Monday, December 8, 2008

Blazers 1st Qtr Review: Bingo, Bango, Bongo!

Before the 2008-09 NBA season began, I looked at the daunting first 24 games of the Blazers schedule, and concluded that if they managed to be at (or very near) .500 after those 24 games, then they would be a near lock to make the playoffs. That's how tough the first part of their schedule is. If you don't believe me, here are some fun facts:
  • 1st team in NBA history to start the season against 5 straight 50 win teams from the previous year (4 on the road)
  • 16 of 24 on the road (66%, highest in NBA)
  • 6 back-to-backs, all with at least one road game involved
  • One 4 week span that includes 2 5-game road trips and only 4 total home games
  • Road games include trips to: Boston, Detroit, New Orleans, Phoenix (twice), Orlando, Utah (twice) and the lakers; while home dates welcomed the likes of: San Antonio, Houston, New Olreans, Orlando and Miami

If that's not the toughest first 24 games in the NBA history, it's gotta be in the running. To start a season off with that stretch of games would likely humble the most veteran of teams, but to thrust this gauntlet on the 2nd youngest team in the league (and still one of the youngest in NBA history) is downright cruel.

I was truly hoping for a 1-4 start, and 10-12 wins over the first 24. That would put them in the "do-able" situation of needing to find 34-32 wins in their last 58 games (55-58%) to hit the 46 wins I thought it'd take to sneak into the playoffs in the West. With such a young and talented group of players, it seemed logical that the Blazers would improve throughout the season, and start hitting their stride once the schedule lightened up, and Greg Oden got his sea-legs. Even with the ups and downs of a young team, winning a little over half their games down the stretch seemed reasonable.

That made for a relatively simple plan of action: Simply survive the first 24, then make your run down the stretch.

Well, to say the Blazers have "survived" their first 24 games would be the understatement of the year in the NBA. With 22 games in the books, the Blazers are sitting comfortably in 2nd place out West, with a sparkling 15-7 record. They are undefeated at home (7-0) and have a winning record on the road (8-7). Those 2 5-game roadies? Passed with flying colors, having amassed a tidy little 7-3 record in those 10 games. With 2 games left in the hellish first 24, the Blazers are assured of finishing no worse than 15-9. .500 be damned.

Now, in order to meet that 46 win plateau I had hoped for in October, the Blazers must win 31 of their final 60, or just about half. Considering the 34 remaining home dates and the Blazers new-found comfort on the road, I'd be absolutely flabbergasted if they don't reach that mark.

Of course, it's still quite early in the season, and things are bound to change drastically. In fact, with the Nuggets acquiring Chauncey Billups, they already have. Now, the Nuggets (who seemed destined for the #9 spot coming into the season) are looking like legit contenders, and with Phoenix, Dallas and San Antonio refusing to go away, 50 wins is once again looking like the magic number out West.

So, with roughly 1/4 of the schedule in the books, there's still a lot of basketball left to be played, and we've only just begun sorting out the playoff picture in the wild wild West. Trades will be made, injuries will (unfortunately) occur, and countless big shots will be made. Because, just like last year, the Western Conference should be a dogfight, all the way down to the final days. Until then, uncertainty will reign supreme.

But, at the quarter pole of NBA season, there is one thing that can be said for certain: The Portland TrailBlazers have arrived as one of the Western elite, and they've brought with them a suitcase, a sleeping bag and a toothbrush. Let's just say, they're planning on staying for a while.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

OppFT%. WTF?

I try not to make excuses for "my teams" (like I'm actually on the team, right?) when they lose close games. Sure, I'll bitch and moan about a bad call that could have swayed the game, but I'll also try to keep things in perspective and realize that if they would have played tougher down the stretch, executed better in the 2nd quarter, or made open shots, that the game wouldn't have come down to a blown call or lucky bounce.

Case in point, last night's Blazers-Warriors game.

The Blazers, trailing most of the 4th quarter, made a valiant comeback in the final seconds that, it appeared, would come up just short. But, and errant inbound pass left rookies Rudy Fernandez and Anthony Marrow, alone, scrambling for a loose ball on the Blazers end of the court. Rudy had a step, and as his jersey was being pulled away from him, there was a whistle. Foul called. 2 shots. PERFECT!

Well, unfortunately for me, the foul was called on Rudy, and Marrow went to the line for 2 shots to seal the game, of which he made both. Game over. Another terrible call costs the Blazers overtime, and maybe the game.


But, even though Greg Oden had a monster 22 point, 11 rebound, 3 block performance, this was far from the Blazers best efforts. They had plenty of opportunities to take control of the game, and just couldn't do it. Every time they got close, the Warriors would find a way into the lane, create some contact and get to the line. Nothing new here, that's Nellie-ball, and that's what happens when you play Corey Maggette at power forward. Free throws galore.

In fact, the Warriors presently lead the NBA in free throw attempts per game at just over 32 per game. On this night, they shot 35, right around their average. But, that wasn't the surprising thing.

The surprising/frustrating thing was the frequency in which they converted those attempts.

Coming in to the night, Golden State was comfortably placed 29th in the NBA in team FT% (out of 30), right around 71% as a team. So, while they get to the line more than any other team, they aren't exactly a bunch of Mark Price's at the charity stripe.

But, on this particular evening, they were. Golden State hit a remarkable 33 of 35 from the line, including 24 of 25 in the 2nd half, alone. Even notoriously awful Andres Biedrins (and his 54% career FT%) managed to hit 5 of his 6 freebies.

Out of all the dumb luck in the world, the 29th best free throw shooting team hits 94% of it's 35 free throws in what was, for all intents and purposes, a one possession basketball game. Shoot anywhere CLOSE to their season average (which would be around 25 of 35), and the Blazers have a comfortable cushion down the stretch, and likely win, which would mean a 4-1 road trip and a tie for the Northwest Division lead.

Instead, they negate a career night from Greg Oden, and head home after a respectable 3-2 trip, and trail the division leading Jazz by a single game, with 71 left to play. Not the end of the world, by any stretch, but disappointing none-the-less. That's how the cookie crumbles, I guess. One night the Warriors hit 94% of their free throws, the next, Toronto (and their 82% team FT%) will shoot 65%. It all balances out in the end.

Or does it?

Each year the league average for Free Throw Percentage is right around 74%. Not surprisingly, most team's FT%Against (or OppFT%) is right around these numbers, give or take a percentage point.

Well, so far this year, opponents of the Portland TrailBlazers are shooting a balmy 83.7% from the charity stripe, nearly 3% above their next closest "competition." Now, admittedly, it's very early in the season, and these things tend to balance out over the course of a full season. But, what makes this trend alarming is that the Blazers have been consistently at or near the top of the league in this category for the past 4 seasons. Seems like quite the coincidence, eh?

Here are the Blazers OppFT% (NBA rank) for each of the past 4 seasons:

Trust me it's there....

Just a little farther....

I should really get this formatting stuff worked out...

Almost there!

SeasonOppFT%RankNBA avg.Diff.

For a stat that seems like it would be the definition of random, that seems like a pretty consistent pattern over the past 4 seasons.

Usually this is where I would talk about Portland's combination of extreme youth and lack of legit NBA talent over the past 4 seasons as a reason for some excruciatingly poor statistics over that time span. But, this is OPPONENT FT %. What do you expect them to do? Try to block the shot?

But, this is obviously more than just a simple anomaly. When you are at or near the top (bottom?) of the league in a stat for 4 consecutive seasons, there has to be something behind it. Doesn't there?

So, that begs the question: Is this just flat out bad luck, or is there any rational explanation for these stats? And if there is, what (if anything) can be done to correct them?

Well, here are the only ideas/suggestions that I could come up with that might actually help:

1. Foul Harder - This is the most obvious solution, especially given the extreme pussiness of recent Blazer squads, particularly when Joel Przybilla isn't patroling the paint. Basically, the logic says that if you foul a player hard enough, they will be thinking more about the hurting you put on them, than the free throw. Logical enough, but hardly a scientific fact (how great of an experiment would that be?). While I don't think it can hurt to foul "harder", I also don't see this having much overall impact on shooting percentage as you might think. Players get fouled hard quite often, and are used to the contact (especially the ones that get to the line the most). I'd be surprised to see too much difference in the FT% of players when broken down by foul "hardness." Instead of looking to foul harder I'd look to...

2. Foul Smarter - As any avid Blazer fan can tell you, they get called for more "ticky-tack" fouls (i.e. fighting for position off the ball, fighting through screens, little bumps on the ball-handler when he's not attacking the basket, etc.) than any NBA team I've ever seen. It's patently absurd. Some may fall under the "unfortunate calls" category, but for the most part these fouls are due to poor defense more than anything. But, you may ask, why do these "ticky-tack" fouls lead to better foul shooting than, say, shooting fouls? For two reasons.

First, because it tends to lead to an inflated number of fouls in a period, meaning earlier trips to bonus land, free throws coming in bunches, and thus a better chance of a team or player getting "hot" from the line (also known as a rhythm). Give an NBA player 2 shots from the same spot, and they'll usually hit at least 1 out of 2. But, give them 8 shots from the same spot over the course of 5 minutes, and they'll probably hit 6 or 7, just from the sheer repitition of the action. (Why do you think Shaq "makes them when they count"? Because if he can stand there and shoot 6 in 40 seconds at the end of the game, he can usually "find his stroke" by the 3rd or 4th shot.)

Second, these "ticky-tack" fouls usually put the shooter at the line in a much calmer state than a typical shooting foul. Think about it. When a player is driving to the basket (or even shooting a jump shot), he is exerting maximum physical effort to do so. He's also getting his adrenaline pumping a lot more so than dribbling around the wing or setting a screen. Fouling someone in these situations puts them at the free throw line as they are trying to recover/come down from the excitement of the last play. Even though these are professional athletes in peak physical condition, you can't tell me that they don't get their heart rate up a little higher when they are driving hard to the rim, deciding whether to shoot or pass, while being hounded by not only their own defender but with a 7 foot tall monster bearing down on them as well. Follow that with some hard contact and you have quite the swing in intensity in the few seconds between the foul and the free throws. Compare that to the relatively mundane trip to the line that follows a foul called off the ball and on the wing for hand-checking, in which everyone nonchelantly strolls to the line, similar to a shooting drill at the end of practice. Which scenario would YOU shoot better in?

3. Talk More Trash - While I do think both of the above suggestions have merit, they only deal with the physical side of foul shooting. What that doesn't take into consideration is the mental aspect of standing all alone on that little line. Think that's not a big deal? Ask Nick Anderson whether he thinks free throw shooting is more about physical ability or mental toughness/focus. Sure, you'll probably get more tears than answers, but that's basically the point. Free throw shooting is at least as much about the mental side as the physical side. Put me in an empty gym and I'll hit 85 out of a 100 from the line. Put me in an NBA arena, with 20,000 fans, and I'd be lucky to hit 40. Sure these are pros, but they still are susceptable to head games. Just ask Nick.

So, what is a team to do to disrupt the mental aspect of it's oppnents? Simple. Talk trash. Lots of it. It's not rocket science, but it is definitely foreign ground for a team that has to be one of the nicest teams in the NBA. While I have no direct proof that trash talking "works", I do know that the Boston Celtics talks more trash than any other team I witnessed last season. Every single free throw shot by Portland would mean that we'd have to wait a moment while Rajon Rondo took a stroll around the court, giving each and every teammate an idividual greeting. Meanwhile, KG would be clapping his hands loudly and, I can only assume, shouting a string of explitives and put downs that would make an ordinary man walk off the court in dispair. Of course, at while all this is happening, you have Ray Allen or Paul Pierce whisperi unmentionalbe things about family pets into their ear moments before they get the ball from the ref. With all this going down on each trip to the line, it's no wonder Celtic opponents shot a miserable 74.3% from the line, good for 4th worst (best?) in the NBA, and nearly 2.5% lower than Blazer opponents. The other teams in the bottom five? Rasheed and the Pistons ("Dat ball don't lie!"), New York, Houston, and the Denver Thuggets. You think there is a shortage of trash talking with those 5? Neither do I.

So, is this "trend" troubling? Well, it's hard to say. While I think there are definitely reasons behind the Blazers perennial woes "defending" free throws, I'm not sure if it's possible to really "fix" it. But, it is definitely worth paying attention to as the season progresses.

Friday, November 7, 2008


I think Brandon Roy is good, but I can't tell. Maybe there is a clue in this video from last nights game vs. the Rockets.

I had the pleasure of attending the early candidate for NBA Game of the Year; last night's Blazers/Rockets overtime masterpiece at the Rose Garden.

I won't say I left the game speechless ("That was fucking DIRTY!" and "Wow!" both count as prmitive forms of speech), but my ability to form coherent thoughts that didn't end in an exclamation point was severely hampered up until about 15 minutes ago.

And thinking back on it now, I'm not sure my full range of speaking-motion has totally returned. I can still come up with only one way to describe the events that transpired during the final 1.9 seconds of that game:


The last 2 seconds of that game took me on an emotional roller coaster that made the stock market over the past month look like a bastion of stability in comparison.

Since I'm still not quite ready to discuss this game fully, let me just give you a quick recap of my emotions, and the things the ran through my head (and out my mouth) at that exact moment:

1.9 seconds left: "Brandon Roy! Game winner! Over Artest! Suck it Rockets! You got NOTHING!!!" (Happiness: 9.7 out of 10)

0.8 seconds left: "What the shit?!?! Motherfucking Yao Ming with the turnaround jumper... and 1? You've got to be kidding. After ALL THAT. And, goddamn you, Bennett Salvatore! I knew you'd screw us in the end!" (Happiness: 0.2/10)

0.0 seconds left: "AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!! HE MADE IT!!!! I CAN'T BELIEVE HE MADE THAT!!!! "AAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!" Furious high-fiving ensues. (Happiness: 11.3/10)

Yeah, that was fun.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Real Question, Now That Their Is No Answer (in Denver, that is)

With the news of a blockbuster trade during the first week of the NBA season, everyone is scrambling to give their opinion of how this whole thing is going to work. Will Iverson be a good fit in the defensive, team-oriented system that Detroit has employed over the better part of the last decade? What about Billups running and gunning with Carmello in Denver? Will Denver keep McDyess, or does he pull the "Stackhouse Special" and force a buyout and return to Detroit? And how does this effect Rodney Stuckey's emergence as Detroit's PG of the future.

Well, all of those are very important questions, and will likely get sorted out, in some capacity, over the next few weeks. Sure, I could speculate, but I'd prefer to leave that to the "experts," like Screamin' A. Smith. No, I'd prefer to stick to answering the questions that are not only more in my wheelhouse, but are the most important to me as a fan.

The first thing that jumped out to me when I heard the news of an AI for Mr. Big Shot swap wasn't "can AI lead Detroit to a title?" or "will Billups be a calming influence on Carmello?". No, the first thing I thought of was, "with AI out of Denver, who gets to lay claim to the coveted title of 'Most Tattooed Team in the NBA'?"

Last year, it was a no-brainer. Denver had a starting lineup with more tattoos than the average prison yard. It had gotten to the point that I thought maybe they had decided to completely cancel all remaining practices, and simply have "bonding time" at local tattoo parlors on their days off.

Carmello Anthony, JR Smith, Marcus Camby, Kenyon "Bad Ass Yellow Boy" Martin and Chucky Atkins all brought a multitude of tattoos to Denvers proverbial table. But, they all paled in comparison to the heart and soul of this tatted up team: Allen Iverson.

To say AI "brought it" in the tattoo department would be an understatement of massive proportions. Besides the old stand-by tattoos on his arms, chest and even legs, AI comes in strong with the all-important neck tats. Neck tats (and their crazy cousin, face tats) are what separates the men from the boys in the tattoo world, and in that world, Iverson is most certainly a man.

But, if my reader is anything like myself, then you already knew all that. The 2007-08 Denver Nuggets were not simply the most tatted up team in the NBA last year, they were arguably the most tatted up team in sports history.

Now, after already jettisoning reigning the Tattooed Defender of the Year, Marcus Camby, for the tat-less "right to swap second round picks", the Nuggets have sent out their MVTP (I think you can figure that one out by yourselves) for the modestly tatted Billups and the clean epidermal slate of Antonio McDyess. Talk about heading in the wrong direction.

So, all of this begs the simple, yet all-important, question: Who is the most tatted up team in the NBA?

Even after this debacle of a trade, the Nuggets still must be at the forefront of any discussion regarding tattoos and basketball. But, for once, the Mile High city is not the end of the journey, it is only the beginning. It is now the time for other teams to state their case and attempt to lay claim to this all important title.

Is the Dynamic Duo of Rasheed Wallace and Allen Iverson now enough to claim the crown? What about the Delonte West, Lebron James, Big Ben trifecta in Cleveland? And then there's always the Matt Barnes' and Robert Swift's of the world, trying to single-handedly carry their teams tattoo cred all by their lonesome. Or does Stephon Marbury and his crazy ass face tat trump all?

This trade has shaken the NBA to it's core, and it is up to me to restore any semblance of normalcy to the league and it's many adoring fans.The title of Most Tattooed Team in the NBA is now officially up for grabs, and it is my determined goal to not sleep* until a winner has been crowned.


*Not counting "normal sleeping hours", near-universally recognized as between 11 pm and 9 am on weekdays, and 2am to 1pm on weekends.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

NBA Preview Part III: Awards

Disclaimer: This “preview” (and I use the term loosely) is very off the cuff, and contains virtually no research. It’s simply my gut feelings regarding this upcoming NBA season. I tried to be “Fair & Balanced”, but as Fox News has shown, that’s usually a sign that biases are running rampant. On that note, here are my thoughts on the 2008-09 NBA Postseason Awards. Enjoy.

Note: All awards will be outlined using a “tier system”. Then, at the end, I’ll use my mighty prognostication skills to predict what I think the end of season ballot might look like. Not too complicated. Just follow closely and try not to get hurt.

In case you missed it, be sure to check out Part I: The Western Conference and Part II: The Eastern Conference.

Most Valuable Player


Chris Paul

LeBron James

To me, it’s a two man race. Both of these guys deserved the award last year, and both are only going to be better this year. If I had to guess, it’ll come down to whose team has the better record. My bet is on CP3’s Hornets to finish a couple games ahead of LBJ’s Cavs, so I have him as a very tentative start on the pole position. Of course, the wild card is if LeBron pulls out some sort of nasty stat line in the 32-8-8 range and simply statistically overpowers Paul. Not exactly out of the question. Although, also, don’t discount the revenge factor after LBJ beat CP3 at his own Bowling Challenge. CP3 takes his bowling seriously. Very seriously.

The Stalwarts

Kevin Garnett

kobe bryant

Tim Duncan

All three of these players have won the award in the past and have been absolute locks for the All-NBA 1st or 2nd team since the turn of the century. Also, each player’s team is expected to be a favorite to finish the season with the best record and/or an NBA championship. Mathematically speaking, it breaks down like this (Superstar Player + Championship Level Team = MVP Candidate). Simple as that.

The Also-rans

Dwyane Wade

Dwight Howard

Amare Stoudamire

To be perfectly honest, I don’t think anyone outside of the Top 5 listed above have much of a chance. Not because there aren’t any other players deserving of consideration, but simply because there are only so many championship caliber teams. Wade, Howard and Stoudamire are all capable of putting up eye-popping, MVP-caliber numbers, but will likely do so on a team that finishes in the 4-8 range in their respective conferences. So, while individually they might deserve serious consideration, I just can’t see them beating out any of the 5 players listed above, who all figure to be on significantly better teams than any of the squads represented by this trio.

Keep An Eye On

Deron Williams

Chris Bosh

Elton Brand

Brandon Roy

Let’s get this out there right now. None of these guys are going to win the MVP this year. It’s just not gonna happen. But, I wouldn’t be shocked to see any of the 3 youngsters (Williams, Bosh, and Roy) take home the award sometime in the next decade. So, while they might be a couple years away from seriously contending for the leagues top individual award, a surprise Top 2 finish by the Jazz, Raptors, 76ers or Blazers could give their stars a shot at cracking the discussion. Brand gets thrown in the conversation because he’ll get a majority of the credit if the 76ers make the jump to an elite team (and rightly so).


1. LeBron James

2. Chris Paul

3. Kevin Garnett

4. Dwyane Wade

5. Tim Duncan

Rookie of the Year

Leading Contenders

Greg Oden

Michael Beasley

This season’s Rookie of the Year award looks to be a classic example of Stats vs. Wins. Everyone expects (and rightly so) for Beasley to put up easily the best stats of all the rookies. He’s the most NBA ready player, coming off one the best freshman seasons in NCAA history, and is on a team that will sorely need both his scoring and his rebounding prowess. Given the past history of the award, the biggest stat stuffer is a virtual lock for taking home the prize, and that should be Beasley. However, if anyone can overcome that perceived bias, it’s Oden. He’s been hyped as a once-in-a-generation center who can affect the game greatly on both ends of the court. He’s also the centerpiece of a team many have tabbed as the most likely “breakout” candidate for this season. If the Blazers meet or exceed expectations, and Oden proves to be a big reason for that, this might be the season the ROY voters buck the historical trend and recognize the rookie who impacts the game beyond the box score.

The Also-Rans

Derrick Rose

OJ Mayo

Rudy Fernandez

Kevin Love

Eric Gordon

With this being universally declared a 2 man race, I find it hard to imagine any of these players walking away with the rookie hardware. Of course, having said that, there’s always the chance that everyone and their brother is wrong. Heck, the more these supposed “experts” narrow the debate down to Beasley and Oden, the more I get the feeling that we’re in for a surprise. That being said, I wouldn’t bet a single cent of my own money on anyone besides the frontrunners. So, consider this the leading contenders for the #3 spot on the ballot.


1. Greg Oden

2. Michael Beasley

3. Derrick Rose

4. OJ Mayo

5. Rudy Fernandez

Defensive Player of the Year

The Stalwarts

Kevin Garnett

Ron Artest

Marcus Camby

Tim Duncan

If Ben Wallace were still alive, he’d be on this list as well. It’s basically the 4 (5 if you count the late Big Ben) players who have won (or in Duncan’s case, should have won) this award over the past decade. Since this award is based more off of reputation than any of the others, it’s safe to assume that one of these 4 will be the heavy favorite come seasons end.

The Young Guns

Dwight Howard

Chris Paul

Rajon Rondo

Josh Smith

Of course, at some point, the old regime has to give away to the young guys. If that were to happen this year, these are the guys I’d peg as the most likely successors. Howard and Paul are already among the NBA’s elite, and are dominant at the defensive measuring stick categories usually associated with their positions (Blocks and Steals, respectively). Meanwhile, Rondo used the Celtics Championship run to build his rep as one of the up and coming defensive game changers in the NBA, and Smith is just an all around stat whore on the defensive end. So, if someone is going to break through and shake things up in the DPOY race, I’d put my money on one of these 4.


1. Kevin Garnett

2. Ron Artest

3. Chris Paul

4. Tim Duncan

5. Dwight Howard

Coach of the Year


Nate McMillan

Jerry Sloan

Maurice Cheeks

Rick Adelman

The Coach of the Year award is just as much of a team award as a coaching award. The winners generally fall in to two categories: Either an up and coming team who surpasses expectations or a team that just flat out dominates the competition. Usually the People are already calling for break out seasons from Portland and Philly, so Nate McMillan and Mo Cheeks get on the preseason short list. Also included is sentimental favorite Jerry Sloan, who’s Utah team should be near the top of the standings, and is long deserving of the accolade. And, rounding out the Frontrunners, is Rick Adelman, who should receive serious consideration if he’s able to handle Ron Artest and lead Houston to the heights of the loaded West.

The Stalwarts

Phil Jackson

Byron Scott

Gregg Popovich

All three are likely to be leading playoff teams to lofty heights, and all 3 have the pedigree and reputation to take home the prize if their teams are able to come out on top of the West.

Dark Horses

Terry Porter

Rick Carlisle

Eric Spoelstra

Mike D’Antoni

There’s always a surprise candidate in the race for COY, and these four have been put in charge of teams with expectations that have greatly diminished over the past year. That means that they have rosters with enough talent to compete, but just need to make it happen. If one of these guys can make it work, expect them to get serious mention come award season.


Mike Brown

In case you didn’t know, I’m not a fan of Mike Brown’s work on the sidelines. I’ve seen better offenses run by city league teams without a coach. I’m pretty sure he knows some dirty little secret about LeBron and is blackmailing him to keep his job. That would at least explain why he always looks like someone is about to tell on him when he’s “coaching.” (I say “coaching”, because it’s obvious LeBron makes all the decisions out on the court.)

Most Improved Player

Of all the awards, this is easily the most difficult to predict. Each year there are a host of young players who seem poised to make the proverbial “jump” and become a star. These are the players who get the bulk of preseason attention for this award. However, it seems almost every season the eventual winner is someone who seemingly came out of no where to be a solid contributor. Someone like, say, Hedo Turkuglo last season. If any of the seemingly millions of preseason prognosticators had him pegged as the winner of the Most Improved Player award, they should get some sort of award. Maybe a box of Hedo’s namesake, Turkish Delight?

So, as handicapping this award is mostly impossible, I’m going to simply give you a short list of players to keep an eye on this year, and then pick the player I think has the best shot at taking home the hardware. But, given the volatile nature of this award, I’m sure this list will look pretty stupid come year’s end.

Rajon Rondo

Al Thornton

Randy Foye

Rodney Stuckey

Amir Johnson

Tyrus Thomas

Devin Harris

Thad Young

JR Smith


1. Al Thornton

2. Tyrus Thomas

3. Randy Foye

Executive of the Year

The Winner

Kevin Pritchard

This one was over before it even started. If for some unknown reason you’ve been living under a rock and don’t believe me, just think back to where this team was 2 ½ years ago (worst record in the league, a roster full of thugs, and no hope), and where they stand now (a roster full of young, talented, upstanding citizens, and more hope than you can shake a stick at). Put a fork in it, as this award is d.o.n.e.


1. Kevin Pritchard

2. Kevín Pritchárd

3. Mr. Pritch Slap

So, there you have it, the 1st Annual Raef Is About Power NBA Season Preview. I'm sure we will all look back fondly on this epic 3 part series at seasons end, and laugh hysterically at the shortsightedness, followed by quickly erasing any evidence of it's existence from my memory. But, hey, maybe I'll get one right. If that's the case, be prepared for an insufferable off-season of extremly overexuberant gloating and and hours upon hours of blatantly basking in my own glory.

NBA Season Preview Part II: The Eastern Conference

Disclaimer: This “preview” (and I use the term loosely) is very off the cuff, and contains virtually no research. It’s simply my gut feelings regarding this upcoming NBA season. I tried to be “Fair & Balanced”, but as Fox News has shown, that’s usually a sign that biases are running rampant.

In case you missed it, be sure to check out Part I: The Western Conference Preview.


  1. Celtics (58-24) – The Celtics are almost certainly going to suffer from the post-championship let down. They shot out of the gate last year because they were comprised of team brimming with hungry vets. This year, they know they can take it a bit easier and save themselves for the playoffs. Of course, with the maniacal Kevin Garnett leading the charge, I wouldn’t exactly count on the Celtics pussy-footing their way through the regular season. Another year on the calendar and an improved East will make winning 60+ a tall order, but make no mistake; the Celtics are still the class of the NBA. On a side note: Thank god they didn’t sign Darius Miles. Not just for saving the Blazers cap room next year, but can you honestly imagine Darius Miles potentially being an NBA Champion? Gross.

  2. Cavaliers (53-29) – LeBron finally has a buddy that can play NBA basketball! Hooray for Ohioans! (Ohioites? Ohioers?) Mo Williams isn’t a world beater, but he’s a pretty good basketball player, and will make defenses pay for keying on Lyndon B. All they need now is a post presence with a pulse and to replace Mike Brown with a real coach, ASAP. If Eric Snow isn’t the coach of this team by next June, I’m gonna be pissed.

  3. Pistons (52-30) – Another year, another Pistons team looking forward to a magical run to the “promised land” (aka the Eastern Conference Finals). While they may be old, they’re far from broken down. They also have a nice infusion of youth with young studs like Rodney Stuckey, Amir Johnson and Jason Maxiell holding down the bench for the cagey vets. They even jettisoned perpetual playoff bridesmaid Flip Saunders and give the reigns to an up and coming “players coach” in Michael Curry. With a veteran squad, that might be a good move. Or a disaster. I’m leaning toward the good side, but I’m not ready to say it’s gonna make much difference if/when they come across the Celtics or Cavs. Unless of course the NBA takes a page from soccer and forgoes overtime in favor of a HORSE competition. In that case, Rasheed and the Pistons are my new Eastern Conference favorites.

  4. Magic (48-34) – As my predicted record indicates, I’m not foreseeing the Magic being the 4th best team in the East, just holding off the Heat for the Southwest division crown. Yes, they still have Superman, Turkish Delight and the $114 Million Dollar Man, and they’ve made a couple of minor, but significant, roster changes. However, I’m a little disconcerted by their lack of a shooting guard. I mean, they’re actually considering inserting JJ Redick into the rotation. THAT is what I call desperate. Of course, I learned long ago to never cross Ron Jeremy (I don’t want to talk about it. Seriously.), so I refuse to drop them below the 4 seed.

  5. 76ers (51-31) – This is an intriguing team. They have a very nice mix of young and veteran talent. Assuming Elton Brand is fully healed and Thad Young can continue the rapid improvement he showed last season, this team looks like it could make a run at the East crown. Unfortunately, they’ll probably take a little bit to get fully in synch, and there are 3 teams who I think are clearly better than them at this point. However, once the playoffs roll around, they should be ready to go. One thing I notice about the roster is that I can’t see a single person being disruptive. Not one. They all seem like genuinely nice guys who are unselfish. Even Mo Cheeks as the coach. I can almost imagine them putting a quarter in a collection can every time someone swears at practice.

  6. Raptors (50-32) – Yet another Eastern Conference team who added a savvy vet. It should be interesting to see how Jermaine O’Neal fits in next to Chris Bosh. They could be the perfect compliment, or they could get in each other’s way. I’m thinking it’ll work for the most part, thanks in large part to a full season of Jose Calderon at the point. Also because Chris Bosh looks remarkably like a raptor himself. Originally, I had the Bosh’s pegged to win 49 games. I upped it to 50 because I remembered their secret weapon. I foresee an opposing teams game winning shot going errant after the shooter gets temporarily blinded by the glare off of the 12-head. I’m thinking a karmic makeup game on February 18th, at home versus Cleveland.

  7. Heat (45-37) – Maybe I’m getting swept up in the hype, maybe I’m not. But, either way, I’m looking for the Heat to bounce back. A healthy DWade, a full season of Shawn Marion, and rookie extraordinaire Michael Beasley form possibly one of the best trios in the game. Unfortunately, this isn’t a 3-on-3 basketball league, and they also have to trot out the 6-8 Udonis Haslem at center and what appears to be the winner of some bizarre “You Get To Start!” fan contest, Chris Quinn, at point guard. Crap. I’m starting to have my doubts about this pick now. Dwyane Wade better be channeling the 2006 NBA Finals (or at least employing the officiating crew year round).

  8. Bulls (40-42) – This spot is less about liking this Bulls team, and more about having no faith in the other Eastern Conference teams to pull it together enough to make the playoffs. While this Bulls team has talent, they are also almost the exact same team that spent the entire 2007-08 season crapping themselves up and down the court for 90% of the season. Of course, they now have a coach that they apparently don’t hate, and they have #1 Draft Pick Derrick Rose running the show instead of the elfish Kirk Hinrich. So, even if Ben Gordon spends the entire season waffling between whether to pout or play his ass off for a new contract, I still think this team will bounce back some this season. And just because I like being an asshole from time to time, this is where I bring up the whole “I wonder how much better this team would be with LaMarcus Aldridge instead of Tyrus Thomas and The Wolverine (Viktor Khryapa)?” Answer: "Lots."

  9. ----------------------------------------------------------------

  10. Pacers (37-45) – I have no idea why I have the Pacers almost making the playoffs. They weren’t exactly good last year. I hate 2 of their top 3 players with a passion (TJ Ford and Mike Dunleavy Jr.). And they brought in former Blazer Jarret Jack to shore up the PG spot. That’s great if by “shore up” you mean “step out of bounds in the corner for no reason,” which was a key part to Jarret’s game last season. That being said, they do still have Danny Granger who is a flat out stud. If he can just get away from this sad-sack bunch and get on a real team, someone might take notice. Luckily, as of this writing, he’s yet to sign a long term extension with the Pacers, so there might be hope yet.

  11. Hawks (36-46) – The Hawks finally did it last year. No, not pop their New Millennium playoff cherry. The Hawks finally didn’t screw up a lottery pick. While they were no doubt bummed to juuuust miss out on the Oden/Durant lottery festivities last year, they at least didn’t compound the mistake by taking Yi Jinlian. No, Al Horford has proven to be quite a solid player, and given the Hawks lack of a post presence in years past, the Hawks organization couldn’t be happier. However, being the Hawks, they just couldn’t help screwing up somewhere, and they let underrated swingman Josh Childress walk away from contract negotiations to sign with Greek club Olympiakos. Oops. So much for building off last year’s success with their young core. It’s ok, I’m sure Mike Bibby’s Kermit the Frog impersonations will be a big hit at the end of season barbeque in mid-April.

  12. Wizards (35-47) – No Arenas for a few months. No Haywood for the season. No chance at the playoffs in the mythical “improved Eastern Conference.” That’s how it works. Of course they do still have Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, but they’ll need more than that. If Andray Blatche or Javale McGee steps up inside, and DeShawn Stevenson and/or Nick Young can help on the perimeter, they might surprise. And if they get REALLY desperate, they can bring in Oleksiy “The White Hole” Pecherov. Word of his passing allergy has been quietly circulating for years, but until I got a chance to watch him play extended minutes this preseason, I had chalked another one up in the name of hyperbole. However, I watch him play a solid 8 minutes of game time the other day and came away positively giddy. He managed to touch the ball 9 times, putting up 7 shots, turning the ball over once, and passing to a teammate one solitary time. For those scoring at home, that’s an astounding 1:9 pass to touch ratio. Now THAT is someone earning their nickname!

  13. Knicks (31-51) – Well, it at least appears that the Knicks are trying to field a competitive basketball team. That’s an improvement over the sado-masochistic Isaiah Thomas administration. Donnie Walsh and Mike D’Antoni sure have their work cut out for them, but they do seem to be righting the ship a bit already. Relegating underperforming pouters Stephon Marbury and Eddy Curry to the bench is the kind of ballsy, take charge move that was sorely lacking under Thomas. This season, expect to see the rotation to be based more on “basketball skill” and less on “contract size.” What a novel idea. Hopefully that doesn’t keep me from seeing more fantastic plays like this.
  14. Bobcats (28-54) – Who cares? I know I don’t. Let’s move on.

  15. Nets (23-59) – The Nets have Devin Harris and Vince Carter. That’s cool. They also have this tall Chinese guy who was the #6 pick in last year’s draft and seems to be popular. They also have, um… shit. To put it nicely, this team is going to struggle. To put it honestly, this team is going to suck. At least they’re moving to Brooklyn soon… oh, wait, what was that? That doesn’t look like it’s happening? Well, at least they’ll still be able to sign LeBron in … oh yeah. No Brooklyn, no LeBron. Well, they still have Vince Carter. He’ll be fun to watch up until they drop out of the playoff race... In mid-November [sigh]. N-E-T-S. Nets! Nets! Nets!

  16. Bucks (19-63) – The Bucks are in what is commonly referred to as “rebuilding mode.” Generally, that’s when a team gets rid of every player on their roster who is good now, but won’t be as good in 2 or 3 years, and replaces them with the cheapest replacements possible. This Bucks team is taking a different approach. They traded two young, talented players in Mo Williams and Yi Jinlian, and brought back an aging veteran in Richard Jefferson in hopes of staying competitive. So, while on paper, they appear to have a solid starting 5 with Jefferson, Andrew Bogut, Michael Redd, Charlie Villanueva, and Luke Ridnour, they have one glaring weakness. None of them can play defense. Throw in a bench that looks like the starting lineup for the NBDL All-Star game, and you have a recipe for failure. Of course, when you’re “rebuilding”, failure is the name of the game. Enjoy the “success” while you can Bucks fan!


Round 1
(1)Celtics vs. (8)Bulls – The Bulls end their season of resurgence in style. A resounding sweep at the hands of the defending champs. Celtics in 4
(2)Cavaliers vs. (7)Heat
– The NBA hits the jackpot on this one. Wade v. LeBron in a round 1 matchup? Yatzee! Wade should singlehandedly keep this series interesting thanks to Mike Brown and ability to take a team full of NBA players and make them look as if they are running a 3rd grade offense. Unfortunately for Miami, LeBron and his foot soldiers are too much for Miami’s 3 NBA-level players to overcome. Cavaliers in 6
(3)Pistons vs. (6)Raptors
– This series could be interesting, as the Raptors have a pretty solid group of players, with a nice mixture of young studs and seasoned vets. However, in the end, the Pistons have more of each, and a whole boat-full of confidence after 6 straight trips to at least the Eastern Conference Finals. Experience wins out in this one. Pistons in 6
(4)Magic vs. (5)76ers
– Dwight Howard and the Magic surprised everyone last season, and grabbed the 4th seed and a first round series victory. This year should produce a similar seed, but a different result. Some of that is due to my ascertain that they won’t have home court to go with that fancy 4 seed, as the non-division-champion 76ers will likely end up with a better record and thus home-court advantage. Most of it, however, is because the 76ers are a better team at almost every position. 76ers in 6

Round 2
(1)Celtics vs. (5)76ers – Much like last year’s Celtics-Pistons series, this matchup would feature Boston’s Big 3 vs. a much more balanced team, lacking a bonafide superstar. Unfortunately for the 76ers, superstars win in the playoffs, and the Celtics have 3. Celtics in 6
(2)Cavaliers vs. (3)Pistons – Just what the Pistons wanted, a chance to avenge the thrashing LeBron handed them 2 years ago in the ECF’s. Of course, that means all the key components in that series are 2 years older, wiser and more mature. That’s good for the now 24 year old LeBron. Not so much for the aging Pistons. Cavaliers in 6

Eastern Conference Finals
(1)Celtics vs. (2)Cavaliers – Here it is folks. A rematch of last year’s fantastic Eastern Conference Semifinals. LeBron came only a few scant points from almost single-handedly taking down the eventual champs. Now, with Mo Williams and an Olympic gold medal in tow, he’s back and ready for revenge. However, I don’t think the Celtics are quite done yet. Plus, as mediocre as Doc Rivers is on the Celtics sideline, he’s a certifiable Red Aurbach clone when compared to the coaching travesty on the Cavs bench. Celtics in 7

2008-09 Eastern Conference Champions: Boston Celtics


NBA Championship
(1)Celtics vs. (2)Rockets – The NBA jumps for joy! The defending champion Celtics, complete with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and decades upon decades of NBA glory versus Tracy McGrady, Ron Artest and the guaranteed 1 billion viewers that come with Yao Ming’s quest for an NBA Championship. As long as Ron Ron doesn’t try to punch a fan, or release a rap album, David Stern would probably have the first documented heart attack caused directly by overaggressive and prolonged fist-pumping.

As for the actual series itself, it might not appeal to all fans, but it sure would make it a battle for the NBA crown. Easily the two most physical teams in the game today, this series would very likely feature multiple games where neither team hits triple digits. It would be a rough and tumble defensive slugfest, where it would most likely come down to who got hot at the right time. I’m putting my money on Pierce, Garnett and Allen to come through in the end. They’ve proven to me time and again that they know how to make it happen when it counts. And it doesn’t count any more than in the NBA Finals. Celtics in 7

2008-09 NBA Champions: Boston Celtics

Monday, October 27, 2008

NBA Season Preview Part I: The Western Conference

With opening night mere hours away, I thought this would be the perfect time to go on record and state my predictions for the season. I’m going to be unrolling my “NBA Preview” in 3 parts throughout the day. First up is the Western Conference Preview, where I’ll simply predict the order of finish out West, complete with projected records, and what I think will be in store once the playoffs come. That will be followed by a similar preview for the Eastern Conference (which comes with a bonus Finals prediction... yay!), and finally the third installment will be regarding awards and other various predictions.

This “preview” (and I use the term loosely) is very off the cuff, and contains almost zero research. It’s simply my gut feelings regarding this upcoming NBA season. I tried to be “Fair & Balanced”, but as Fox News has shown, that’s usually a sign that biases are running rampant. On that note, here are my thoughts on the 2008-09 NBA’s Western Conference. Enjoy.


  1. Hornets (58-24) – They just missed the top spot last year by one game. Chris Paul was already nosing his way into Best Player on the Planet argument last season, and is only going to get better. Now, with a nice playoff run under their belt and another year of seasoning, the formerly young Hornets will be ready to finish the job. Oh, according to every media outlet known to man, James Posey is some sort of magical unicorn or something.

  2. Rockets (56-26) – Take a tough, physical, defensive minded team and add Ron Artest, and you get a brutal matchup for just about anybody. Obviously this assumes a healthy season from Yao and McGrady, but even without Yao they were able to rattle off 22 in a row last year. The addition of Artest should allow the team to rely less on their two All-Stars, and potentially keep them healthier in the process. This does, however, assume Artest doesn’t try to eat Shane Battier’s head (mmm… Ruffles).

  3. lakers (55-27) – Yeah, they’ll be good, but I just don’t get all the endless hype. They’re still soft, and their bench is INCREDIBLY overrated. Seriously, since when is a bench of Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton, Vladamir Radmonovic and Chris Mihm considered good? If I were a laker fan (gross), I wouldn’t trust anybody other than Farmar and maaaaybe Vuja-chick to play more than 8 seconds without crapping themselves the moment the ball is inbounded (“uh-ohhhhhhhhh!”).

  4. Jazz (52-30) – This team seems very much in danger of being the new Phoenix Suns. Always in the mix and near the top of the conference, but just not good enough to take it the extra mile. Of course once Carlos Boozer insists he wants to stay in Utah (and has no interest in being traded), then promptly bolts to Miami, they’ll cement themselves in this role. I’d like to think this constant state of limbo is their punishment calling themselves the Jazz and residing in Utah. Is music even legal there?

  5. Spurs (53-29) – The Spurs are gonna be a team to watch this year. With Ginobili sidelined for as much as 2 months to start the season, and a returning cast of characters who look like they’d fit in more at bingo hall than a basketball court, they are a prime candidate to stumble out of the gate. However, you know that once the season gets going, and they have their full cast of characters, this team is gonna make a lot of noise. Usually, the “Team Nobody Wants to Play” come playoff time is some young upstart squad. Not this year. Look for the Spurs to work their way up the standings after the All-Star break and put themselves in position to take down one of the West’s top teams in Round 1.

  6. Suns (49-33) – OK, so the Shaquille O’Neal Experiment didn’t exactly work out like the Suns had hoped, but it wasn’t exactly trading for Jason Kidd, either. I’m thinking with a full training camp to adjust, a slower pace, and an alleged new focus on defense, Shaquille might prove to be a better fit than he seemed last year. They are still a bit on the old side, and definitely not the Western Conference power that they’ve been in years past, but I think they just might have one last run in them. And by “run”, I mean “playoff appearance”.

  7. Blazers (48-34) – Every single part of myself wants to put the Blazers in the Top 4. Last season they split the season series with both the Hornets and lakers, and beat the Jazz 3 out of 4. Now, with the addition of Greg Oden and Rudy Fernandez, and another year under the belts of Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, I see no physical way that this team isn’t significantly improved. However, with a daunting first month, it should be a bit of a learning experience in the beginning. I don’t see it happening, but if they can finish the first month above .500, watch out. Once Oden acclimates himself to the NBA game and gets back into “basketball shape”, we should really see this team take off and show what the future may hold. Basically, I expect the Blazers team that finishes the season to be much more dangerous than the inexperienced bunch that starts it.

  8. Mavericks (44-38) – It’s pretty obvious at this point that the Jason Kidd trade was a bad decision. Even if Kidd can muster one last hurrah, this year’s Mavericks squad just doesn’t have the horses. While scoring alone won’t win a championship, points are a necessity to win basketball games. At this point in their careers, only Dirk, Josh Howard, and Jason Terry are even average NBA scorers. But hey, from perusing his campaign notes, apparently they signed John McCain in the offseason. Maybe he can provide a youthful spark off the bench when Jason Kidd needs a breather.


  1. Nuggets (39-43) – With the decline of some of the West’s “old guard” such as Phoenix and Dallas, you’d think it’d be time for a talented team like the Nuggets, who won 50 games last year, to make a push into the Western elite. Instead, one of the worst defensive teams in the league traded the Defensive Player of the Year (Marcus Camby) for, well, basically nothing. Luckily they still hold the title of Most Tattooed Starting Lineup in NBA History. So, they got that going for them, which is nice.

  2. Clippers (36-46) – Only 4 players remain from last year’s team. Out goes Elton Brand and Corey Maggette, and in comes Baron Davis and Marcus Camby. Seems like a reasonably even trade. Add in rookie Eric Gordon, and free agent acquisition Ricky Davis to holdovers Chris Kaman, Al Thornton, Cuttino Mobely and Tim Thomas, and you got yourself a reason for optimism. That’s a lot of talented players on one team. Unfortunately for Clippers fans, a roster full of “chuckers” to go with 2 elite rebounders isn’t generally a model for success. Is it possible to lead the league in rebounds and still be outrebounded for the season? With the amount of shots this bunch is likely to put up, I think these Clippers can do it.

  3. Warriors (33-49) – Another team facing a lot of prominent roster change. With Baron Davis leaving town, it was time for Monta Ellis to cement himself as a superstar. Unfortunately, he prefers riding mopeds to making millions of dollars playing basketball. That leaves them with a point guard more known for assisting in laptop thieving than assisting baskets. At least they have “Crazy Steve” Jackson as a calming veteran influence on the court. Enjoy that.

  4. Timberwolves (33-49) – The Timberpuppies are quietly building a nice squadron of young players, and even doing so with Kevin McHale still acting as the GM. Impressive. Looking over their roster, and it reminds me a bit of a JV version of the Blazers stacked roster. With Al Jefferson, Kevin Love and Randy Foye playing the roles of Greg Oden, LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy respectively. Throw in Mike Miller providing veteran leadership, and now they are only missing two things before they can really start to threaten the Western elite: A bonafide superstar and a PG. At this point, they’re still hoping Randy Foye can take care of both of these needs. The jury is still out on that. What the jury isn’t out on is whether or not Minnesota will be adding another lottery pick to the mix next year. If they can somehow turn that pick into, say, Ricky Rubio, then they might be on to something. Of course, that could be a pipe dream after they once again agree to sign Joe Smith to a "secret" 6 year, $75 million contract and lose all their draft picks for the next decade. For comedy purposes, I really hope this happens.

  5. Grizzlies (26-56) – Gay-Mayo will dominate the city of Memphis for years to come. Sure, that might not generally fly in the south, but trust me, it’s a lot better than it sounds. The Rudy Gay, OJ Mayo, Mike Conley trio is one of the most talented young trio’s in the game, and should be quite formidable in years to come. But, they’re still quite young, and the West is still loaded, so they’ll have to wait another year or two to really make some noise. In the meantime, they do have Mr. Adriana Lima, making the player’s wives section of the FedEx Forum the hottest ticket in town.

  6. Thunder (22-60) – Just as I was getting used to the OKC TBD’s they go out and take a page from the MLS handbook (titled: “How To Stay Irrelevant Using Crappy Team Names") and renamed the team the THUNDER. Seriously? The Iowa Energy and Sioux Falls Skyforce think that’s a stupid name. Of course, after looking over their roster, it’s easy to see how they thought they were naming the newest NBDL team.

  7. Kings (20-62) – The Kings are gonna suck. It's that simple. Kevin Martin is good. Brad Miller was good. Nobody else should be starting on an NBA team. However, they do have Bobby Brown, so “Humpin’ Around” will not be tolerated. Sweet.


(1)Hornets vs. (8)Mavs – We saw this same matchup last season in round one, and it was a Hornets sweep. With NO getting better, and Dallas in decline, I think it’s fair to say the Mavs ain’t winning won this year, either. Hornets in 4
(2)Rockets vs. (7)Blazers – This is where I really wanted to unleash the homer in me, and pick the Blazers for a first round upset. Unfortunately they suck against the Rockets, and adding Ron Artest (the one defender that has consistently irritated the bejesus out of Brandon Roy), I can’t imagine a worse matchup. Sadly, I might be overly optimistic with the 5 games prediction. Rockets in 5
(3)lakers vs. (6)Suns – Another series where I was just dying to pick an upset. But, again, I just can’t see it playing out like that. Unless Shaq has invented a time machine, the fakers are taking this one. lakers in 6
(4) Jazz vs. (5)Spurs – Since I predicted the Spurs would finish with a better record, this 5 over 4 prediction is hardly an upset. Basically, I’m thinking the Jazz are a bit overrated, and the ancient Spurs have one last run in them. Spurs in 6

(1)Hornets vs. (5)Spurs – Last year the Spurs prevailed in one of the most entertaining series of the season (which is saying something, since it involved the Spurs). This year, I think the Chris Paul and Co. will use James “Unicorn” Posey’s magical touch to officially slam the door shut on the Spurs dynasty. Thanks guys. Spurs in 7
(2)Rockets vs. (3)lakers – Everyone likes to gobble on the coin purse of the this years lakers, because they ran through the West last year, and now welcome back Andrew Bynum. Unfortunately, they’re still a team full of pussies, and will get manhandled by a physically dominant team like last years Celtics, or… this year’s Rockets. Rockets in 6

(2)Rockets vs. (1)Hornets – Man, I really hope this series happens. I’m not saying that’s why I’m picking it to happen, but looking at the way things have played out, I can’t imagine a better matchup that doesn’t include a miracle run by the Blazers. The most intriguing thing to me is that, outside of the Yao-Chandler matchup, all the top players play different positions and won’t naturally guard each other. That should make for some interesting matchups, and maybe even a superstar or two playing out of position. Nice. I’ve gone back and forth on this a couple times, but I think (barring injuries) the Rockets are just a little too talented and a lot too physical. Hornets in 7

2008-09 Western Conference Champions: Houston Rockets

Monday, October 13, 2008

Managing Expectations

Now that I've had a couple days to come down from my Blazer induced high, I think I might be able to begin to put things in perspective.

I finished my last post literally seconds before I headed out to watch the first Blazers preseason game, and was so amped up for my first chance to see Oden and Rudy and the rest of the team I'd been following religiously throughout the off-season that I could hardly contain myself. This was going to be my first chance to see them all in real, honest, NBA action. I had visions of Oden dunking on unsuspecting mortals, and Rudy flying through the air catching alley-oops with ease. I pictured LaMarcus and Roy being their usual outstanding selves, and the Blazers to flash their potential brilliance throughout the night.

Now, did I EXPECT that to happen? Well, sorta. I knew I was on the optimistic side of things, but it wasn't like I was expecting perfection. I knew there would be growing pains. I knew we'd play 3 or 4 guys that have virtually no chance of even making the roster. I also knew that with all the hype surrounding the team (Oden and Rudy in particular) I was bound to be let down at some point. I mean, it's the FIRST PRESEASON game, right?

Well, somehow, some way, this young Blazers team performed even better than I could have ever imagined in that first game together. Oden dunked on a few heads, and got to throw one back in the face of Spencer Hawes (a sight that will never, ever, get old). Rudy exploded with the most incredible 6 points and 5 assists in NBA history, including being on the giving and receiving end of multiple alley-oops, throwing a bounce pass through Jason Thompson's legs for a dunk, and making Martell Webster look like the second coming of Kenny "Sky" Walker (We'll assume that's a good thing for the moment). All the while, Brandon was being Brandon, LaMarcus overcame a slow start to lead the team in scoring, Joel grabbed a "quiet" 12 boards off the bench, and of all people Sergio Rodriguez hit 3 3-pointers in the 2nd quarter alone! (Which I believe is 4 more than he hit all of last year. Figure that one out.)

Simply put, it was everything every Blazer fan wanted to see, and much, much more. The Rose Garden was rocking all night long, with chants of "Rudy!" seemingly popping up every few moments, just for the fun of it. It was preseason Blazer nirvana. If people were cautiously optimistic heading in to the game, they were unabashedly cocky leaving it.

Of course, tossing caution to the wolves comes with it's drawbacks as well.

Now, all the people preaching patience with this young team are all of a sudden predicting a deep playoff run THIS season. Those who thought a division title was a possibility are now starting to whisper the C-word. I've actually heard people debating the likelihood of Rudy, Oden and Bayless finishing 1-2-3 in the ROY voting, with Rudy sneaking into the MVP discussion!

Now, I'm one of the biggest Blazer homers you'll find, but that talk is practically bordering on clinical insanity! It was one (albeit impressive) PRESEASON GAME, people! Of course, it was impossible to NOT get caught up in the excitement of the moment. It was undeniable. The Blazers were back!

However, when expectations get raised so high right out of the gate, there is the inevitable let down that comes soon after. For Blazer fans, that let down came exactly 24 hours later. They looked sloppy, young, and inexperienced in an ugly home loss to a mediocre Warriors team. Sure, Oden, Rudy and LaMarcus still had their moments (while Roy sat this one out), but on the whole, it served as a stark reminder that talent and potential aren't necessarily the most important things when it comes to winning in the NBA. This team still has a ways to go before it's ready to compete at the highest levels night in and night out.

Since then, the team has been nicked up a bit, and has put forth a couple more up and down performances. Greg Oden has looked anywhere from absolutely dominating, to tired, lost and in over his head. Meanwhile, instant fan favorite Rudy Fernandez hasn't played due to a sprained ankle suffered in the loss to Golden State. Roy has played sporadically, and Aldridge has been largely unchallenged in his short stints on the court.

So, what can we take from all this? Well, not much really. Lost in all the hullabaloo of the first game was the reality that this is, indeed, preseason basketball. While each team is undoubtedly trying their hardest to win the games, it's more about trying new lineups, getting used to your new teammates, and simple conditioning than it is about winning and losing.

While some might be disillusioned by the inconsistency in Greg Oden's scoring ("why is he shooting all those jump hooks?!!? Dunk it Greg!"), or in his apparent lack of NBA-level conditioning ("why can't he play more than 20 minutes?"), you have to see these games for what they really are. Glorified scrimmages.

In essence, we're talking about practice, folks. (Practice?!?!!) Yes, Mr. Iverson, practice.

So, while you can definitely learn things from these preseason games (Greg Oden is big. Rudy can dunk. Etc.), try not to get too high or low from them. What we see on the court now is a far cry from what we'll see opening night in the Staples Center. So, if you want to prevent yourself from having a Blazer induced coronary, I'd recommend sitting back, enjoying the show, and giving this incredibly young team at least a few weeks of real, honest to goodness NBA regular season basketball before you start making assumptions as to what this team (and it's players) are capable of. You'll thank me later.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

I Have A Fever

And the only prescription?

More Blazers.

Tonight I get to finally go to my favorite pharmacy, the Rose Garden. There, the pharmacists will be passing out drugs like candy, and I'll be swallowing them down by the handful. And, while it will do wonders to quell my rising fever in the short term, in the end it'll just make me an addict.

Unfortunately, unlike most addicts, I will have an addiction to more than just one simple, over the counter drug. I'll most likely be hooked on a cocktail of drugs so powerful and so diverse that it'd take a team of doctors years to concoct an antidote.

But, I have absolutely zero interest in an anecdote. Seriously, who in there right mind wouldn't want to consume as much Blazer as possible? It's the greatest drug you'll ever get a taste of, and it's absolutely FREE! All you need to do is sit back, take a deep breath, and huff as much Blazer info as possible. Then exhale, and enjoy a sudden rush of uncontrollable excitement, followed by an intense feeling of euphoria as you lie back and giggle to yourself at the thought of Greg Oden dunking on a hapless Andrew Bynum, or Rudy Fernandez flying towards the hoop as he catches a mesmerizing alley-oop from fellow Spaniard Sergio Rodriguez!

Of course, that's just the low-level, street quality stuff. Now that the Blazers are "in season", you can pony up a little cash, get yourself some cable television and feast on the very quality "Comcast" strain. It's great for first time users (hooray for gateway drugs!), and will never leave you unsatisfied. With this strain, you get the same rush of uncontrollable excitement followed by intense euphoria, only the excitement isn't so "sudden" as it comes at you in 4 distinct stages, and lasts over 2 hours. Each stage (or "quarter" as it's called on the streets) brings a higher and higher level of excitement, finally reaching a level of excitement SO high that you will lose complete control over your body, and begin to randomly high five every person you can find. This extreme level of excitement then leads to a very similar feeling as the street drug, although in the Comcast strain, it lasts for upwards of a day. It also has the peculiar habit of bringing back bursts of excitement whenever you encounter someone else on the same drug as you.

The Comcast strain is very good. It comes highly recommended from even the most seasoned Blazer users. While other options may offer a more intense "high" and a overall greater feeling of euphoria, no strain is more readily available in the Portland metro area than the "Comcast" variety. (Note: For users outside of the Portland metro area, call you local dealers and DEMAND that they begin carrying this strain. While the dealers might balk at the cost, there IS demand, and they will turn a profit. These drugs practically sell themselves!)

The next step up brings you to the top end stuff. First we'll start with the common (and quite fantastic in it's own right) "Live Game" Blazer strain that has caused more serious, lifelong addiction than any drug I've ever encountered. While Comcast can be a gateway to other drugs (watch out for the incredibly powerful "Ducks", a common stepping stone drug) , the Live Game will really get you cracked out on Blazer. It's the stuff I rode hard last year, and really made me appreciate the nuances of the different Blazers. It gave me a whole new appreciation for the differences in the quality and impact of each strain.

It completely changed my life. It made me feind for Blazer, and not just any ol' run of the mill Blazer. It made me threaten to live outside my means just so I could get the greatest fix possible.
Because, if you really want the good stuff (and I mean the GOOOOD stuff) you gotta go straight to the source. You gotta get that real nice "Season Ticket" Blazer. While I've never tried it before, I've heard nothing but good things. An unparalleled rush, and a high so high, that you may truly never come down.

And guess, what? I got the hookup on some good Season Ticket stuff, and I'm about to try it tonight for the first time. And this might be some of the strongest Blazer anyone has seen in quite a while.

Boy, I can't wait.

Monday, September 29, 2008

It's About That Time Again!

With training camps on the horizon, and the first preseason games only weeks away, I think it's finally time to awaken the hibernating beast that is Raef Is About Power.

Call me a homer, but I'd like to think that this blog compares very favorably to my very own Portland TrailBlazers squad. Just take a moment, and bear with me here.

Last year was the big coming out party. We started off nice and easy, with a few pedestrian posts on the All-Star Game and the myriad events that surround it. It was nice and all, but overall pretty vanilla.

Then came the big moment. The coming out party. You know that moment when things just "click." You can just feel the momentum building, and there isn't anything you are anyone else can do to stop it? That's how I felt when I first laid eyes on the 12-head.

Starting on that fateful day Raef Is About Power started to show it's true potential. It was truly reminiscent of the magical 13 game winning streak the Blazers were able to put together last season. We brought you the 12-head, an Official Von Wafer Correspondent (accompanied by a truly magical breakdown of Von's importance to the team), an in-depth look at NBA's officiating problem, a well thought out solution (with diagrams!), and a mind-blowing insight into my "passionate dislike" for the Purple Pussies from LA, all within a few weeks time. Things were truly looking up, and an ascension into the NBA's blogging elite seemed like a mere formality.

However, like the young Blazers, our youthful inexperience finally caught up to us, and we sputtered down the stretch. Sure, there were some bright spots (see: Blazers v. Lakers, April 9th, 2008), such as the epic Jackie Joyner-Outlaw expose' , but all in all, the end of the season was a disappointment to both this blog and our fan.

But, now it's a new year!

We're a year older, a year wiser, and infinitely hungrier. This is the year where we truly break out, and announce to the world that we are the future, and there isn't anything you can do to stop it. We've tasted victory and now we're ready to enjoy that sweet, sweet nectar once again. (It's so good! Once it hits your lips. It's so good!)

Now, we don't want to set expectation TOO high. We are still young, and our best years are ahead of us. But, this is the year where things start to happen.

So, stay tuned, hold on tight, and we'll see if we can get through this season with at least a dash of credibility. Hey, we can dream, can't we?