. Share a hypothetical trade idea. 
Mike: My trade consists of the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic. Pau Gasol gets sent to the Houston Rockets, Dwight Howard is shipped to the Lakers and Andrew Bynum would go to the Orlando Magic. The Lakers would get Luis Scola in return for Gasol and get Howard back from the Orlando Magic. The Magic would get Kevin Martin from the Rockets, which would give them another threat on the wing and would keep them competitive with Bynum down low. Quentin Richardson and Ishmael Smith would be sent to the Lakers and Rockets respectively to fulfill salary cap requirements. The Rockets and Lakers would be able to stay competitive while the Magic would have a nice centerpiece for the future barring health issues and also a new trade piece in Kevin Martin.
SamarI know things are going well for the Philadelphia 76ers but this team has two major holes. One is the health of Spencer Hawes and the second is that this team doesn’t have a true go-to scorer. Lou Williams has done a great job off the bench, but wouldn’t this team look better if they traded Evan Turner to the New Orleans Hornets for Eric Gordon? I know Eric Gordon is on the New Orleans Hornets and how difficult it is to trade with them, but he didn’t sign the extension with the Hornets and they could lose him for nothing. Instead of letting him get to the open market trade him to the 76ers for another young shooting guard in Evan Turner. Once Eric Gordon and Spencer Hawes gets healthy this trade makes the 76ers true contenders.
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Former coach Mike Dunleavy part of group looking to buy New Orleans Hornets, sources say

New Orleans may have a buyer in the form of Mike Dunleavy. He is part of a group that is looking to buy the Hornets.

Source: ESPN

Los Angeles Clippers plan to bring Bobby Simmons back

Bobby Simmons may return to the Los Angeles Clippers for the stretch run of the NBA season.

Source: ESPN Los Angeles

New York Knicks’ Jeremy Lin — Ben & Jerry’s apologizes for ‘Lin-Sanity’ flavor

Another Jeremy Lin issue in case you weren’t tired of hearing it already. Let’s just play basketball because this kid can flat-out play the game.

Source: ESPN New York

Missouri Tigers Frank Haith cooperating with NCAAs Miami Hurricanes investigation

I not only like but love what Frank Haith is doing with this investigation. He should be fully involved with this investigation seeing how he was with the Miami Hurricanes prior to Missouri.

Source: ESPN

Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant suffers nasal fracture at All-Star Game

I’m not exactly sure why Dwyane Wade didn’t just let Kobe Bryant slam one down on him. Everybody on the night was allowed uncontested dunks.

Bryant suffered a nasal fracture because of it.

Source: ESPN Los Angeles

DeMar DeRozan Continues To Be An Enigma

DeMar DeRozan has been an enigma this season that frustrates Raptor fans some nights while thrilling them other nights.

He started off the season by averaging 23 points per game over his first six games and he showed the kind of perimeter shooting that would keep opposing defenses honest.

Then, DeRozan suffered through a rough month in January where he averaged 14.1 points while shooting a miserable 36.7% from the field.

His up-and-down scoring output has resulted in DeRozan’s scoring average dipping to 15.7 points per game after he averaged 17.2 points per game last. While it’s a slight regression, it’s still a regression.

But, over his past three games, DeRozan has stepped it up by averaging 25.3 points per game. This was highlighted by scoring 10 points in the first six minutes of the game against Detroit and finishing with 23 points. Over his past three games, DeRozan has shot a sizzling 59% from the field (30-51) and attempted 12 free throws against Charlotte and six against Detroit.

The resurgence can be attributed to DeRozan attacking defenders when he has the ball—something his head coach refers to as body hunting— and being aggressive without the ball coming hard off of screens.

His head coach, Dwane Casey, told the media the coaching staff has been hounding DeRozan about the need to be aggressive with the ball and off the ball.

“Harping on it,” Casey said after the win against Detroit. “Working on it. That has been part of his practice regiment. Before practice. After practice.”

DeRozan was quick to admit to me a physical style of play is important to success as he told me, “It’s huge because when I’m getting to the free throw line because that’s a six, seven, eight points that can get you me a good rhythm.”

However, it remains to be seen if this has actually clicked for DeRozan. This season there have been games against New Jersey where he went 1-for-6 from the floor and only attempted two free throws and 2-for-8 from the floor against Phoenix where he failed to attempt a free throw. Heck, he is only averaging 4.9 free throws per game and there have been 14 games where he has attempted less than three free throws in a game.

The scary thing is there have been four games where DeRozan has failed to earn a single trip to the free-throw line. There’s no excuse for an athletic guard like DeRozan to not earn a single trip to the free throw line during the course of a game.

Until DeRozan realizes he needs to be aggressive attacking defenders with the ball and coming off curls and screens without the ball, his game will be prone to the wild and erratic swings fans have witnessed this season.

NCAA punishes Radford Highlanders, sanctions Brad Greenberg

Radford was punished and put on probation for two years by the NCAA.

“This case affirms the importance of hiring head coaches committed to following the rules, because the tone they set for their programs is the single most important element in assuring program integrity and rules compliance,” the committee wrote in its 44-page report.

Source: ESPN

Jon Horford Injury: Michigan Wolverines shut down injured sophomore for year

Michigan’s Jon Horford will not play for the Wolverines again this season. The forward averaged 2.7 points and 3.6 rebounds this season.

Source: ESPN

Milwaukee Bucks say Andrew Bogut won’t need surgery on ankle

Andrew Bogut won’t need surgery to repair his ankle. He has averaged 11.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in 12 games played.

Source: ESPN