Tag Archives: NBA

2009 NBA Playoff First-Round Picks

I am not a Stat Geek, but I am intrigued by Henry Abbott’s 2009 NBA Playoff Stat Geek Smackdown.

If you don’t know Abbott, he is the author of the TrueHoop blog on ESPN.com, and it’s my go-to blog year-round.

Anyway, you can read about the Stat Geek Smackdown and see the competitors picks here.

Just for fun, I’m going to submit my picks as well and use the same scoring system to see how I match up to the stat geeks as someone picking based solely upon instinct and observation. The scoring system is 5 points for each correct series winner, plus 2 points if you get the number of games correct.

My picks:

East 1st round
Cleveland over Detroit in 5
Boston over Chicago in 4
Orlando over Philadelphia in 6
Atlanta over Miami in 7

West 1st round
Los Angeles over Utah in 5
Denver over New Orleans in 7
San Antonio over Dallas in 6
Portland over Houston in 6

Feel free to join in the fun and submit your own picks in the comments section below!

For more information, visit MattHubert.com.

LeBron James: 2009 NBA MVP

Last year was one of the most competitive NBA MVP races I can remember. Eventually, Kobe Bryant received both the official NBA honor and my unofficial vote (but not before some serious thought on the issue.)

After the success of last year’s methodology, I tried the same thing again this year. I narrowed the pool of MVP candidates to 10, and then asked myself 10 questions. For each question, I rated the candidates. The number one answer received 10 points for that question, second place received nine points and so on.

After tallying the total points for all 10 questions, last year’s winner, Kobe Bryant fell just one point shy of his 2008 mark, but Kobe’s 78 points was only good enough for second in 2009. The winner, scoring an astounding 87 (out of a possible 100) points was LeBron James.

Honestly, this exercise in justifying the MVP may be rendered unnecessary for the foreseeable future. Despite great seasons from Dwight Howard, Dwayne Wade and Bryant, no one stacks up to James. And, at 24 years old, it’s scary but logical to believe King James is only going to get better.

Statistics don’t quite do James justice. Neither do superlatives. The best way to appreciate his game is to watch him night in and night out. From the moment he entered the league, there was no doubt that he was physically gifted. But a summer that included a gold medal run with Kobe Bryant and Team USA in China, LeBron entered this season with a new sense of purpose, drive and determination.

Suddenly his will to win met—if not surpassed—his unbelievable array of physical gifts. He’s not perfect. He could still improve his free throw shooting (though he did go from 71 to 78 percent this year). He could still develop a go-to move and a counter move in the post. But this is not the time to nitpick greatness.

LeBron is a singular talent unlike anything the NBA has ever seen before. That’s right. Ever. You can compare him to Magic or Michael or even Kobe. But truth be told, LeBron James is the prototype.

At 6-feet, 8-inches tall and 250 pounds, LeBron is built like a professional wrestler. Streaking down the court to finish a fast break or pin a helpless opponent off the backboard, he runs and jumps like an Olympic track star. And he does it all with the passing skills and decision making ability of a Hall of Fame quarterback. Of course, he also manages to synthesize all of these talents together into something that looks like basketball—only a brand we’d never dream of playing.

On any given night, LeBron may put up a triple double. On any given play, he may put a would-be shot blocker on a poster. And at any given moment, he can make a crowd of thousands say, “Wow!”

Of course LeBron will win the MVP for what he does on the court, but he’s just as valuable everywhere else. The rapport he has with his teammates is palpable. The connection he has with the home fans in Cleveland is tangible—just look at their home record. His personality is personable, his conversations engaging, his brand bordering on Jordan.

The only thing left for LeBron this season is an NBA championship. That’s the missing piece. His Cavaliers will enter the playoffs as the number one overall seed, which means that they, and more specifically he, will be labeled the favorites by many to defeat the defending champion Celtics and likely Western Conference Champion Lakers in the Finals.

In the last 20 years, only four players have won the NBA MVP and NBA championship in the same season (Michael Jordan ’91, ’92, ’96, ’98; Hakeen Olajuwon ’94; Shaquille O’Neal ’00; Tim Duncan ’03).

LeBron isn’t worried about replicating history. He’s determined to make it. But if he’s ever going to surpass Michael Jordan as the public’s consensus greatest player of all-time, it’s going to take more than winning an MVP award (Jordan has five of those). It’s going to take NBA Finals MVP awards (Jordan has six). Still, LeBron’s 2008-09 season was a thing of beauty for fans of basketball. And for that, he deserves recognition as this year’s MVP.

For more information, visit MattHubert.com.

Looking Back at 2008 and Ahead at 2009

2008 was a great year for sports. Michael Phelps’ record-setting 8 gold medals highlighted the most exciting Olympic Games of my lifetime, which also included a gold medal for the Redeem Team in Men’s basketball as well as excitement in gymnastics from Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson and on the track from Usain Bolt.

In the NFL, the New England Patriots started the season 18-0 only to lose in one of the most dramatic and surprising Super Bowl outcomes of all-time against Eli Manning and the New York Giants.

The NBA saw the resurgence of its two most storied franchises when the Boston Celtics met the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals, won by Boston in six games.

College sports featured another upset-filled football season that saw a slew of top teams knocked off down the stretch, eventually setting up an LSU vs. Ohio State matchup in the BCS title game, which LSU won handily. And in basketball, Kansas ended the David-and-Goliath-like run of Davidson before upending Memphis thanks to a clutch shot from Mario Chalmers that will be replayed every March from now on.

Major League Baseball featured a season in which the previously-forever-futile Tampa Bay Rays removed the ‘Devil’ and beat out the Evil Empire New York Yankees and their Boston brethren to win the AL East and, eventually, the pennant before losing to the Philadelphia Phillies. For the City of Brotherly Love, it was their first title in the major four sports since 1983.

And in the NHL (yes, hockey reporting on MattHubert.com), Sid Crosby grew up as he led his Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup Finals where they fell to the Detroit Red Wings.

Yes, it was a good year for sports—just not for my teams in sports.

Most of my teams failed, plain and simple. But even those that had good seasons ended up breaking my heart.

The Lakers exceeded preseason expectations, but their Finals performance was disastrous—blowing a 24-point lead at home in Game 4 and folding to lose Game 6—and the series—by 39 points. The fact that this happened against archrival Boston was what hurt most of all, though, and all the year’s successes were mitigated by six lackluster games leaving me feeling empty and betrayed.

Likewise, in college hoops, UCLA had a strong season, riding freshman Kevin Love to the Final Four. It was the Bruins’ third straight trip to the Final Four, and with Love filling the void that had seemingly cost them in two previous losses—a formidable presence down low—it seemed like this was the year. But Love shot just 4-11 and Memphis outscored UCLA 40-28 in the second half to pull away for a victory that the Tigers controlled pretty much the whole way.

And if the Lakers and Bruins’ season-ending losses stung, at least they had some wins to get them there. The Raiders finished out the ’08 campaign with back-to-back victories to salvage something from a lost season, but they still finished 5-11, which made them the first team in NFL history to have five seasons in a row with at least 11 losses. They also fired coach Lane Kiffin, making interim Tom Cable the Raiders’ fifth head coach in six years.

Things were no better in the college ranks where Michigan won just three games, lost five games at the Big House, and missed a bowl for the first time since 1974.

In baseball, the A’s weren’t even relevant, and though they’ve been competitive in the decade, have never made a World Series appearance during the Moneyball era.

But 2008 is over, so it’s time to focus on the future.

Here now are 10 predictions, fears and dreams for 2009—five for the sports world at large and five focusing on my teams—the Lakers, Raiders, Michigan, UCLA and the Athletics.

Predictions

  1. The Raiders will not make it a sixth straight year of 11-or-more losses, but they won’t break the .500 mark either.
  2. Lamar Odom will not be a Laker at the start of the 2009-10 season.
  3. Michigan will play in a bowl game in 2009.
  4. In basketball, Michigan will not only make it to the tournament, they’ll advance to the Sweet 16, further than my other team, UCLA, who will see its run of Final Four appearances snapped by an upset on the first weekend of the tournament.
  5. With a few call-ups to bolster their staff, the A’s will return to the postseason.
  6. Tim Tebow will return to Florida and attempt to become a two-time Heisman and three-time national champion.
  7. With teams aware of his singular talent, Stephon Curry and Davidson will get tripped up in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
  8. LeBron James will supplant Kobe Bryant as NBA MVP.
  9. Tiger Woods will once again be the best golfer, winning two majors. (For the record, that’s hockey and golf in the same post.)
  10. Matt Cassell will start Week 1 for the New England Patriots—not Tom Brady.

Fears

  1. Jamarcus Russell fails to develop as a quarterback in 2009, forcing the Raiders to start over (again) at quarterback.
  2. Andrew Bynum will reinjure himself, handicapping the Lakers’ playoff chances again this year.
  3. Terrelle Pryor will be to Michigan what Troy Smith was with the added pain that he almost chose to play for the Wolverines.
  4. Jrue Holiday will follow Kevin Love’s lead and be one-and-done, off to the NBA after his freshman season.
  5. The Angels become the Yankees of the West, leaving Oakland in the dust when it comes to money for free agents.
  6. The Celtics sign Stephon Marbury and Kevin Garnett wills him to play as well as he did when the two took the Timberwolves to the playoffs in the 90s.
  7. Tom Brady makes a full recovery, and the Patriots regain their 2007 form.
  8. College football signs a 10-year extension to keep the current BCS system in place.
  9. USC’s football team stays focused for a full season.
  10. The Steelers win the Super Bowl, bringing out the annoying droves of fair-weather Steelers fans in all their black and gold glory.

Dreams

  1. Al Davis sells the Raiders organization to give them a fresh start and a chance to win again.
  2. The Lakers find a way to combine the defense and athleticism of Trevor Ariza, size and three-point shooting of Vladimir Radmanovich, and basketball IQ and passing ability of Luke Walton to form a complete small forward.
  3. Michigan finds a freshman quarterback with the skills to run Rodriguez’s offense and the mind to handle Big Ten defenses.
  4. Michigan re-hangs the banners from the Fab Five’s Final Four appearances.
  5. A prominent free agent spurns the Yankees to sign with the A’s for less money because he prefers the A’s green uniforms to the Yankees’ green.
  6. My team wins a fantasy football championship.
  7. Major League Baseball institutes a salary cap to level the playing field and keep the Yankees in check.
  8. Sportscasters stop pointing out the obvious and provide actual insight.
  9. A Web site develops a jersey shop where you can order any player from any team from any era. My first order? Pooh Richardson circa 1990 with the Minnesota Timberwolves. I don’t know why, but that’s my dream.
  10. The Lakers host (and win) Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Beyonce is the halftime entertainment. And I have courtside seats next to Jack Nicholson to take it all in.

For more information, visit MattHubert.com.

Thoughts and Links From the Workweek

It’s been a busy week in the office and on my social calendar (hence the lack of updates this week). I have managed to do plenty of Web browsing throughout the week though.

Check out these links to some of the most interesting sports news items and stories that caught my eye.

  • You have to read Wright Thompson’s story about Tony Harris, the former Washington State basketball player whose corpse was found in the forests of Brazil. This is not a sports story. This is a human story whose main character just happened to play basketball for a living. It’s a truly gripping and saddening tale. Thompson traveled to Brazil to unearth as many details as possible. You may also want to read Henry Abbott’s conversation with Thompson about the story on Abbott’s phenomenal blog, TrueHoop.
  • In more upbeat news, Bob Sanders had a great week. Already voted a Pro Bowl starter for the AFC, anders was named the 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and voted to the NFL All-Pro team. I’ve watched Sanders play since he was an RB/DB listed as Demond Sanders at Cathedral Prep and it’s been amazing to watch him develop into a star through hard work and hard hits. This Indianapolis Star article says Sanders plays the same way he played as a kid growing up in Erie, Pa. He’s also got his own special on the NFL network, “Who is Bob Sanders?” The show airs tonight at 10:30 with reairs on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.
  • Like Sanders, Clayton Holmes was a Super Bowl-winning defensive back. But that is pretty much where the similarities end. Holmes’ tragic story is told by ESPN.com Page 2’s Jeff Pearlman.
  • Scoop Jackson makes an interesting case for Derek Fisher as the most important player to the Lakers success. I wrote a poem called “The Fish That Saved Los Angeles” after Fisher hit the game winning shot against the Spurs in game 5 of the 2004 Western Conference Finals. Maybe it’s time for a reprise.
  • Did you see the biggest story in college basketball this week? Of course, I’m talking about 7’7” Kenny George, the tallest player in NCAA history. The UNC-Asheville junior got dunked on by North Carolina Tar Heel star Tyler Hansbrough in a 92-81 Tar Heel victory. George had 14 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocks in the loss, and he is definitely a player to keep an eye on.
  • Finally, have you read about 50-year-old basketball sharpshooter Dave Hopla? This guy makes more than 90 percent of his college-range 3-point shot attempts. And his streak of 1,234 consecutive made free throws really makes me feel like I need to improve upon my personal best of “thirty-something.”

For more information, visit MattHubert.com.

How Often Do Championship Games Actually Live Up to the Hype?

After watching three of the first four BCS bowl games turn out to be blowouts, I began wondering about the chances that LSU-Ohio State would also be a blowout similar to the Buckeyes-Gators championship from last year. And that got me thinking about championships in general. How often does the final game of the season actually live up to the hype of a championship?
I did some research and compiled tables (see below) from the past nine championship games (the first BCS champion was in 1999) in college football, the NFL, the NBA, college basketball and Major League Baseball. If we set parameters of a “close game” as 7 points or less in football, 6 points or less in basketball, and 2 runs or less in baseball, only 22 of 45 championship-deciding games have been close in the aforementioned sports since 1999.

 

It’s hard to compare across sports because obviously basketball games are higher scoring than football games, and baseball games are much lower scoring. Perhaps there’s some statistical expert out there who knows how to formulate a stat that could eliminate the variables and compare the scoring margin across the sporting world. But until that person steps forward, I’ll just offer the data and my observations.

 

Comparing football to football, the BCS championship games don’t quite stack up against the most recent Super Bowls. The average margin of victory in BCS title games is 15.33 whereas the Super Bowl margin of victory has been just 12.0 since 1999.

 

Judging the World Series and NBA Finals is also difficult because, unlike the other sports, they decide their champion in a series. But judging by the final game of the series, they are slightly more likely to be close games. In the case of Major League Baseball, no deciding game has been decided by more than 3 runs in the past nine years. Unfortunately, five of those years saw the World Series end in a four game sweep, which significantly lessens the drama and intrigue of the closeout game.

 

The Nielsen TV ratings indicate that the BCS is performing strongly. While the Super Bowl remains the standard by which all televised sporting events are measured, the BCS ratings average is greater than all of the other sports listed.

 

What does all this mean? I’m not completely sure, but basically it seems to suggest that even if the game Monday night is a blowout, I’ll probably be watching. Yeah, sounds about right.
(Click the images below to view full size.)


For more information, visit MattHubert.com.

One Week Later: My thoughts from Lakers-Cavs 12/20/07

Last Thursday, along with my brother Mike, my dad, my best friend Colvin and his dad, I traveled to Cleveland to watch the Lakers take on the Cavs. It was my first NBA game since 1998. That game was also Lakers-Cavs, though both teams bore little resemblance to their ’98 counterparts.

The only thing I remember about that ‘98 game is Mario Bennett, who scored a career high 21 points and pulled down double digit boards for the Lakers in an otherwise unremarkable 105-93 victory.

After looking at that old box score, it turns out Derek Anderson of the Cavs was actually the leading scorer in the game, not Bennett. And Shaq had 26 points to pace the Lakers, but he did so on 11-of-23 shooting.

Did you know three players from last week’s game also played in the ’98 contest? Derek Fisher, Zydrunas Ilgauskaus and some kid named Kobe Bryant.

As for the Cavs 94-90 win over the Lakers this time around, I have several observations:

  • The loudest ovation of the first half, and arguably the entire game, was the introduction of the newest Iron Chef, Cleveland restaurant owner Michael Symon. No offense to the chef, but you would think the fans of the reigning Eastern Conference Champions would be a bit more excited, especially for LeBron vs. Kobe. Also, piping in chants of de-fense – not very impressive.

  • There were at least two or three occasions when the Lakers used a halfhearted hug technique to foul LeBron on drives to the hoop, allowing him to get his shot up on the rim for the “and-1” opportunity. Part of that is LeBron’s strength, but you have to be able to commit a clean, hard foul in those circumstances to prevent the three-point play. You coach that in high school.

  • Poor Larry Hughes. It’s not his fault the Cavs signed him to a ridiculous contract, but he looked overmatched by everyone in a purple uniform. My brother actually apologized to the Cavs fans sitting next to us that they had to have Hughes on their roster. I think he was only half joking.

  • From the second quarter on, I kept saying, “It feels like we should be winning by a lot more than we are.” The Lakers enjoyed a double-digit lead for about 20 seconds late in the third quarter, but they had several key turnovers to stifle their own momentum throughout the game.

  • If you ask me, the game was lost in the first two and a half minutes of the fourth quarter when Phil Jackson went with a lineup of Trevor Ariza, Sasha Vujacic, Vladimir Radmanovic, Jordan Farmar and Andrew Bynum. The Cavs turned a 78-75 deficit into an 83-78 lead in less than three minutes before Jackson reinserted Bryant into the lineup. I actually like what each of those players brings to the Lakers team, but as a unit, they brought the offense to a screeching halt.

  • After LeBron hit two free throws to put Cleveland up 92-90 with 1:44 to play, the Lakers had five chances to tie or take the lead, including two shots from Kobe. I’ll take those chances every game. This game, however, the shots simply didn’t fall.

  • Early in the season, when Kobe trade rumors were swirling, I proposed a four-team mega deal that I e-mailed to Bill Simmons, who calls himself the Picasso of ESPN’s NBA Trade Machine. At the time, you could make a case for all four teams, but I said the Cavs would be first to say no when it came to dealing LeBron. Fast forward to today, and the Heat and Knicks are dying for this sort of deal. But I think the Lakers are now as hesitant to deal Kobe as the Cavs would be to deal LeBron.

For more information, visit MattHubert.com.