James Harden

All-Star Weekend predictions

Fans of the NBA All-Star Weekend festivities can breathe a sigh of relief. The NBA has changed the format again from last year’s team concept for All-Star Weekend. Last year’s team concept did not bode well with the fans so they are modifying it once again. So hopefully we will get a more entertaining All-Star Weekend.

 

Lets start from the top: the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge. This year’s new format still features players in their first two years in the league. But it separates the top players by USA and World rosters. The World roster is featured by Andrew Wiggins (Canada) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece), while the USA roster has Victor Oladipo and Michael-Carter Williams leading the way. The World Roster is filled with big men such as Steven Adams and Rudy Gobert that could give USA some trouble in the paint. However the guard play of USA is far superior than the World team’s, so I’ll give the slight edge to USA. 

Team USA wins this and Oladipo is crowned MVP. 

 

Next up, the Degree Shooting Stars Challenge. This one is quite simple, it comes down to who can knock down that half court shot fastest. Chris Bosh’s team is the defending champ but I think he loses that title this time around.

I’m taking team Westbrook which includes Russell Westbrook, Penny Hardaway, and Tamika Catchings to win this competition. 

 

Now the fun starts. The Taco Bell Skills Challenge features quick and speedy guards from across the league and showcases their skills in an obstacle course. The format has players going head to head in a bracket style tournament. Another change has the obstacle course ending in a three pointer. That is a big game changer as it eliminates some players right away.

Give me Jeff Teague in this event. He may not be the quickest of the bunch, I’ll give that to John Wall, but he will be able to make the passes and finish the three pointer rather quickly. 

 

Probably the most anticipated event of the entire weekend is this year’s Foot Locker Three-Point Contest. Participants include the Splash Brothers, Wes Matthews, JJ Redick, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Mr. Automatic Kyle Korver (we need to get him a nickname), and defending champ Marco Belinelli. The field is said to be the greatest of all-time by many. It includes the top five players in three pointers made so far in the season. So picking this apart will be difficult, because how do you separate the best of the best? Well I’ll go with the process of elimination and say Belinelli won’t repeat and Wesley Matthews doesn’t seem like he can hang with the big names. Plus I don’t like the idea of him going first. As for Curry, arguably the best shooter in the game, I don’t think his game translates to the three point contest so he’s out. Harden and Irving face the same problem.  They aren’t much of spot up shooters, they create their own three point shots. JJ Redick is my dark horse pick, because honestly if he didn’t shoot so well he wouldn’t be in the league right now. Which leaves Klay Thompson, who has my favorite shooting stroke in the league, and Mr. Automatic himself. Both are great spot up shooters and both can light it up on any given night. 

Its a toss up between these two but I’ll give the nod to Thompson winning it all. Its hard to bet against a dude that dropped 37 points in one quarter. 

 

To wrap up the Saturday night events comes the Sprite Slam Dunk contest. It is usually my favorite event to watch however in recent year’s it has been a disappointment to say the least. Again this year we are stuck with no big name players. However one of my favorite players to watch, Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo is pretty intriguing but I think his frame and size prevents him from doing a dunk appealing in a contest. Having said that, if there was a contest for posterizing players, he’d be at the top of my list. Mason Plumlee has the same problem, I don’t like the idea of having a big 7-footer in the dunk contest. We don’t care about how powerful of a dunker you are, its about finesse and don’t tell me Plumlee has finesse. 

I’ve seen Oladipo throw it down plenty during games and he has the creativity but the rookie Zach Lavine is my pick to win it. And if you have any doubts, just search Zach Lavine’s highlights on youtube, you won’t be disappointed. The kid can fly. 

 

Last but not least, the All Star game itself. Its a fifty fifty bet on who wins since it’s the best of the best, and honestly it doesn’t really matter who wins. 

But I just like the Western Conference roster a bit more

And the fact that overall, the West is so much better than the East tells me the West will win. And I’ll go ahead and appoint Anthony Davis as the MVP. I think he will get plenty of easy dunks early on, snatch a good deal of rebounds, and block quite a bit of shots. And yes, I believe this is foreshadowing for Anthony Davis. He has plenty of MVP’s coming his way soon. The dude will be the dominant force in the NBA within 2 years. 

There are countless injuries to star players in the West - Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, and James Harden. Obviously, injuries to players of this caliber can devastate an NBA Franchise and its fan base, especially come playoff time. However, an injury early on during the season does not necessarily have to be devastating. When approaching the obstacle the right way, a team can use injuries as learning experiences and opportunities to develop players along the depth chart. Other than Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers, the three aforementioned names are all watching their teams blossom in their absence.

In Oklahoma City, Russell’s Westbrook’s injury initially caused major concerns for the franchise considering he suffered a season-ending injury just last season. Questions arose concerning his durability and his health come playoff time. Nevertheless, the Thunder didn’t shy away from this challenge. Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb stepped into the spotlight to become outstanding two-way role players. Durant now has a much more seasoned cast of players to help him defeat the West’s elite in April and May. Durant and the Thunder evidently used this as a learning experience and rose to uncharted territories.

In Los Angeles, Blake Griffin ensured the Clippers didn’t miss a beat as Chris Paul went down. Jamal Crawford stepped up as the second scorer, Deandre Jordan has become a defensive menace, and Griffin is playing with the confidence of an MVP-caliber player.

The Houston Rockets also seem to have forgotten that they don’t have their best player on the court. Without James Harden, the Rockets have a .750 record this season. Chandler Parsons and Terrance Jones, who was recently selected to the Rising Stars Challenge in New Orleans, have gained more experience as dynamic role players on this team.  

Every championship contender has to go through periods of adversity. Whether it be a star player going down for a part of the season or internal drama, the teams that shine during the playoffs are the ones that best overcome their obstacles during the regular season.  

With the NBA preseason kicking off over the weekend and the league’s regular season set to begin in three weeks, it’s about time to bring our attention back to one of Texas’ best athletes — Kevin Durant. He is about to start his seventh NBA season, and despite a trio of scoring titles, Durant still does not have an MVP on his mantle. That will change this season — I believe Durant will finally take home his first of many MVP trophies. Here are a few reasons why.

1. At what point is being the NBA scoring champion for three years in a row — from 2009 to 2012 — enough to beat out LeBron James or Kobe Bryant? He finished second in scoring to Carmelo Anthony last season. But in my opinion, Durant remains the league’s premier scorer. Does he need to make four out of five to have a legitimate shot? That would approach Michael Jordan territory. Between 2009 and 2012 Durant should already have had at least one MVP, and 2009-10 should have been an automatic award-winning season for him. He almost single-handedly elevated the Thunder from a 23 win team in the 2008-2009 season to a 50 win team in the 2009-2010 season. Durant must have been a pretty valuable player to pull that off. Keep in mind that at that time Russell Westbrook was still raw, and James Harden was a rookie. 

2. With Westbrook out for four to six weeks with knee complications and Kevin Martin moving on to Minnesota, the onus will once again be on Durant to keep the Thunder afloat. He will be the defensive center of attention every night. Serge Ibaka is not, and has never been, a dynamic scorer. Young point guard Reggie Jackson is too wild to be consistently reliable. The Thunder bench is usually one of the NBA’s best, but at most will average around 30 points per game. Durant will have to be 40 to 50 percent of this offense in the season’s first 25 games. 

3. Durant has far less to work with than James does with a loaded Heat squad. That should give Durant an edge. On that point, I think the voters finally realize what Durant has done in the last four years specifically, and he could finally get the nod as MVP. 

It’s the right choice — Durant deserves it and the league won’t suffer if James or Bryant don’t win the MVP for once.

With the first NBA exhibition game only a week away, there are several reasons to be thrilled about the 2013-2014 NBA season. The landscape of the NBA is undergoing major transformations this season, ranging from the retirement of commissioner David Stern to the birth of a dynasty in Miami. This season will play a big role in determining the legacy of LeBron James, the fall of past powerhouses — Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks 

— and the rise of others in the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors. With that said, let’s see how the Western Conference will play out this season. 

1. San Antonio Spurs- Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Calling the Spurs too old to compete, saying Tim Duncan is too old to be an elite power forward, and counting the Spurs out season after season is nothing but insanity. The Spurs will once again show why they are the class of the NBA Western Conference.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder- The Oklahoma City Thunder was an outstanding team last year. But they never seemed quite the same after the departure of now-superstar James Harden. Will general manager Sam Presti’s financially conservative decision to let go of Harden backfire on the surefire championship contender? We can only wait and see. 

3. Los Angeles Clippers- There are only four coaches in the NBA today who have won a championship- Gregg Popovich, Erik Spoelstera, Rick Carlisle and Doc Rivers. The Los Angeles Clippers now have one of them. With a championship-worthy coach in Rivers, Chris Paul and the still-improving Blake Griffin, the Clippers are primed to take the next step in the playoffs. 

4. Golden State Warriors- The acquisition of Andre Iguodala was arguably the best steal of the NBA offseason. With the entire free agency revolving around Dwight Howard’s arrival in Houston, a bigger story was missed. The Warriors, NBA Western Conference semi-finalists of last year, have acquired an elite wing stopper and much needed veteran leadership. The maturation of superstar Stephen Curry and the health of Andrew Bogut should determine how far this team can go. 

5. Houston Rockets- Dwight Howard has landed in the perfect spot. He is being coached by arguably the best post player of all time — Kevin McHale. He is mentored by one of the greatest centers of all time — Hakeem Olajuwon. He is alongside the best shooting guard in the NBA — James Harden. If Howard continues to whine or not take the Rockets deep into the playoffs, expect it to be a disappointing season in Houston. 

6. Memphis Grizzlies- This team can play defense. Marc Gasol anchoring the defense and Tony Allen on the wing is certainly a recipe for defensive success. However, the Grizzlies can go for long stretches without an elite scoring punch. 

7. Dallas Mavericks- It’s hard to believe the Mavericks won a championship just two years ago. The Mavericks of last year resemble nothing of the 2011 Mavericks that had mastered the art of flow offense and zone defense. However, with a healthy Dirk Nowitzki ready to prove himself and the additions of Monta Ellis and Samuel Dalembert, the Mavericks should sneak into the playoffs. 

8. Minnesota Timberwolves- Health is the biggest problem here. If Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic are healthy for whole season, there is no doubt the Timberwolves will finally make the playoffs. 

Rockets guard James Harden drives past Thunder forward Kevin Durany, left, and guard Thabo Sefolosha during the first quarter of Game 5 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Even in the uniforms that make them look like a McDonald’s All American team, the Rockets managed to shut down Kevin Durant in the fourth quarter and pull off an upset in Oklahoma City.

Derek Fisher always seems to find a way to nag Houston in the playoffs, but neither he nor Durant, who dropped a game-high 36 points, could keep up as the Rockets won, 107-100, to force a Game 6 in Houston.

James Harden put up a halftime promotion’s worth of halfcourt shots while Omer Asik was sent to the line on six straight possessions with five minutes left in the game. Harden also scored 31 points on 16 shots. Someone in the Thunder home crowd could have used a new car or a year’s worth of pizza after Harden hit his first seven three point attempts and silenced them early in the game.

Harden’s resurgence is key to the Rocket’s success. With Jeremy Lin still sidelined, Harden has to open up the floor for Houston’s other guards as well. This time around, the shots were falling. Francisco Garcia made 5-of-12 three pointers and Patrick Beverley added a bevy of shots beyond the arc. But Houston has lived by the three all year, ranking in the top 10 in three point field goal percentage during the regular season.

New York showed in its Game 5 at home against Boston that dying by the three is just as easy. The Rockets have a chance to extend their
postseason past the first round for the first time in four seasons. A young, scrappy team showed up to Chesapeake Arena in Oklahoma City and smacked the Thunder. James Harden made a statement, and the fans in Houston will be happy to welcome him home. 

Aaron Brooks should still be a recent memory to Houstonians and he will receive a fond welcome, too. Good guard play is what makes the Rockets dangerous and when they can knock down shots, even Asik benefits.

If Houston can go the free throw line almost 40 more times in their next game, another win is a reality. I don’t know the rules on reverse or inverted brooms, but I trust someone will have a variation of a broom on hand in the Toyota Center Friday. It’s sports, it doesn’t have to make sense. Houston went on the verge of being swept in the first four games to winning the last two. One more win and the series is tied. Who doesn’t want to see Game 7 in Oklahoma City with Harden making his return to oust the Thunder from the postseason.

It’s so easy to write off the Rockets but rooting for them to win it all brings even more joy. Nothing has been able to cure the pain left by seeing Dikembe Mutombo swat things in a car insurance commercial. So what’s a series win to a team like Houston, can you please remind me?

 

An early season analysis of the Houston Rockets

James Harden is on the verge of becoming a superstar, if he is not already. With a 35 point and a 45 point performance in his first two games as the starting shooting guard and the focal point for the Houston Rocket’s offense, Harden proved he has what it takes to be a franchise player in the league. It has become unbelievably obvious that Harden’s potential was limited in Oklahoma City, having to play third fiddle to superstars Kevin Durant and James Harden. Harden now lifts the lottery bound Rockets team to a completely different stratosphere- a playoff team.

Nevertheless, there are some serious obstacles the Rockets must overcome to really grow this season. Their first two wins of the season have masked the turnovers that could plague their offensive productivity this season. Although Jeremy Lin might seem to have turned out to be a solid point guard in the league, he is extremely turnover-prone. Add to that issue that Harden has to learn to play as the franchise player without turning over the ball too much.

Another impending issue is the veteran presence. For a talented roster like the Houston Rockets to flourish during the late season and into the playoffs, veteran leadership and poise is a must. However, the only starter over 25 years of age is dominant rebounding center Omer Asik. That will not suffice as the season moves on.

Eventually though, these problems will dissipate and the Rockets franchise will once again shine in the Western Conference. Don’t be surprised to see the Rockets contending for a championship within the next few seasons now that they have superstar James Harden to build around.

James, the three-time MVP, played at a historic level to pace the Miami Heat to its second consecutive NBA Finals.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

LeBron James and Kevin Durant competed against each other weeks before the season began in what they refer to as “Hell Week.”

The intensity of the four-day series of punishing workouts in Akron, Ohio dwindles in comparison to the one of their upcoming series to crown a new NBA Champion.

James, the three-time MVP, played at a historic level to pace the Miami Heat to its second consecutive NBA Finals. Like last year, the Heat face a team as hungry as it and equipped with a superstar of its own.

Three-time scoring champion Durant led the Thunder on a gritty Western Conference playoff run, in which it ousted the only three teams that had claimed the conference since 1998.

At only 23, Durant has taken the league by storm and has a relatively young Thunder team one series away from the ultimate prize in basketball. James is also looking for his first title in what is now his third NBA Finals appearance.

James has lifted his game to an even higher level in trying to refute the scrutiny acquired by his inability to perform late in games during last season’s Finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks. He has become the first player since Shaquille O’Neal in the 2000 Finals to have six 30-point games in a playoff series during the Eastern Conference Finals.

Durant finished second in MVP voting behind James in the regular season and now has a chance to make his case for being the best basketball player on the planet. Not to discount the impact that fellow stars Dwyane Wade, Russell Westbrook and James Harden will have on this series, but the end result will likely be decided by who wins the matchup between the superstar forwards.

James will likely guard Durant plenty, especially in crunch-time situations. How the best pure-scorer in the league responds to the defense of possibly the best one-on-one defender in the league may be the deciding factor on who takes the 2012 NBA Championship.

After both fell to Dallas in last year’s playoffs, James and Durant recognized each other’s drive during their “Hell Week” and probably knew they would have to go through each other to get their first ring.

Russell Westbrook scored 29 points, Kevin Durant added 26 in an off-shooting performance and the Oklahoma City Thunder clawed out a 102-99 victory over defending champion Dallas on Monday night to take a 2-0 lead in the first-round playoff series.

Durant hit two free throws with 50.4 seconds left to give Oklahoma City a 98-97 lead, and James Harden hit four more foul shots to close it out for the Thunder.

Jason Terry missed two 3-point attempts from the left wing in the final five seconds that could have tied it.

Dirk Nowitzki led Dallas with 31 points and Shawn Marion scored 15. The Mavericks led in the closing minutes of both road games but couldn’t even manage a split.

Game 3 is Thursday night in Dallas.

Durant put the Thunder ahead to stay after salvaging two key points with Oklahoma City inbounding the ball with only 2.6 seconds left on the shot clock. He grabbed the inbounds pass from Harden while headed toward the sideline, and Terry was called for a foul for bumping him.

Durant hit both foul shots, and Nowitzki missed his chance to answer with a short jumper from the left side at the other end.

Marion fouled Harden on the rebound, and the league’s top scoring reserve — only eight days removed from a concussion as the result of Metta World Peace’s elbow to the head — also converted both free throws. He hit two more with 15.6 seconds left after Terry got the Mavs within one with a driving layup.

After losing both of their home games to Dallas in last year’s Western Conference finals, the Thunder barely got by in the rematch. Durant hit a jumper with 1.5 seconds left to win the first game 99-98 on Saturday night.

Dallas was up seven points with two-and-a-half minutes left in Game 1 and just a point in the final minute of Game 2.

Beforehand, Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks downplayed a rivalry blossoming along Interstate Highway 35.

“Right now, they beat us one time last season. I don’t know if that’s considered a rivalry,” he said. “It takes more than one or seasons, but definitely it’s there for the making.”

Maybe he spoke too soon.

When Nowitzki and Perkins finally got back on the court together, the Mavericks’ All-Star exacted some revenge while getting his team back in the game. He went on a personal 10-2 run, with all of the points coming while he was matched up against Perkins, to get the deficit down to 50-47.

The Mavs pulled ahead in the first five minutes of the second half, as the game turned into a foul fest and the Thunder made only one basket in the first seven minutes.