Monday, May 29, 2017

NBA Finals 2017: Warriors vs. Cavs, Irresistible Force Vs. Immovable Presence

For the first time in basketball history, the same two teams will meet in the NBA Finals for three consecutive years. This trend may not cease anytime soon – both squads appear to have the personnel needed to face each other in the championships for another couple of years.
Over the past three seasons, the Warriors have morphed into an irresistible force, growing deadlier with Kevin Durant in the fold. Golden State became the first team to win 65-plus games three years in a row, outperforming peak regular season Jordan, and nearly winning their second straight ring last year.

Their only rival dominates the Eastern Conference. LeBron James has been an immovable presence, representing the Eastern Conference in the finals for his seventh straight year, earning three rings in the process. Despite his fourteen years in the association, LeBron has been playing his finest ball of his career.

With a combined playoff record of 24-1 during the first three rounds of the playoffs, even the best NBA odds gurus will have a difficult time anticipating the lines, spreads and over/unders for the 2017 NBA Finals. When an immovable presence like LeBron meets the irresistible force of the Warriors, the only certainty is that one of these teams will win another ring.

Elder LeBron Shouldn't Be This Good

After the ridiculous number of hard minutes LeBron has logged over the years, King James has somehow managed to play his best basketball over the past few years with Cleveland, peaking with his current playoff performance.

The lack of respect that he's displayed against the Eastern Conference isn't personal, it's business. He knows that nobody can guard him and doesn't waste time pretending otherwise. Feigning beer consumption on court while clowning bigs like Serge Ibaka and Kelly Olynyk happens to be part of the strategy.


Cleveland has spent the past couple of years surrounding James with experienced shooters to maximize the threat of LeBron’s incredible passing, most recently adding Kyle Korver and Deron Williams to the bench. Tristan Thompson is the only player who doesn't have the ability to hit shots from deep – his role’s the rim. Over three years, LeBron and Kyrie have grown their chemistry on the pick and roll to psychic levels.

This often forces defenders to scramble when the King and Uncle Drew gain a half step of separation, with at least two shooters on the perimeter and a crashing Thompson ready to dunk anything tossed at the rim. Cleveland's offense can be next to impossible to stop when James and Kyrie orchestrate like a pair of maestros. During the playoffs, the Cavs start playing defense too, which makes them unbeatable in the east.


Curry and Durant: Deadliest Shooting Force In History

Steph Curry has averaged 28.6 points during the 2017 playoffs at a 50-40-90 clip - the best in his career. Kevin Durant has dropped 25.2 PPG during the Warriors perfect run to the finals, shooting 55.6 percent from the field and 41.7% from deep. KD’s free throw rate of 87.1% leaves this duo only a few percentage points of being the only 50-40-90 combo in NBA playoff history.
The fact that they combine for 53.8 PPG so efficiently glosses over the rest of the lineup. Draymond Green has made himself into a triple-double threat while maintaining cred as an annual defensive player of the year candidate. Klay Thompson might freak out and drop a 20-point quarter at any moment, and the bench has sneaky depth, including Andre Igoudala as one of the best sixth men in the league.

A Historic Rivalry

Durant joining the Warriors cemented Golden State as the superpower of the era, while King James has already carved himself into basketball’s Mount Rushmore. The Cleveland Cavaliers against the Golden State Warriors could soon be crowned the best rivalry the NBA has ever witnessed. Enjoy it while it lasts.

(Golden State in six)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

2017 Eastern Conference Finals: Does Isaiah Thomas’ Absence Improve the Celtics’ Chances Against the Cavaliers?

Many things became clear after the Celtics’ Game 3 victory of 111 – 108 against the Cavaliers, a game which has lessened Cleveland’s domination of a 2 – 0 lead to 2 – 1 in the finals for the Eastern Conference.  
Firstly, without LeBron James playing his best game, the Cavaliers really struggle. Second, Marcus Smart can be relied on to provide a hefty contribution to the points total. Thirdly, Jonas Jerebko should have played more minutes for the Celtics, as the team was in desperate need for his ability to rebound, and make shots. And, last but not least, the Celtics are a different team without Isaiah Thomas.

A Complicated Answer

Are the Celtics a better team when playing without Isaiah Thomas, who is said to be badly missing his team? He has been a sensational player over the course of this season, and will finish with at least a 5th position on voters’ ballots for Most Valuable Player. He has proven without a doubt that he is one of the league’s best scorers over a phenomenal series of plays, but the game changes when one takes into account the matchups, the roster, and the playoffs.
His absence has definitely changed things, but not necessarily for either better or worse. In fact, this occurrence may well end up benefitting his team.

The Celtics are Playing Differently
In this game, the Celtics pushed the pace, managed to get into their sets more quickly, and did not get bogged down with their superstar player’s constant dribbles of the ball. They were forced to move the ball more quickly, because no one was going to be able to make an isolation play. Punters who enjoy online betting NZ basketball options certainly sat up and took notice of this difference in play, as changes like this can mean the difference between a winning and losing wager.

On the side of defensive playing, the difference in the Celtics’ game was even more pronounced. While Cleveland played exceptionally well in the game’s first half, it was unsustainable, and the Celtics changed their game. They were not faced with massive mismatches, nor were they required to over-help, and they stepped up with a defensive rating of 93.6 during the 2nd half. This is even more exceptional when one compares this to the rating of 132 in Game 2.

The Changes are as Clear as Night and Day
The ball moved far more often, and it was the Celtics accomplishing this, as they managed time and time again to get ahead of Cleveland’s rotations. While these outlier performances will likely not hold, this does show that the team from Boston managed to play in a manner that called for far more interesting setups. However they perform in the 4th and 5th games, it won’t change the way they played this one.

This is also what happens when a star player is no longer available, and has been shown before with Kawhi Leonard and the Western Conference semi-finals against the Rockets. Having to deal with a team that no longer has a star player present demands a change in approach, and the Warriors’ win in the 2nd Game of the Western Conference Finals should actually be held as more impressive than it was. It is much more difficult to get up for games like this, and this fact has been proven time and time again.

Monday, March 13, 2017

2017 March Madness: Top Seeds and Facts

After much speculation and anticipation, Selection Sunday has yielded the brackets for the 2017 March Madness tournament. This year, there’s a relative lack of controversy in terms of seeding, other than the underwhelming seeds given to teams like Wichita State and West Virginia state. Considering trends for 2017, Duke receiving a two-seed doesn’t stir up too much trouble among most fans either.

With the path to the championship made clear, college basketball bracketology has begun in earnest, with millions of fans chasing the perfect championship bracket. Depending on your chosen method of mathematical analysis, statisticians believe that the chances of predicting the entire tournament are as low as 1 in 9.2 quintillion, and as high as 1 in 128 billion. Considering that less than one percent of bracketologists have predicted the path to the Final Four in the past six years, it’s almost guaranteed that your bracket will be devastated before the sweet sixteen, including an upset of a couple of these top seeds.

Villanova - Approximate Odds: 15-2

One of the greatest runs to the championship in NCAA basketball history, the Villanova Wildcats earned the best point differential for a winner in March Madness history. They also enjoyed the first-ever three-point buzzer beater in championship history to secure their first win in 31 years.  The Wildcats have been awarded top seed for their continued excellence this year, as well as their incredible performance during 2016 March Madness. An instant classic, last year’s championship game was among the most exciting ever witnessed.

Josh Hart and championship shot maker Kris Jenkins are the marquee names leading the Wildcats, who thrive off of teamwork and experience. Even better, Villanova appears to be kicking it into high gear at the right time, beating most challengers through superior defense. Despite the fact that North Carolina and Duke are considered the favorites according to the odds, there’s no doubt that Villanova will represent a tough out for Duke, assuming the two schools meet in the elite eight.

Kansas - Approximate Odds: 8-1

Kansas has once again earned a top seed based on their regular season dominance of the Big 12. True to recent pattern, this top seeding hasn’t helped them make inroads during championship season, as they lost in an 85-82 shocker against TCU. Fatigue, the absence of Josh Jackson and refereeing were discussed as the scapegoats, but any top ranked team which gives up 85 points needs to consider their defensive effort first and foremost.

The Jawhawks have been one of the most underwhelming top seeds over their 13 consecutive regular season conference titles. Despite named top seed seven times and number two seed twice since 2005, Kansas has made only two Final Fours. They’ve been upset before the semifinals six times by squads ranked 7-14, and have lost against lower seeds nine times in the past 11 years. As usual, Kansas is loaded with top end prospects, but has to overcome inexperience and controversy to fulfill the promise of their talent.

North Carolina – Approximate Odds: 6-1

The internet was flooded with the tears of the “Crying Jordan” meme after the Tar Heels helplessly watched a three splash at the buzzer. Seconds earlier, it appeared that Marcus Paige had managed to salvage extra time with an incredible shot of his own, which was promptly erased by Kris Jenkins historic winner. Despite the devastation of such a close loss, North Carolina’s program has responded admirably, landing as the third seed overall, and the top seed in the east with a 31-3 record.
One of the top basketball programs on an annual basis, the Tar Heels look to build on a lengthy tradition of superb performances, including 48 tournament appearances, 19 Final Fours and five NCAA National Championships. Justin Jackson returns to the tournament as the ACC Player of the Year, and will attempt to showcase his newfound three-point range while lifting his squad to a championship.

Gonzaga - Approximate Odds: 10-1

The Bulldogs have made a giant leap into the top level of elite seeds, ranking fourth overall and leading the west as the number one seed. Last year, they were ranked 11th in the Midwest, and managed to make some noise by taking out the sixth seed Seton Hall, and the third seed Utah, before running into Syracuse, who would go on to make the final four.

This year, Gonzaga has made waves in the NCAA by earning the best record in Division I men’s basketball, winning 32 games and losing a head-scratcher to the BYU Cougars. Popular opinion about Zags tends to veer towards the Bulldogs as overachievers who haven’t dealt with a lot of adversity, which undermines the fact that this squad has hustled hard to build a reputation. Gonzaga may not have the high-end talent that other colleges boast, but their dedication to teamwork and defense readies them for a relatively easy path to the Final Four.

NCAA March Madness Top Seeds Trends

Appropriately, top seeds dominate the NCAA Men’s Division I championship tournament. With few exceptions, at least one top seed makes it to the Final Four. More often than not, two number one seeds make it to the semi-finals. On the other hand, the Final Four almost never consists of four top seeds, which means that it’s more than likely for one of 2017’s best ranked teams to end up on the wrong side of history. March Madness is famous partly because of the monumental upsets that derail even the biggest contenders, making it nearly impossible for fans and experts to fill out a perfect bracket.

Nevertheless, a number one seed has won 19 championships out of 30 finals appearances, compared to second seeds, which have won five championships in 12 appearances since 1985. In terms of Final Fours, top ranked teams have made it 52 times while second seeded teams have made 28 tournament semi-finals. For the 2017 tournament, Duke, Kentucky, UCLA and Arizona stand out as significant challengers on the way to the Final Four. You shouldn’t expect a 16th seed to beat a 1st seed to start the bracket, but just about anything else is possible in a one-and-done tournament format.