Post All-Star NBA Predictions

Gordon reads the tea leaves for the second half:

The All-Star break is over and games resume tomorrow night. Time to make some predictions for the final 30-or-so games of the season. First up, players and individual awards:

What’s got six fingers and shoots the lights out? THIS GUY!
(Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images.)

Kyle Korver keeps up his unprecedented shooting and makes NBA history by finishing the first ever 50-50-90 season. The Hawks were wearing down a little bit before the All-Star break; their last game was a one-point loss to the Celtics. The extra rest this year will help the Hawks and Korver stay fresh for the home stretch. He did make 7-of-12 threes during the All-Star Game.

Jimmy Butler wins the Most Improved Player Award. This seems pretty obvious. Butler has had a great season and made a huge bet on himself when he turned down the extension the Bulls offered him prior to the season. He is going to get paid. Whatever offer he gets in restricted free agency, the Bulls will certainly match.

Mike Budenholzer wins Coach of the Year. Steve Kerr would probably win this award if it weren’t for the season the Hawks are having.

Danny Ferry wins Executive of the Year. I’m not sure this is even possible since Ferry has been on an indefinite leave of absence since an embarrassing story broke last September, but with the Hawks coalescing into an Eastern Conference favorite, who else would it be? LeBron James? (Admittedly, that article already looks pretty short-sighted as the Cavs cruised into the break winning 14-of-16, including a stretch of 12 in a row.)

Steph Curry narrowly edges out James Harden for the Most Valuable Player Award. You can make an excellent case for either one of these guys, but I think the voters just like Curry more than they do Harden.

On to the teams and playoffs:

The Suns fall out of the eight seed. This is so sad. They could be the best team to miss the playoffs for the second year in a row. And now Goran Dragic wants out and the Suns will apparently be forced to move him before the trade deadline. Just sad.

The Cavs climb up to the number two seed in the Eastern Conference. Toronto and Washington have scuffled a little while the Cavs have been moving in the other direction. Maybe LeBron is a better GM than we thought.

Milwaukee wins a playoff series. This may seem pretty outlandish right now, but I see them getting Toronto in the 3-6 matchup and wreaking all kinds of havoc with their positional funkiness.

The trade deadline is boring, for the most part. Most of the teams with moves to make have already done so. There will be a trade or two, because there is always a trade or two, but most of the big moves have been made.

Memphis wins the Western Conference. They win with bulk in the pace-and-space era. No one else does what they do, which makes them so difficult to prepare for and match up against.

Atlanta wins the East. The dream season continues. They have proven their style of play can work against anyone and no one is scary with the possible exception of the Bulls and Cavs. But they will likely beat each up on each other in the conference semi-finals, leaving the Hawks with a bruised opponent in the conference finals.

And your NBA Champion is: your favorite team and mine, the Atlanta Hawks.

Headed to the ATL?

They win a grueling seven-game series with Memphis. And, thanks to a pick swap with the Nets, they also win the draft lottery, ushering in a decade of dominance unseen in the NBA since the 1960s.

Please excuse the indulgent piece of fan fiction above, but it is completely within the realm of possibility that the Hawks win the title. Especially when you consider that they have $4.9M in cap space, more than enough to sign a buy-out candidate or take on salary in a trade. (Thanks to Zach Lowe for the cap number.)

Anyway, enjoy the stretch run of the most intriguing NBA season in recent memory. It’s bound to be extremely entertaining.

(I was going to predict that Carmelo Anthony would sit out the remainder of the season to rest his ailing knees, but is reporting that he will have surgery and miss the rest of the season. I can’t predict what already happened – or should I say I’m already 1-for-1?)

High Degree of Difficulty

Somebody had to lose. Photo by Lynn Sladsky (AP), courtesy of

The Miami Heat won the 2012 NBA title last night with a 121-106 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. LeBron James posted a triple double (26 points, 13 assists, 11 rebounds) to put a fitting end to his playoff run of outstanding individual play. King James brought home the Finals MVP and finally silenced his doubters (at least for the time being).

My favorite play of Game 5, though, was Dwyane Wade’s absurd one-handed catch and finish of an alley-oop from Mario Chalmers. Click here to watch the play (which won’t allow me to embed).

Thanks a lot, David Stern.

The King James Version: A Good Game in the First Half

LeBron in Game 6: If I can't do it, it can't be done. Photo by Elise Amendola (AP), courtesy of

Tom Robinson is almost certainly right: everyone would be better off with less sports talk radio in their lives (or even none at all).

Even so, LeBron James’ performance in the Heat’s woodshedding of the Celtics in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals makes me want to tune in today (at any hour of the day, to any host) to find out who eats his crow like a man.

ESPN’s Chris Palmer tweeted that LeBron became the first NBA player with 45 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 assists in a playoff game in 48 YEARS. The last player to put up that line? Wilt Chamberlain. Palmer also used the twitter machine to point out that Game 6 was LeBron’s 11th career 40-point playoff game. Among active players, only K. Bean Bryant, Esquire has more (13).

Yesterday afternoon, some local radio hosts were going on about Dwyane Wade’s post-Game 5 glasses (to be fair, the specs were a little silly – can Paul Pfeiffer have them back now?); one national host held forth on Wade and LeBron’s post-game sartorial decisions. The point of these meanderings seemed to be that Wade and LeBron care too much about how they look for the post-game presser. This is emblematic of a lack of competitive fire and toughness in the face of adversity and, according to the voices on the airwaves, shows that James, Wade, and the Heat lack the “heart” necessary to become champions.

With regard to Wade individually, this is absurd: he won a ring in 2006. Res ipsa.

Even taking that aside, it’s a stretch to assert that there is any correlation between an eye for fashion (however dubious) and the likelihood of winning a championship. Without going where better bloggers have gone before, the most obvious flaw of this “heart of a champion” claptrap is that it doesn’t account for the fact that only one team can win the title each year.

It’s always been extremely difficult to win an NBA crown; the number of legitimate contending teams in this year’s playoffs makes it even harder. Three of the four conference finalists (Spurs, Thunder, and Heat) were viewed as possible champions before the playoffs began. The Celtics have been a surprise thus far, but keep in mind that the core of the team is mostly intact from the 2008 title team and the 2010 team that lost in the Finals. The 2012 playoff field also included the defending NBA champions (admittedly, this Mavs team was a shadow of last year’s edition) and the always-dangerous Kobe and the Lake Show.

(By the way, when was the last time you thought about the Bulls, the top seed in the East? They didn’t make it out of the first round after they lost Derrick Rose. The threat of an injury to a key player is always hanging over every team.)

Any way you slice it, there are several very good NBA teams and several Hall of Fame players that won’t win a championship this year.

A look back to the 1990′s reveals a similar pattern. Did Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, and Karl Malone somehow fall short in the “heart” department? Did they fail to win a championship between them because they were too concerned with wardrobe decisions? Did they just not want to win badly enough?

Of course not – they just had the bad luck to play during the heyday of a dominant Chicago Bulls team led by the dominant player of the era, Michael Jordan.

Radio hosts would probably make the following counterargument: of course there are players with the requisite championship heart who failed to win a championship, but no player ever won a ring without the heart of a champion pumping the ice water through his veins! Take that, basement blogger!

Scroll back up, though. Jordan has six rings, Wilt had two. Jordan stayed out until the wee hours gambling during the playoffs; there’s no way Wilt got to 20,000 without a few sleepless nights before playoff games. Doesn’t being on the prowl like MJ or the Dipper show less commitment to winning than any conceivable post-game outfit?

Back to LeBron: no one will give the man his due. He does everything that people say they want NBA stars to do. First and foremost, he passes the ball. Not only does he play defense, he can guard anybody from point guards to power forwards. He cares about winning: he put aside his own ego/reputation/need-to-be-the-alpha to share top billing with Wade in Miami because he believed that gave him the best chance to win a title. (Cf. Kobe: how many championships would the Lakers have won if Kobe hadn’t needed to prove he could do it without the Big Aristotle?)

What’s LeBron’s reward for all of that (other than huge paychecks, signature sneakers, and State Farm commercials)? He gets to be living proof that no good deed goes unpunished.

To watch LeBron is to witness basketball greatness. You may not like it, but you have to respect it. Stop sniping around the edges and appreciate it while it lasts.

Once more, with feeling! Photo by Charles Krupa (AP), courtesy of