Time for some NBA predictions…

Here we go, time to put the kiss of death on some teams, and try ever so hard to hide my bias. And to be so historically wrong when revisiting this post in April next year.

This season is shaping up to be really interesting. The West is stronger again, and the East is potentially more even with LeBron heading to LA.

We are going to see a lot more of last year’s rookies, not to mention this years rookie class – albeit on the surface a little weaker than last years class.

Who will thrive? Who will tank? Remember that 2 amazing prospects will be waiting for next years draft in Barrett and Williamson.

Lets start in the East.

I believe 1st in the East is a three way race between the Celtics, 76ers and Raptors, probably in that order..

The Celtics were amazing when it mattered last season, without their two best players. So good, that I am no longer sure Gordon Hayward would be their second best player anymore. For his sake though, I really hope he stays injury free this time around. Their line of Irving, Brown, Hayward, Tatum and Horford sounds pretty good, and they are deep with standouts Smart and Rozier off the bench among others, including Aussie Baynes.

Philly will be strong again. Their woeful exit from the playoffs last season must provide enough motivation for this group. It’s only preseason, but the Fultz-Simmons-Embiid floor looks like it is going to work, and this team has so many solid pieces like Covington, Redick, Saric and a couple of promising rookies. They will be there in the playoffs, either the 1,2 or 3 seed.

Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard are both needed for the Raptors to maintain their position at the top of the East (regular season), and they need Kawhi for the playoffs as they are perennial chokers. It isn’t unfair to say that their entire season hinges on Leonard’s fitness and attitude, but if both are good, they could be anything. In my opinion, he is still the second best in the game.

It gets a bit murky after the top three. To put them in position is a bit of a lucky draw, but here goes:

Milwaukee: This is a big year for Giannis, he wants to be the MVP, and he has the perfect scenario to do it. He is the standout in his team. But for him to be considered in the leagues elite, he needs to elevate this team into at least a conference semi, and a serious contender.

Indiana: They lose a bit this season, but Oladipo is an out and out star, and the most underrated player in the league.  They have recruited a decent mix of experience and youth, and I see this team making the playoffs, but I feel a round 1 exit is on the cards if they come up against any of the aforementioned teams.

Chicago: I know, right? And I hate the Bulls. But I think this is their year to return to the playoffs. A fit Zach LaVine, I’m a big fan of Lauri Markkanen, and the addition of Jabari Parker (who is also fit) says to me they have enough pieces to contend in the East. They have decent depth as well, when you consider Lopez, Holiday and Dunn.

Washington: They’ll be there. Wall and Beal don’t seem to be working well together, so I’m not confident they’ll feature, but I assume they’ll make the playoffs. They could potentially win a lot early and slowly work their way down the ladder late as other teams start to gel and improve.

The New York Knicks: This is a stretch, but much like Giannis, Kristaps needs to lead this team to their first playoffs in forever. Being New York, it wouldn’t be surprising that their front office totally screws him on a chase for a good draft pick, but I really hope they support him with good pieces and he can become a winning star in NY.

My east top 8:

Celtics; 76ers; Raptors; Bucks; Pacers; Chicago; Wizards; Knicks.

At the other end, I can’t see much hope for the Cavs, Hawks or the Magic. I think the Pistons just miss out, or could sneak in, and the rest make up the rest.

Now to the ridiculously stacked West…

So lets get this out of the way first, the Warriors will finish first in the West. You know why, I don’t have to go into it, they inexplicably got stronger in the offseason – and you can’t blame them for that, adding Cousins on a minimum deal because no one else offered him a gig – are you serious?

After them, it gets interesting. I preface my list by saying I can only assume the players in these teams will stay in their teams, even though I doubt that will happen. I foresee some pretty big trades mid year, as teams have to make the tough call on players with short contracts if they are falling out of contention. And remember, ‘out of contention’ in the west is a .500 team, so these are good teams in a tough predicament. There is no glory finishing 11th in the west with a .500 record, because all you get for your good season is the 15-18 pick in the draft.

I can’t see anyone catching Houston in second. They may have a chance finishing at the 1 seed if the Warriors rest players again, but even if they do, they are the firm second best team in the conference in my opinion. It is hard to follow the logic of their offseason, trading defensive strength for offensive strength on a team that is the strongest offensive team in the league, but even still, they are strong. Expect a lot of games won where the opposition scores 120+ points.

Denver: Don’t underestimate Isaiah Thomas. What a pick up for an insanely deep team. I just keep thinking about IT working with Jokic and how amazing that will be. The performances of Murray, Hernangomez and Millsap will be crucial, but expectations are high for Denver, and in a stacked west, they may take out the 3 seed by a game or two.

Utah: I really hope Mitchell doesn’t have second year syndrome, and if he doesn’t you are looking at a top four team again. He unlocks every player on this team, and they somehow continue to get stronger. They could potentially sneak into the Conference finals this season.

Lakers: The LeBron factor is real. The young guys will be better and they have bought experience. What seemed strange 3 months ago has seemed to have calmed LeBron. He always looked stressed in Cleveland, where he looks very relaxed in LA. Could be dangerous.

OKC: It’s hard to keep a team with Westbrook and George off this list, but I am not too confident, they may miss this season. Certainly on the downslope. Their time has passed.

Phoenix: I really like Ayton, and Booker. If they don’t make the playoffs, they will go close. It’s a bit of a stretch for a team to improve so much in one year, but I believe they will be a force this year, and a big force in years to come.

Portland: Much like OKC, they could miss, but it’s hard to keep them out given their roster. I expect them there this season, and then out for the next few.

So that means I don’t think a Popovich coached team makes the 8. In some eyes that is enough to say my list is awful, but I just can’t see their roster staying strong this season. They would make the 8 in the East, but that’s not how it works unfortunately.

With all that said, I don’t have them 9th either. That spot is reserved for the Pelicans. They should be higher, but the club showed in the offseason that they don’t expect to keep Davis, which means they will give him no support this year, possibly trade him, tank and go for Zion Williamson in the draft. IF they support him, they could finish anywhere in the 8, but I can’t see them doing that. Randle is solid too.

My West top 8:

Warriors; Rockets; Nuggets; Jazz; Lakers; OKC; Suns: Blazers

As mentioned, Pelicans 9 and Spurs 10. All 10 of these teams will finish above .500

As for the other end, I can’t see any outcome that doesn’t have the Clippers finishing with the worst record in the league. I also think that is what they want, so that next season they can open their new arena with a number 1 draft pick, some free agent pieces and a competitive squad.

The Grizzlies, Mavs and Sacramento will improve, but I can’t say the same for the Wolves, who look set to lose Butler before the season begins.

As far as individual honours go, it’s hard to go past LeBron for MVP if the Lakers feature in the playoffs. I like that Embiid and Giannis are hungry for that title, but I can’t see them beating the king.

Rookie of the year is tough to predict before they play a game, but on the strength of the preseason, I imagine it will be between Doncic, Ayton and Bagley.

Most improved – Brandon Ingram. All signs point to him, and with LeBron and Ball feeding him, he will become an elite player this season.

Defensive player – Kawhi, Gobert or Davis

Sixth Man – Isaiah Thomas.

 

Now, to watch the next 6 months and see how wrong I am. What do you think, what gaffe have I made, and why?

Serena’s legacy in question

I am so angry with Serena. This is the second time she has, in my opinion, intentionally taken the limelight away from her opponent in a losing US Open Final. The three calls by the umpire were 100% correct, that is a fact. The issue is that they don’t always get called. But that is a minor issue, in the end if you get called on a rule you accept it. Calling the umpire a thief is the same as calling them a cheat.

Being a male, I am not the best person to comment on this, but I would imagine that women in general would be upset that Serena made this about women’s rights. It has zero to do with women’s rights, and everything to do with the rules of tennis.

While I agree that tennis players get away with a lot of descent towards umpires, one thing is always clear: Call them a cheat, and its a violation. Cheat is worse than any combination of swear words you can think of – and if you want to hear some combinations, go watch Serena’s final against Sam Stosur and you’ll hear plenty.

I am angry with Serena because only 2 days ago I showed my kids a Nike ad she features in about believing in your dreams, no matter how crazy, and my kids loved it. Now my daughter is asking me why the ‘World’s best athlete’ is smashing her racquet, disrespecting officials, and reducing her compatriot to tears.

She has earned the right to be a legend of all sports, she has earned the ‘World’s greatest Athlete’ tag, but unfortunately we all know too well that she is only one lost set away from “I’ll shove this ball down your throat”. Which means she has also earned the tag of a Fiery, whinging, self obsessed sore loser and bad sport. Nothing she can do will remove those labels.

I also was disgusted by her telling people not to boo Naomi Osaka. Of course she didn’t deserve it, but that was all on Serena, so don’t pretend to be the hero when you are the instigator.

Rant over.

Dear NRL,

Dear NRL,

‘Grow the game’ is a term that you will hear more often than ‘Stop the boats’ during an election campaign. I wonder where those three words rate on the presentation offered to you by broadcasters?

Just yesterday, I watched a really good State of Origin clash, which reignited an entire state, and introduced Kalyn Ponga to the largest audience possible. Well, maybe.

On a Sunday night, at 8:14pm, the whistle blew to start Origin II. My 8 year old boy was allowed to stay up til half time, which was 30 minutes past his bed time (8:30pm).

He didn’t make it, falling asleep on the couch before NSW scored, or Kalyn Ponga took to the field. You could imagine his surprise and disappointment (he is a QLDer) when he heard the result the next morning.

Don’t mistake this for lack of passion. This same 8 year old boy will happily travel 130kms each way every week to play for 40 minutes in under 10’s. In fact, it was on Sunday morning that he last did that. He got up, as did I, my 9 year old daughter and my 4 year old son, and we drove to Mt Isa, as we do every week, so he could take the field at 10:30am. In that game, he got his hands on the ball only once, made about 10 metres and got tackled. He made a couple of tackles, then game over, into the car, and 130kms home.

I marvel at that fact that he still wants to do this. He trains twice a week, spends 3 hours on a Sunday in a car, all for 1 run and a couple of tackles? Surely that won’t last.

I tell you what would help, being able to sit down at a reasonable hour to watch a great game, where a young player debuts and gives hope to all the young players out there. – Makes them dream of playing on the big stage.

Unfortunately, like the majority of his team mates and anyone under 12 most likely, it all happened while he was fast asleep.

I love sport. I have spent my life following all kinds of sports from all over the world. I have been a die hard Rugby League fan since I was born. But when I was his age, my only option was League. I could watch a game on Saturday and Sunday through the day. I could watch the mid week comp at 7pm on a Wednesday, and sometimes was lucky enough to watch a Friday night game, starting at 7:30pm, if mum and dad let me.

Now, on any given week, two games start after 8pm. One of these is on a School night. A third game starts after 7:30pm. Every Origin starts well after 8pm, on a Wednesday or Sunday, both School nights. All but 3 finals games start after 7:30pm.

Do you even know what your competition is these days? If you think it is AFL, you are completely wrong.

Do you know who my son’s favourite player is? Mookie Betts. Mookie who, you ask?

Mookie Betts is a Left Fielder for the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox play 162 games a season, not including finals. More than half of those games are on between 9am and 1pm Australian time. It is extremely rare that they don’t play on a Friday and Saturday night, which broadcasts live here on a Saturday and Sunday morning.

His second favourite player is Ben Simmons. What a story! A young Australian player playing beyond his years in a league full of superstars. Sounds a lot like Ponga.

But my son can’t see Ponga play every week. In fact he can’t see any player every week, as 4 teams are out of the question – those that play on a Thursday or Friday. Plus the late game on a Saturday is a bit of a push.

He can see Ben Simmons though. 82 games a season (not including finals) in the NBA means that he can guarantee at least one game a week where he gets to watch him play.

I’m not arguing for the NRL to increase games. I am arguing that in order to ‘grow the game’, you need to SHOW THE GAME to the youth. You need to understand that sports-mad kids these days aren’t able to watch their favourite NRL team every week.

I live in North West QLD. Nearly everyone out here is a Cowboys fan. Nearly every Cowboys game starts after 7:30pm on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night. The kids that would normally plaster themselves in Cowboys gear are now starting to wear Cav’s singlets, Yankees caps and Oakland Raiders jackets.

What is your solution, NRL?

How can you compete with the fact that every Australian youth can watch any american sport easier than they can watch the NRL?

How can you compete with the fact that every child can pick up a copy of NBA 2K, FIFA, Madden or MLB the Show on their Playstation and get a really polished game, yet every League game ever is about as polished as a 1979 Mazda 323?

Know your competition. Actually, forget your competition. Don’t make every decision about this game on how you can beat another sport. Make this game that I love your focal point. Trust your product, and let it be seen by as many people as possible, especially those who might end up playing it if they do.

Finally, think of the School Teachers today. It is possible that a few of their students stayed up til 10pm last night, and those teachers would have had to deal with a class full of tired and cranky kids on a Monday morning. Pretty sure you wouldn’t want that, and i am certain they didn’t.

Oh but Channel Nine are happy. Guess that’s all that matters.

 

The Madness that was UFC 223

The past week has been full on for the UFC, unfortunately for all of the wrong reasons. Some of the incidents that took place made it onto the mainstream news in Australia. It’s always a surreal feeling watching the sport of MMA be covered on Sunrise. However, there is much more to the story then what was being covered (which was primarily the bus attack). So strap in to relive the madness that was UFC 223.

Continue reading “The Madness that was UFC 223”

Man I hate the Yankees

As the Major League Baseball season approaches, one thing is abundantly clear: The Yankees want it bad this year.

Last year they had a Rookie have one of the best Rookie seasons in years. Aaron Judge could potentially give the Home Runs per season record a shake in his second year in the majors. Then they had Gary Sanchez, who is almost as impressive as Judge. Jacoby Ellsbury is as solid as anyone getting on base, and is a handy stealer. Brett Gardner can hit them out of the park, and Didi Gregorious at short. It was an impressive lineup.

Their pitchers were very strong, too. Tanaka, Chapman, Sabathia, Betances, Gray, to name a few.

So what do they go and do? Go and buy Giancarlo Stanton. He hit 59 homers last year.

As a Red Sox fan, the only saving grace is that we have a great team this year, and the Yankees would be considered a failure if they don’t win 100+ games as well as making it to late October.

But in reality, I foresee the Red Sox having to get to the playoffs via the Wild Card.

 

The second growth period for Basketball in Australia

As an 8 year old, I started following this guy called ‘Magic’ Johnson. It was 1990, and I had just moved to a small country town in NSW. It was a town that had produced a few professional Rugby League players, but it’s fair to say Basketball wan’t really ‘on the radar’ at the time.

This was a time before the internet and pay TV. All the news I got about Magic and the NBA was found in the Courier Mails’ sports section – Not the articles, but the results pages, if I was lucky. It was right next to some division 6 Brisbane junior soccer league, and the local croquet results.

My parents ran a Bakery, which had a Newsagents a couple of doors down. The owner of the Newsagents started to stock a publication called “Pro Basketball Today”. It was a newspaper with NBA and NBL news only, and came out weekly.

After a while, my parents started buying it for me. I wasn’t too sure why, but I later found out it was because the Newsagent came and told them that I can’t sit in their store, reading PBT every day, while never buying it.

I finally had a weekly resource to follow Basketball! But then, a few other things started to happen…

I had friends who liked Basketball too. Our town built a brand new Indoor Sports Stadium, that was predominantly a Basketball court. Channel 10 (NRTV) started televising the NBL, and had three Basketball magazine shows, one with Steve Carfino and Bill Woods, the others American shows – NBA Inside Stuff, hosted by Ahmad Rashad, followed by NBA Action, hosted by Jim Fagan. It came with the coveted ‘top 10 plays of the week’.

In 1991 my family moved to a property just out of town. That year I got my first Basketball hoop at home, and I consequently spent the best part of every afternoon out there, shooting hoops, commentating the whole time, pretending I was the Lakers, beating the Bulls.

The Bulls. While basketball was steadily building in popularity, the Chicago Bulls of the late 80’s, early 90’s era were the reason for the first real boom in popularity for Basketball in Australia. Suddenly, no kids sleepover was the same without hiring a copy of ‘Michael Jordan’s Playground’ from the local video shop. This ‘movie’ instilled that belief in all aspiring kids that they could do anything if they believed in their dreams and worked hard.

Also in 1991, Magic Johnson told everyone he had HIV, and suddenly the landscape changed. again. I copped it from all the footy boys for liking  ‘a fag’, because back then, Aids or HIV meant you were gay according to the masses. And being gay was not at all cool back then.

However, outside of the School yard, what Magic did was another catalyst for growth of the sport in Australia. Suddenly there was an NBA story on the news every night. Aslo, because it was 1991, most houses only had 1 TV, which means everyone saw those stories. Any publicity is good publicity, right?

The game grew so much more. We had one of the worlds most recognisable figures on TV because he had HIV, we had the worlds best ever Basketball player in his prime, we had Australian stars in Shane Heal and Andrew Gaze and, hang on, is that an Aussie in the NBA? That’s right, Luc Longley joins the Minnesota Timberwolves.

From that moment, Basketball was enjoying its first golden era in Australia. Never before or since has the NBL been as popular as it was, and we had representation in the NBA. A couple of years on, and Luc Longley becomes Michael Jordans teammate, and consequently the first Australian to win an NBA Championship ring.

Shaquille O’Neal single handedly makes the Orlando Magic a relevant team all over the world, and suddenly your level of ‘coolness’ is solely dependant on whether your shoes were Jordans, Shaqs, or Penny’s. But the reality is, you’re likely to be in the cheap rip-off Lynx’s from the local shoe store.

One of the most memorable moments in Olympic history happened in 1996, when Shane Heal took it to the USA Dream Team, and stood up to Charles Barkley. While Australia lost the game, no one remembers the score, but everyone remembers Shane Heal. Consequently, Heal, Gaze, Bradtke and McKinnon all end up in the NBA.

Also in 1996, I was lucky enough to go to my first ever NBA game. LA Lakers v Portland at the Great Western Forum. It was the first year that Shaquille O’Neal was a Laker, and it was also Kobe Bryant’s rookie season. After watching Shaq block Kenny Anderson in double overtime to win the game, I was a basketball fan for life.

I can’t quite understand why, but all over Australia, Basketball slowly became less relevant. Over the next 15 years, it would struggle. In that time, the NBL folded, came back. The national comp had no team in Sydney or Brisbane for a period as well.

We had more NBA representation, with Andrew Bogut securing the number 1 draft pick in 2005, and others coming through, but still, basketball remained fairly flat in Australia.

Suddenly, with super fast internet, pay TV almost everywhere, and Aussies in the NBA, no one really cared.

In my opinion, what changed the landscape in Australia was the 2014-15 NBA Finals Series. You had this new superstar, Steph Curry, doing things that no other player has ever done before. Shooting 3’s from literally anywhere on the court, and nailing them, time after time. He, and his mate Klay, who was also a lights out shooter, were partnered by Andrew Bogut, our Aussie draft pick come good, playing against the current ‘worlds best’ baller in LeBron James, and another aussie, Matthew Dellavedova. As luck would have it, Cleveland would have some injury concerns, so Dellavedova plays a much larger role in the finals than even he could have expected, marking the MVP, Steph Curry.

Australia just simply couldn’t ignore this. While the Warriors would go on to win in 6, and Bogut (while playing limited minutes) won his first championship, much like Heal all those years before, what people remember is Matthew Dellavedova shutting down Steph Curry, time and time again. He worked so hard he ended up in hospital after one game. It is very rare that your teams best player (Curry) doesn’t win the finals MVP when your team wins the Championship, but because of Dellavedova, Curry had to watch his teammate, Andre Iguodala lift that trophy.

The following year, Delly wins against the Warriors with Cleveland, coming back from 3-1 down.

Considering we had Baynes and Mills in San Antonio’s 2013-14 championship teams, we now had 3 years in a row where aussies had won Championships in the NBA.

I am confident that basketball will continue to grow in Australia, and why shouldn’t it? We have more Aussies in the NBA than ever before, we have the best rookie in the league, who is being touted for greatness, we have a team that could push Team USA in 2 years at the Olympics, and the NBL is strong again – in fact, live NBL is a lot of fun if you haven’t been.

With 20 years in between golden era’s, is that because all those who were into Basketball 20 years ago now have kids? Is it because of the popularity of Hip Hop? Is it because of the quality of the games in both the NBA and NBL?

Whatever the reason for it’s return to popularity, I just love that the game I love is popular enough to allow me to play in a local comp in my small country town again.