AC’S Spotlight Episode 29 Parts I and II w/ Rafael Canton and Chris Herring

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The Trade Deadline is near and my podcast is back as both Rafael Canton and Chris Herring both joined me in this two part podcast. Part I is here and Part II is here. Thanks to both gentlemen for joining me to discuss Carmelo’s surgery and being out for the season, the Goran Dragic situation in Phoenix, and more around the league as we get close to the deadline.

AC’S Spotlight Episode 27- Talking NBA W/ Rafael Canton

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As we inch closer and closer to the NBA All Star Break, Rafael Canton of NBA Trades stops by to talk some NBA with AC as they go through some of the playoff races, the all star reserves, Klay Thompson’s performance and the legitimacy of Atlanta and Golden State’s claim to being best team in the NBA. Check it out here.

 

Analyzing the 3-Way For 8th In The Western Conference

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As we’re officially just a bit past the halfway mark and headed straight to the all star break, there are plenty of fun storylines in the NBA. The Warriors and the Hawks have provided for fantastic basketball with their respective scintillating starts. Teams tanking has been a theme for comedy, and the Western Conference in general has been a nightly war that has provided some intriguing matchups. We have a 3 team race for the 8th spot and what seemingly is a date with the Golden State Warriors. The 3 candidates are the Thunder, Suns, and Pelicans.

Currently as of today the Suns are leading the Pelicans by 1 1/2 games and OKC by 2 1/2. Each have their strong points and each have their issues, let me try to handicap them.

Phoenix Suns (26-20)- The Suns have 36 games left, 25 vs the West and 24 against plus .500 teams. Included in that are 3 games against the Warriors while the Thunder are finished with them. The Suns are in a stretch where they’ve lost 2 in a row to the Rockets and Clippers and have the Wizards, Bulls, Warriors, Grizzlies, and Blazers next on the schedule. After a 14-14 start to the season, a 12 of 18 stretch has elevated them to this spot.  Biggest issue for the Suns is their defense which is 28th in the league allowing a whopping 105 points per game. They’re prolific offensively as they’re 3rd in the league but if they’re going to make the playoffs that will have to change and they’ll need to be more consistent. The Suns will probably need to improve their home record (currently 13-9) and that will give them a chance here. The schedule is tough, granted though I think the Suns will hang in until the very end of the season.

New Orleans Pelicans (24-21)- The Pellies are interesting from this standpoint, they’ve only played 20 home games and are 15-5 in them and they have Anthony Davis who to me is a top 3-4 MVP candidate. I happened to see them live without AD against the Knicks, and let’s just say they missed him dearly. All of the numbers with Davis and without Davis tell you that he needs to be on the floor. (A minus 9.7 net rating without and a +5.3 rating with) The Pelicans are only playing 18 games against +.500 teams and 24 vs. the West. One would have to think that’s a huge advantage. We’d also like to think that Anthony Davis would get the ball more, let’s see if his teammates help him with that. The Pelicans are probably the weakest of the three teams, but they’ve won their last 4 and are playing better. The schedule is an advantage as well.

Oklahoma City Thunder (23-22)- The Thunder have been talked about all season as the big question of whether they would make the postseason after the injuries to KD and Russell Westbrook. As they’ve come back they’ve gotten over .500 but still have some issues to look at. They’ve only played 20 home games as well so they have that in their pocket. Amongst the issues, are still trying to find the right lineups exactly. Also, Reggie Jackson’s fluctuation of playing time plus what’s hanging over him as far as his status with the team is an issue. Dion Waiters has been inefficient (what else is new?) and their starting lineup still has problems starting off most games against good teams. With that being said, they still have the most dangerous 2 man wrecking crew in basketball and that gives them a leg up. Big issue schedule wise? 21 above plus .500 teams and 25 against the West. I still think the Thunder make it, but it isn’t a lock like we all thought earlier this season.

 

Random NBA Thoughts:

LaMarcus Aldridge foregoing surgery to continue to play through the Blazers schedule is admirable. You just hope that he doesn’t reinjure himself and torpedo their season.

The Clippers have started to play better and they’ve raised their status in the West. I still can’t trust their 6 player squad.

Lionel Hollins and the Nets were a bad fit. The Nets roster is just bad, and not getting better anytime soon.

The 3 point shootout almost might be more entertaining than the All-Star Game.

Can’t wait for Atlanta-Golden State on Feb 6 so we can overreact to the winner and loser.

Chicago is not a contender until further notice, but I love the Cavs right now.

AC’S Spotlight Episode 26-NBA & Knicks Talk W/ Chris Herring

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As The New York Knicks have struggled their way to a 4-11 record, Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal rolls through the podcast to discuss whether the team can find some common ground and improve going forward. How serious is Carmelo Anthony’s injury? What’s up with Fisher’s lineup experimenting? Those are some of the questions we tackle, plus thoughts on Tyson Chandler’s comments on his tenure with the Knicks plus going around the league. As always Chris Herring is a distinguished guest and an awesome chat. Enjoy this pod, you can listen here or on Itunes.

AC’S Spotlight Episode 25-What’s Wrong With The Knicks?

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Coming into Friday’s NBA action the Knicks have lost 6 in a row to drop to 2-7 on the still young NBA season. There are plenty of reasons for the struggles, and I’ll talk about that and more with Ian Begley of ESPN NY. Rafael Canton joins me later on the podcast to talk Knicks and the NBA as well. As always check the podcast on Itunes or here.

How Good Are The Raptors? And Around The NBA

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After the Raptors lost a very tough Game 7 to the Nets last season I thought to myself, “Hmm, this team has a chance to be a lot better next season.” It was a very mundane thought but a real one. Once Toronto resigned Kyle Lowry it was hard not to be sold on the team improving. They’re a young athletic team that’s very good on offense, (Going into tonight against Orlando 2nd in scoring efficiency at 109.4 points per 100 possessions) and has been very capable on defense. (7th in defensive efficiency at 99 points per 100 possessions) Yes, the sample size might be a bit meh and when they played Miami they lost but there’s no reason from what I see that the 3rd best team in the Eastern Conference could reside in Canada.

You can’t help but love their backcourt in Derozan and Lowry. Though Derozan take a few too many bad shots for my liking, he’s improved a ton and so far as even seen an uptick in FG% and Free Throw attempts thus far. He’s becoming an incredibly difficult cover and rising as one of the better two guards in the sport. Lowry is shooting 48% from the field thus far and continues to be very steady running the team as they’ve handled their business to a 6-1 record. They’re the favorite in the Atlantic Division to me. They probably should get out of the 1st round of the playoffs this season. Yes they’ve played 7 games against ok competition, but they’re legitimately good.

Not only it helps to be young, but it also helps to bring back nearly the same team from last season from a chemistry and continuity standpoint. You can see that on the court confidence wise and that’s why the Raptors more often than not will beat bad teams and hang with the good ones. They have an agile frontline with the improving Valanciunas and Johnson and you’re talking about young guys here still trying to find their peak efficiency and effectiveness.  I want to continue to see more though as the schedule gets tougher. I’m looking forward to their matchup against the Bulls in a national TV tilt on Thursday night and 3 matchups within a month they get against LeBron and the Cavs. We’ll get to learn a lot more about this Raptors team, but so far so good. Toronto’s built a capable competitive franchise, looking forward to watching them grow.

Around The League

I’d love to see the Sacramento Kings stay at .500 for awhile, they’re entertaining as hell. When you have Rudy Gay and Demarcus Cousins balling as they have so far, you want to see more out of the Kings in growing and continuing to get better. It’s way too early but I’d love to see them battling for a playoff spot.

Is San Antonio resting guys still a thing that we all complain about? They’ve been doing it forever and while I understand the business standpoint that the NBA/Fans take on it, Pop can’t worry about that. He’s trying to win long term, and I can’t help but respect that it still is about winning even if we miss some good regular season matchups.

Would it surprise me that much if Oklahoma City held it’s ground decently enough to make a push when KD and RW get back? No, because there is actual talent on that team that we just haven’t actually seen play. As I said earlier in my predictions piece, this is a blessing in disguise because if Brooks ever gets or finds something in Perry Jones, Jeremy Lamb, and Steven Adams plus Reggie Jackson? Man listen, Oklahoma City could win the West because they have the most destructive and explosive duo in the sport. Don’t be shocked.

I still worry a ton about Derrick Rose, and while I get what he’s trying to say as far as long term with sitting out games I just wonder what his career will look like when it’s said and done for him. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

The Cavs are going to be fine, when they get it going they’ll be a force that the East won’t be ready for on a nightly basis. With that being said, Miami looks pretty damn good so far. Deng has fit very well, Bosh looks like he has a chip on his shoulder, and Wade looks rejuvenated. It’s a long season though, so we’ll see how it all unfolds….

Learning To Temper Expectations With The Knicks

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Since I’ve been watching sports and been around sports living in New York, I’ve heard the phrase, “You can’t rebuild in New York.” The fans aren’t patient, the expectations are so high that you wonder what’s realistic and what’s not. I’m looking at this New York Knicks team at 2-6 after last night’s tough 91-85 loss to the Atlanta Hawks and thinking that this is exactly what and how this is going to be for the time being. It’s going to be a struggle for a number of reasons but mainly because this team isn’t what it’s going to look like when they get good again hopefully.

The losses are frustrating yes, and when the players talk about effort and lackthereof it would normally worry me if that’s what I was really seeing. The effort is there, and they’re playing hard and actually trying to learn a new system and play team ball which is what all Knicks fans wanted after the past couple of seasons of Iso-Melo and generally poor decisions on offense. If only it was so simple as correcting the offensive issues. The triangle offense which has been the major selling point of Phil Jackson and this rebuild isn’t the problem to me. As highlighted here by the Wall Street Journal’s Chris Herring, the defense has continued to be terrible. The statistics don’t lie with them being 28th in defensive efficiency, and the eye test sometimes is worse. You see a simple pick and roll and the defense breaks down incredibly quickly. Anytime I see Amare Stoudemire in a pick and roll I shudder. I don’t want Bargs to come back. J.R. Smith could go too, and that’s really the bottom line. This roster isn’t what it’s going to be a season from now. So what I actually expect?

I expect them to play hard every night. I expect the Knicks to start building good team oriented habits which we’ve seen thus far. They’re passing the ball. While they’re not succeeding on defense they’re at least trying on defense especially if you read Tim Hardaway Jr’s comments via ESPN NY. Carmelo will start to shoot the ball better, and I do believe the Knicks will improve; just not to the degree that most fans want, which is making the playoffs in a better Eastern Conference than a season ago. Is it wasting another season of Melo’s prime? Yeah, is it another year where we have to wait to see IF they provide a better product on the basketball court? Yeah, but if you believe in what a rebuild truly is than there has to be some patience exhibited here. The Knicks have a first round pick and free agency to take a shot again at next offseason. What this season is about is beginning to break it down further and remold eventually. The Tyson Chandler/Raymond Felton trade was just the beginning, and there’s going to be more tough times than good. Can you rebuild in New York? Yes I think so, just like anything you do it takes time and hard work. I know Knicks fans want immediate gratification, but it doesn’t work that way. LeBron isn’t dropping in the Knicks fans laps anytime soon. Temper your enthusiasm and pull up a chair, we’ll be here awhile.

AC’S Spotlight Episode 24-Previewing the Knicks Season With Chris Herring

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Another Knicks season is upon us, and is there hope for the team going forward? Phil Jackson has taken over and will try to implement his way of doing things. Derek Fisher goes straight from the court to the bench as the new head coach. The Triangle offense is in effect, and the Knicks are going to have to learn that, plus trying to get back to playing defense. It’s a new direction, but it’s a clear one. Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal joins me to discuss the season and what’s ahead for the team. Can the Knicks be a playoff team? Does the triangle really matter if their defense is subpar? What player on the team will surprise this season? What are reasonable expectations? Carmelo’s patience in the product? A lot of good questions I address with Chris here, who does a tremendous job on the Knicks beat. Listen here.

10 Predictions For The 14-15 NBA Season

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We are officially under a week away from a brand new NBA season, there are questions like how LeBron, Kyrie, and Love fit together? Can the Bulls stay healthy? Is Anthony Davis going to leap into a new stratosphere? All these questions, and I’ll try to look into my crystal ball and make some predictions right here.

1. The Bulls won’t finish with a Top 2 record in the Eastern Conference.

A lot of the pundits around the league and on TV foresee a Chicago/Cleveland Eastern Conference Final. I as everyone else would love to see it and why not? Derrick Rose’s return could be the biggest sports story of the year if he comes back healthy and I’d love to see him healthy. Pau Gasol has been added to the squad as they look to make the next step. My problem is I have to SEE it before I believe it. I have to see the Bulls for the most part stay healthy all year plus Derrick Rose as well. If so, then without a doubt they’ll get one of the top 2 spots. I just can’t believe it until I see it though. We’ll get a surprise number 2 seed to Cleveland’s number 1.

2. The Kevin Durant injury is a blessing in disguise.

Yeah I know, you can’ t just lose Kevin Durant for 2 months and move forward and not struggle. The Thunder will struggle. We’ll see plenty of Russell Westbrook trying to do too much. What I hope and am positively optimistic about is the chance that we’ll see the team plus the coach evolve in terms of their offensive style of basketball. This injury forces guys like Reggie Jackson, Serge Ibaka, and Steven Adams to be that much more important. We’ll actually get to see what Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb are actually capable of, and maybe there will be a semblance of team ball to the point that when Kevin Durant comes back we’ll see him and the Thunder potentially go to another gear. Yes without Durant there will be tough times, but a new Thunder way of life may come of those tough times.

3. The Lakers are going to be worse than what even I thought.

I had the Lakers projected at about 36 wins. That was before I realized there starting frontline was Carlos Boozer and Jordan Hill. They’re going to be Superbad defensively and I don’t mean in the good way. Kobe Bryant is back but watching him this season will be even tougher than last because I suspect he’ll play most of the year, and his decline will continue. Byron Scott doesn’t want this team shooting threes, he should also not want this team period. Even before the dreaded scathing Kobe article we knew what was going to happen this season, and it’s kinda sad. It may be unintentionally funny though, so there’s that.

4. The Knicks won’t make the playoffs, but will improve culture wise.

Even in the mediocre Eastern Conference I don’t think the Knicks have improved enough to be one of the East’s top 8. MSG and the team has done a tremendous job in putting the plain focus on the triangle offense and how it will positively affect and improve the team, but can they stop anyone? They traded a former defensive player of the year (albeit a declining one) in Tyson Chandler plus Raymond Felton for Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert where one player will be really good offensively and will struggle offensively and the other will be decent defensively and tough to watch on offense. Yes, Derek Fisher is the man for the job and the Knicks for the first time in a long time actually have a plan of direction. They will have a few games that will be feel good moments this season, but I just feel like making the playoffs is asking a lot for a team that doesn’t defend enough. I hope they prove me wrong.

5. The Clippers reach the Conference Finals.

There’s a lot of reason to doubt this team, simply put because lately we’ve seen the team collapse in big spot after big spot. I respect the players and Doc for how they handled the Donald Sterling saga during the playoffs, and I do believe in a roundabout way it brought the team together. Unfortunately that Game 5 collapse in OKC will always be something to harp on, especially for Chris Paul. As Blake Griffin comes off of his best season as a pro, I expect him to continue to improve and take more control of the offense. They’ll get to the point where their crunch time offense isn’t a complete disaster, and will actually make the conference finals against…

6. We’re going to get a Spurs/Clippers Conference Finals.

There’s nothing that I’ve seen in the offseason in terms of free agent additions or trades that would make me believe that San Antonio at the very least won’t get back to the Western Conference Finals. The whole supporting cast is back, Popovich is better than ever, they get an injection of youth from Kyle Anderson, you have the Spurs with just as good of a chance to do something they haven’t done, and that’s repeat. More on the Spurs a bit down the line.

7. Rajon Rondo will be traded at some point this season.

I’m expecting this to happen for a couple of reasons. One is if Boston really wants to go through with the full rebuild they need to get as much as they can for Rondo before his dreaded free agency which the closer that gets will impact what the Celtics can get if anything for Rondo. Rondo should be ready by the start of the season or sometime during the first couple of weeks as he recovers from a broken hand. I expect Danny Ainge to eventually pull the trigger that will help Boston move into it’s next and a brand new era.

8. The Raptors will repeat as Atlantic Division champions.

Toronto got a taste of playoff basketball last season as they came out of nowhere to win the division last season. They lost a tough Game 7 to the Brookyln Nets in the first round, but bringing back the same core including resigning Kyle Lowry will help continue to build on what they did last season. No one else in the Atlantic has gotten up to their level, and I expect the Raptors to raise their game.

9. LeBron James will win another MVP as a Cavalier.

Not really going out on a limb here as the Cavs will go from a really bad team to the best in the conference with a chance at a title, and that’s because of the guy who makes all the difference in the world. LeBron may take certain dips in stats, but his impact and presence will be a huge part in the Cavs headed back to the finals. Last but not least…

10. The Spurs will repeat, defeating LeBron once more in 6.

As I said above, there’s absolutely nothing I’ve seen from any team that makes me feel like they surpassed San Antonio’s excellence. Yes there are injury variables, yes there are other variables like who you play and when you play them come playoff time. I’ll take the Spurs experience, depth, and ability to adapt to any situation. The Spurs will repeat as champs for the first time ever. We may get bored with them at times, but they’ll continue to play the basketball that is worthy of championships. Are you ready for the NBA season?