NBA

The Catoosa County News - - VIN­TAGE BASE BALL BACK IN FULL SWING -

carry the team to at least a sec­ond round ap­pear­ance. And, with the skilled and ath­letic DeMar DeRozan, this team could make it back to the con­fer­ence fi­nals af­ter push­ing the Cava­liers to Game Six of the con­fer­ence fi­nals last year.

The At­lanta Hawks are an in­trigu­ing team to watch for the sim­ple fact they lost Jeff Teague to the In­di­ana Pac­ers and Kyle Korver to the Cava­liers, but they are still a scrappy team that can give teams fits.

Led by Dwight Howard and Paul Mill­sap, this team likes to bang in­side. Their perime­ter play­ers of Den­nis Schroder, Kent Baze­more and Tim Har­d­away Jr., though, op­er­ate out­side the paint.

One thing comes to mind when think­ing about the Mil­wau­kee Bucks: the Greek Freak. Gian­nis An­te­tok­oun­mpo is truly a next gen­er­a­tion su­per­star. Right now, he is a star still try­ing to find out how to use his ath­letic gifts. He can han­dle the ball, pass to set up his team­mates for good shots, re­bound amongst the trees in the mid­dle and can play out­stand­ing de­fense be­cause of his 6-11 frame.

Jimmy But­ler is the en­gine that makes the Chicago Bulls nowa­days. With a tough de­fen­sive mind­set, But­ler can also score in bunches with his 25 points a game. But­ler will have to be the player to watch as Dwyane Wade has just re­turned from his el­bow in­jury. It will take Wade—a three­time cham­pion with the Heat—a few games to get back on track.

It will be in­ter­est­ing to see how Ra­jon Rondo per­forms, how­ever. Once con­sid­ered one of the best point guards in the NBA when play­ing for the Celtics just a few years ago, Rondo now tries to find him­self along­side But­ler, but he is still a very good passer, de­fender, re­bounder and floor gen­eral.

Paul Ge­orge is a su­per­star player in the NBA as he tries to lead his Pac­ers to a deep play­off run. Ge­orge is a pro­lific all-around player with his abil­ity to score at will, han­dling su­pe­ri­or­ity, pass­ing, lock-down de­fense and lead­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Be­fore his grue­some in­jury in 2014 at the sum­mer Olympics in which he broke his leg, Ge­orge was con­sis­tently chal­leng­ing the Heat— back when LeBron James was on the team—in the Eastern Con­fer­ence Fi­nals.

His team, though, is just not as tal­ented as they lost key play­ers David West and Roy Hib­bert, who were two low-post an­chors used to chal­lenge vir­tu­ally any team three to four years ago. Lance Stephen­son just came back, so maybe this will help the Pac­ers win a few more games in the play­offs.

Head­ing out to the Western Con­fer­ence, where many would pre­sume the com­pe­ti­tion is a lot stiffer, there are many in­trigu­ing teams—much like the East—that have real shots at mak­ing a deep run in the play­offs.

The San An­to­nio Spurs are the sec­ond best team in the Western Con­fer­ence, and it has a lot to do with their deep team, as well as Pop’s tac­ti­cal coach­ing strat­egy, one that em­ploys the of­fen­sive sys­tem to con­tin­u­ally move the ball, make hard cuts and play great de­fense, which, of course, is Bas­ket­ball 101.

Spurs small for­ward Kawhi Leonard is an MVP can­di­date. His 25.7 points per game is the high­est scor­ing av­er­age of his ca­reer, a feat that has many folks who fol­low the NBA in awe. Leonard—af­ter his 2014 NBA Fi­nals MVP year— has re­ally de­vel­oped him­self into not only a great de­fen­sive player, but a great of­fen­sive player, one that can han­dle the ball with the best of them, can shoot well from mid-range and can pass the ball with pre­ci­sion.

Let’s not for­get the Spurs ac­quired LaMar­cus Aldridge last year. Aldridge is a sen­sa­tional post-up player, and, of course, can score at will. With Tim Dun­can re­tired, the Spurs will lean on Leonard and savvy vet­er­ans Tony Parker and Manu Gi­no­bili, two play­ers that helped Dun­can win four ti­tles in 11 years.

For years Mike D’An­toni was the laugh­ing stock of the NBA be­cause his phi­los­o­phy is runand-gun, shoot a lot threes, but play lit­tle de­fense. Af­ter be­ing in the NBA’s base­ment as the coach with the Los An­ge­les Lak­ers and an as­sis­tant coach with the Philadel­phia 76ers the past two years, D’An­toni has re-emerged as a mas­ter­mind, a per­cep­tion not be­stowed upon him since his days with the Phoenix Suns when former point guard Steve Nash was win­ning MVPs.

D’An­toni switched this year’s MVP can­di­date James Har­den from shoot­ing guard to point guard, and it has worked as the Rock­ets cur­rently are the third best team in the West. With his stub­bly and thick beard, Har­den com­bines his ex­tra­or­di­nary drib­bling abil­ity with his in­nate gift to shoot threes and draw con­tact from de­fend­ers.

The Rock­ets will be a tough out for any team, and Har­den’s 29.2 points, 11.2 as­sists and 8.1 re­bound av­er­ages are worth the price of ad­mis­sion.

For the first time since the 2011-2012 sea­son, the Utah Jazz will be in the play­offs. But this time they will be led by former But­ler prodigy and cur­rent Jazz star Gor­don Hay­ward, a dy­namic small for­ward who can han­dle the bas­ket­ball, shoot the three and has a knack for find­ing the driv­ing lanes.

One as­pect that is worth watch­ing about Hay­ward—be­sides his 22.5 points per con­test— is his in­stinc­tive abil­ity to probe the perime­ter off screens, and know when to make the right play for his team. He has un­der­rated ath­leti­cism as well.

The Los An­ge­les Clip­pers’ duo of Chris Paul and Blake Grif­fin are al­ways a doozy to watch, es­pe­cially when Paul is able to hook up with Grif­fin off of pickand-rolls. Last year, both Paul and Grif­fin were in­jured in the first round against the Port­land Trail Blaz­ers, as Paul suf­fered a bro­ken hand and Grif­fin had a quad in­jury.

It’ll be in­ter­est­ing to see how these play­ers re­spond af­ter such un­for­tu­nate cir­cum­stances last year.

Ever since Kevin Du­rant left last sum­mer to join the War­riors, Ok­la­homa City’s Rus­sell West­brook has taken the NBA by storm. Yes, he is av­er­ag­ing a triple dou­ble with his 31.7 points, 10.4 as­sists and 10.7 as­sists. This past Sun­day, West­brook set the all-time triple­dou­bles record with 42, pass­ing Os­car Robert­son.

West­brook plays 100 miles an hour and he makes a lot of plays for him­self and his team­mates. With West­brook go­ing 100 per­cent of the time on of­fense, it will be a tragedy for any­one to miss Ok­la­homa City’s run.

In a stun­ning turn of events, the Mem­phis Griz­zlies ac­tu­ally pulled off a win against the War­riors on Feb. 10, and that is in large part due to the play of Zach Ran­dolph, Marc Ga­sol and Mike Con­ley. The trio has been to­gether for half a decade, but they are still go­ing strong.

Ran­dolph’s low­post game is fan­tas­tic, while Ga­sol’s post-up and mid-range abil­ity and Con­ley’s abil­ity to han­dle the ball and switch gears to get to the rim are fun to watch. If this team gets past the first round, the War­riors should be per­turbed.

Damian Lil­lard and C.J. McCol­lum of the Port­land Trail Blaz­ers are among the best guard com­bos in the NBA, which means they are must-see tele­vi­sion de­spite them flirt­ing with a sub-.500 win­ning per­cent­age.

Lil­lard is this gen­er­a­tion’s Isiah Thomas, but not the one who cur­rently plays, rather the one who won two cham­pi­onships with the Detroit Pis­tons in 1989 and 1990. McCol­lum has off-the­ball skills like Ray Allen. He is also a very good shooter on and off the drib­ble.

These two play­ers will give fits to any player in the play­offs.

As we count down to the NBA play­offs, re­mem­ber, these 14 other teams are must­see tele­vi­sion de­spite the like­li­hood the Cavs and the War­riors will meet again for the third straight sea­son.

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