Sheridan Hoops Tue, 06 Dec 2016 17:08:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Will they ever shake hands? On relations between Durant and Westbrook Sun, 20 Nov 2016 09:23:59 +0000

Since Kevin Durant has left Oklahoma City Thunder, everybody who was ever interested in basketball asks about relationships between two key players who have been bursting its scores. They are Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.


Those who bet on them using betting on football platform really like to find out the nature of such relationships. Why? Because any fan remains agile to know how next game between Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder will look like. Do they really hate each other as social media screams each day and do they still think of each other as brothers – these questions still remain unanswered?

So, what the conflict is about?

The truth about a conflict between them is that there seems no evidence that some conflict exists. Some argue that Kevin doesn’t shake hands with Russell, but, come on, does he really like to shake hands with other players. Some argue that they remain on different teams but it remains misleading to distinguish between a conflict and a tough tournament in such an aggressive kind of sports as basketball.


Kevin and Russell know each other very well, they know that they will fight against each other even though some time ago they played on the same team. Both players are very strong, they all remain aggressive and agile to win, that is why it is much harder to predict an outcome. However, some tools exist which can help fans to estimate the probability of this team winning. Especially, those who want to bet using special platforms. One of tools any fan can use for that purpose is

During recent interviews, Kevin has suggested that he didn’t hate Russell at all. He loves the style Westbrook plays but they are different on how they view the game:

  1. Russell tells that he sees any match as his last. This player spends maximum energy to any game, that is why he remains used so often in his team and why his usage rate is about 42,4 for past 6 games. Russell doesn’t feel dissatisfied or angry about that. He speaks as himself ready for even tougher conditions because he enjoys any game and he loves playing with City Thunder.
  2. Kevin seems not that kind of a player like Russel. As he tells in his interview, he remains not concerned about the game itself but he remains more oriented on results. He still tries to discover who he is and what he should do when Russell already knows who he should become, that remains the main reason for toughening of their relationships.

Next games will show

All statistics remain given in a user-friendly form, so knowing teams’ relative performances the fan will predict the outcome even before the game. The next game between City Thunder and State Warriors seems coming soon, this will become a time when fans will find how the situation has changed from the previous game.

]]> 0 is Shutting Down Tue, 25 Oct 2016 17:15:48 +0000

SheridanheWith a mix of sadness and pride, I am shuttering — the Web Site I founded in September 2011 and which published daily through five NBA seasons.

sheridan-fibaI come from a family of journalists, and there is a level of disappointment that comes from deep inside me. You only get one or two chances to do something truly dynamic in life, and assembling a crew of veteran NBA writers — mixed in with several younger go-getters to produce quality basketball journalism — was driven by my passion for the sport and for my craft.

But the journalism/publishing industry is constantly changing and consistently challenging, and if unexpected circumstances intrude along the way, altering your ability to devote 110 percent of your time and energy to your business, it becomes unsustainable. That is what has happened here, and the passionate fans of basketball who frequented this site are now left with one less outlet to disseminate news and opinion.

But I am walking away with my head held high, and here is why: No journalist had ever done what I did, along with my dedicated staff. We were an independent news outlet that competed with the media behemoths. We broke the biggest basketball news story of this decade — LeBron James’ return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. And we broke with the contemporary mold and strived to appeal to a demographic ranging in age from 9 to 90.

lebron-tweetThe LeBron James scoop is not the only legacy of this site. We published 9,856 articles by 154 different authors, many of them veterans of the basketball journalism industry, several others who are navigating their way into this business.

It was a fun run.

I have been a journalist since I was 21. I have 30 years of experience in the business — a quarter century of it covering the NBA and international basketball — and I hope to land on my feet somewhere down the road and continue pursuing my professional passion.

What’s important now is thanking the people who made this Web Site possible, especially members of the staff who are passionate journalists and deserve opportunities to continue in this business for years to come.

But first, some words of appreciation.

I will start with NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who has been supportive of this venture from the get-go and was a regular reader. Without the assistance of Adam and two key members of his staff, Tim Frank and Mike Bass, we would not have been a fully credentialed site with the same level of access granted to companies such as ESPN, Yahoo Sports and so many others.

Same goes for FIBA executive director Patrick Baumann and his media director, Patrick Koller (along with Patrick’s predecessor, Florian Wanninger). I have known all of them for several years, and their assistance in credentialing SheridanHoops for several international tournaments —  beginning with Eurobasket 2011 in Lithuania and including the 2014 World Cup in Spain — allowed us to take readers behind the scenes of several major FIBA tournaments that most mainstream media outlets in the United States choose to ignore.

Shoutouts also go to founder Gregg Winik and his staff at Cinesport (now OneUp Sports), our video production partner; Larry Axelband and the folks at DraftKings, whose support for this site’s mission was unwavering right through our final day of publication; and Jeanette Lukasik, Jeetu Chawla, Moksha Fitzgibbons, Russ Bengston, Ryan Westbrook and Taylor Korsak of Complex Media, our advertising partner.

But the primary drivers of this site were the regular contributors, the people who wrote weekly columns, edited our content, managed our staff and devoted countless hours to the storytelling that made this site special. My wish is that all of them move on to new jobs in the industry, continuing to bring their wisdom and insight to readers and viewers around the world.

bernuccaheCHRIS BERNUCCA: Our managing editor and regular Monday columnist, I can tell you in all sincerity that there is almost no one in the U.S. basketball media with Bernucca’s level of passion for the sport and diligence in understanding it and explaining it. Aside from managing our staff and providing direction, guidance and mentoring to our younger writers, Chris consumed himself (as he always has, from his days as my colleague at the AP to his later stops at SportsTicker, DPA and other outlets) with the NBA. The man has read every box score and game story that has been published over the past three decades. And no, that is not an exaggeration. His mix of intelligence, wit, sarcasm and basketball IQ is unmatched by anyone I have ever met in the business — and I have met just about every heavy hitter with a laptop and a notebook. Whether he moves on as a coach (his other true passion) or a columnist, he will always be informative and inspirational. Here is his column archive, and it comes with a warning — you may find yourself binge-reading some of the most astute commentary and analysis that has been published since late 2011. Send him a shoutout on Twitter at @ChrisBernucca.

HubbardJAN HUBBARD: The man who wrote the NBA Encyclopedia … literally. Jan is unique in that he has worked both sides of the fence; as a mainstream media member for Newsday in New York, along with the Star-Telegram and Morning News in Dallas/Fort Worth. In between, he spent eight years working at NBA headquarters. Privately, he can tell you stories that he would not be comfortable publishing, but he can also pull stories from the past that no one else can recount. He is an author (we published excerpts from his book on the history of the San Antonio Spurs), he is a gentleman, and he comes from an era in which sportswriters and basketball players existed on a much more cordial and friendly level. One example from Hubbard’s archive is his story about trading Larry Bird in a fantasy league and then recounting that particular trade to Bird. Any media organization seeking a sage/mentor/poet should scoop him up. On Twitter he is @whyhub.

ParkJIM PARK: He was our Tweet of the Day/Tweet of the Night maven, he supervised our staff of young bloggers and he lost countless hours of sleep staying up late on the East Coast to watch his beloved Golden State Warriors, whose 2015 championship (along with Stephen Curry’s MVP award) he astutely predicted in our annual season preview column. I was able to bring Jim a champagne cork from the Warriors’ locker room the night they ended their 40-year drought and won the title in 2015, and my hope going forward is that I can help him find a job recreating Tweet of the Night/Tweet of the Day for another publication. It was one of the daily articles our readers most enjoyed — especially this one from J.R. Smith when he was still with the Knicks. Interested parties can e-mail Jim.

sprungSHLOMO SPRUNG: Our analytics expert, Shlomo put together charts and graphs that perfectly illustrated the point of his columns — all of which were informative and a breezy read, not the easiest thing when you are dealing with sports’ new higher science/math. He can do things with a computer that most WordPress designers cannot even accomplish, but he also knows how to work a locker room and bang out an on-point column without having to be overly analytical. He is writing now for, and I recommend you check out his most recent column on Five Storylines to Watch for in the 2016-17 season. Also, do yourself a favor and follow him on Twitter.

Michael Scotto MICHAEL SCOTTO: and The Vertical had chances to snatch him up over the summer, but neither outlet quite recognized they had a chance to snag the next great newsbreaker in the NBA journalism world. Mike is now doing his thing for Steve Kyler at Basketball as Kyler continues to operate just outside the mainstream in putting together a formidable lineup day after day after day. Kyler’s only mistake with Scotto was not inking him to a long-term deal. Over/under on number of times Scotto outscoops Adrian Wojnarowski on trade stories between now and mid-February is 5 1/2. Personally, I am taking the over — not because I don’t have faith in Woj, a certified genius, but because I know how hard Scotto works his sources … and how a lot of folks in the league want to see who will become the “next Woj.”

Schayes111There were so many other writers who contributed on a regular basis who also deserve shout-outs. Hall of Famer Mark Heisler was with us from the start, retired NBA center Danny Schayes came along for the ride for a few seasons (and wrote the most detailed analysis of the pros and cons of the one-and-done rule that has ever been published), Jon Marks in Philadelphia, Peter May in Boston and Paul Ladewski in Chicago/Oakland were old pros who were always eager and enthused to take on a new assignment, and Ben DuBose in Houston, Jeremy Bauman in Chicago/New York, Chris Silva in Oklahoma City (he wrote the best Kevin Durant profile ever), Kels Dayton in New England were the same way — minus the 30 years experience of the others; Joe Kotoch was especially prescient with his Mock Drafts and his networking skills;  Moke Hamilton (also scooped up by Kyler) was a sponge when I mentored him during this site’s infancy, Bobby Gonzalez was a jack-of-all-trades whose best columns were identifying the strongest NCAA teams and the most underrated NBA talents, A.J. Mitnick and Nick Gibson kept us abreast of Euroleague developments, Guan Weijia, Jon Pastuszek and Marco Cantazaro filled in our readers on what was happening in the Chinese Basketball Association, Peter Newmann, Max Ogden and Dan Malone found different ways to bring us the latest news and notes from around the league, Jack Scheurer had a nice run as our trivia maven, Brian Geltzeiler was gung-ho when we were broadcasting SheridanHoopsRadio, Adam Zagoria covered recruiting better than anyone, Jake Henson brought a unique voice on the basketball gambling industry, and last but not least, Kent Williams was a superstar in giving out daily fantasy advice.

closedAgain, it was a fun run; But unfortunately, we are done. (Hey, a rhyme.)

Thanks again to everyone who dropped in occasionally or regularly.

I will see y’all down the road.

Every ending is a new beginning.

A spry 51, I am far from finished in the journalism industry.


Chris Sheridan is a veteran NBA writer for the Associated Press, ESPN and, Follow him on Twitter.

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Why Sports Betting Apps Are Such a Big Deal Thu, 28 Jul 2016 16:14:25 +0000

Sports attract a lot of viewers, and the NBA is particularly popular. People who understand sports can often predict the outcomes of particular games and that often surprises people. But predicting the outcome of an NBA game is not just something that will amuse your company, it can be very lucrative if you place a bet on it. People how are into sports betting eagerly wait for the basketball and all the other seasons to begin, as there’s not much choice during the summer. Now it is even possible to place wagers on your smartphone, as there are a lot of available mobile apps. Large amounts of money can be won with a small wager at mobile casino as well. Here are more casino apps that offer interesting games. Mobile betting rose significantly in the past years and several operators registered significantly greater mobile betting revenues.

It Is Possible to Deposit and Withdraw Money

Some might be wondering why sports betting apps are such a big deal. First of all, it is a lot easier to bet using them. Literally any bet that you may want to place is just few clicks away. Most of these apps are user-friendly and using them is piece of cake. You can choose one or multiple selections and you can check how much you can potentially earn. Moreover, making deposits and withdrawing money from your betting amount is also quite easy. Most betting operators support at least few payment methods and you can choose the one that suits you most.



A Lot of Apps Offer Tips and Predictions

In addition to apps that allow you to bet on your smartphone, there are also bets that can help you make the right choice when it comes to betting. Of course, no app can guarantee that you’re going to win and if some of them claim that they can, they’re lying. However, there are a lot of free or cheap apps that offer quite useful betting advice. Some of them include the latest news and thorough analysis in which the suggestion for a particular game is explained, whereas other employ complex algorithms and calculations which predict the outcomes of basketball games, as well as games of other sports.

Betting on NBA Is Easy

Betting on the NBA is quite easy and there are multiple available betting options. You can bet both on individual games, as well as on the season as a whole. For example, you can place a bet that your favorite team will be the champion, or that it will reach the play-offs even before the season begins. These bets are usually called future bets.

When it comes to betting on individual matches you can place a variety of bets like money-line, spread bets, totals, halftime bets, 1st quarter bets, as well as parlays and teasers.


Money-Line and Spread Betting

A money-line is a bet where the odds are based on the likelihood of each of the teams to win the game. If the Spurs face the Bulls and the Spurs are the favorite for the current match then the odds for the spurs will probably be negative, say -750, whereas the odds for the Bulls would be +500. The negative odds show how much you have to wager to earn $100, whereas the positives tell you how much you’ll earn with a $100 bet.

Spread betting was introduced to eliminate the advantage that a team has. Therefore, a presupposed advantage is given to the underdog. Let’s say that for the same game the difference between the two teams is judged to be 8.5 points. That means that in order for a bet to be winning the Spurs would have to win with 9 or more points, whereas if the Bulls lose by 8 or less they are considered to be winners for the purpose of the bet.

Totals, Parlays and Other Bets

The total is a bet placed on the total number of points scored by both teams taken together. A number of points is set, let’s say 188.5. If the game ends with 188 or few points scored, then it is an under, whereas if 189 or more points are scored it is an over. You may place spread and total bets on just the first half or the first quarter and then only the result at the end of that period is considered, regardless what happens later in the game.

A parlay is a bet placed on more than one selection. For example if there are 5 games in one day and you like to bet on all of them, you can combine them in a parlay bet. Just remember that all selections have to win for the bet to be a win. Teasers are similar to parlays, but due to the fact that it is a lot more difficult to correctly predict the outcome of a bigger number of games, you are allowed to adjust the point spread in your favor. This decreases the eventual winnings, but significantly increases your winning chances.

It is even possible to bet on the NBA draft. The odds that Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram will be picks number 1 and 2 were pretty low on the last day of the draft, at only -800, but let’s be honest, everybody pretty much expected these two players to be picked first.


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Cavaliers & Warriors With Tough Paths To NBA Finals Fri, 22 Apr 2016 10:04:01 +0000

2013-NBA-Finals-LogoBy examining the current playoff picture, we determined the chances of seeing a rematch of last year’s NBA Finals between the Cavaliers and Warriors.

These two teams are on track to win their first round series (the Warriors lead their series with the Rockets 2-1 while the Cavs have a 2-0 lead against the Pistons), but their road to the NBA Finals to set up a rematch from last year is long and hard. Who are the potential opponents for these teams, can any of them upset the NBA odds and spoil a Cavaliers vs. Warriors rematch in the NBA Finals?

cavs small logoCleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers are -3700 favorites on the NBA odds board at Pinnacle to win their first round series against the Pistons (+1700). Detroit improved from 32 victories last year to 44 this season and they’re one of just five teams with wins over Cleveland and Golden State in the regular season, but their effort on the defensive end of the floor has to improve, which is why we don’t see the Cavaliers losing more than two games in this series. The Pistons played extremely well in Game 1 and almost won, but Game 2 proved that LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are on fire, and that when J.R. Smith is shooting the lights out they’re unbeatable.

Second Round

The Cavs will probably battle the Hawks in the second round, which would be an intriguing matchup since it’s a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals (Cleveland swept Atlanta 4-0). Both teams are peaking, but the Cavaliers won the season series 3-0, giving them a 7-0 record in their last seven games against the Hawks. This year Atlanta won’t get swept by Cleveland, they will be a tough out and take two or three games from them, but that’s it, the Cavaliers will reach the Conference Finals.

Eastern Conference Finals

dwanye-wade-lebron-james-nba-free-agencyThe Heat can get to the Conference Finals and make noise against the Cavaliers. Miami leads their first round series with Charlotte 2-0 and then they will play Toronto or Indiana in the second round. The Raptors and Pacers have talented rosters but they’re beatable opponents for the Heat.

Miami’s explosive offense can take care of business in a potential seven-game series with former teammate LeBron James and the Cavaliers. The Heat won the season series 2-1, dominating the Cavs in the two games at American Airlines Arena. The starting five of Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson, Luol Deng and Hassan Whiteside and a deep bench makes Miami the ideal candidate to neutralize the Cavs’ main weapons and find a way keep up with them on offense. Don’t forget that Chris Bosh could return… If Bosh is available for a series against Cleveland, many would say look for Miami to advance in seven games.

warriors small logoGolden State Warriors

The Warriors have looked fairly dominant in their first round series against the Rockets despite not having Stephen Curry in Game 2 due to an ankle sprain he suffered in Game 1. Curry’s MRI on his ankle on Tuesday didn’t reveal anything unusual, but he won’t rush back. He missed Game 3, and the Rockets lost on a late jumper by James Harden. With or without Curry the Rockets don’t have a chance. The talent is there but Houston hasn’t shown the drive to compete with Golden State. On paper, their team is stacked, but the Rockets can’t keep up with a Warriors team that is well-coached, with everyone understanding their role and playing it to perfection.

Second Round

ChrisPaulGolden State could face the Clippers in the second round and renew their exciting rivalry. The Warriors dominated them this season, winning all four meetings, but this Los Angeles team is healthy and the return of Blake Griffin gives them a fighting chance. These two teams have deep benches, experienced head coaches and the Stephen Curry vs. Chris Paul matchup is always fun to watch. The question is, will Curry be 100 percent healthy? Curry’s status can change the outcome of this series, but even if he plays, the Clippers will not go down without a fight. The Warriors will advance if Curry is at the top of his game but the series will be a lot closer than expected.

Western Conference Finals

The San Antonio Spurs going up against the Golden State Warriors would have been the perfect NBA Finals matchup. Sadly, only one of them can represent the Western Conference but both deserve to play at such a stage. At least we will probably see them play each other in what promises to be an epic series that could go to seven games. Golden State won the season series 3-1 but the Spurs are built to win in the playoffs, they know what it takes to thrive at this stage. That being said, unless Curry or Thompson miss this series, the Warriors will reach the NBA Finals again and the Miami Heat will be their opponents this time around.


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On Holiday Sat, 16 Apr 2016 10:03:40 +0000

HolidayDue to an extraordinary set of circumstances, we are temporarily suspending publication — with the exception of our daily fantasy basketball advice columns. Hope to be back soon.


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DraftKings Advice: How To Build A Baseball Lineup Around Mike Trout; Win $12,000 Free On NBA Playoff Contest Fri, 15 Apr 2016 14:15:49 +0000

KentThere’s no NBA action tonight. The playoffs begin tomorrow at 12:30 Eastern and DFS contests are already open at DraftKings. The $150K Sharpshooter is only a $3 buy-in (FREE with your initial deposit.) The top 11,780 teams (from up to 57,500 entries) win cash. First place earns $12,000. 

My hoops selections will be posted here early Saturday morning. They will not be completely unbiased — go Raptors! — but I hope they help you build a winning lineup. Early-season daily baseball has been fun and profitable, so let’s try to keep that going.

Yesterday we touted Vince Velasquez for his complete-game, 1-hit shutout with 16 strikeouts. He cost only $7300 and scored 59.5 FPTS at DK. My $2100 pick Tony Wolters added 18 FPTS — no, I did not expect two stolen bases from a backup catcher. Jose Altuve homered (again) and doubled for $4600; he costs $300 more this evening.

My only “mistake” was Danny Salazar, who also earned a W, did not allow a run and punched out nine. Because Vince was so cheap, I was willing to spend $11000 on another stud. The error was imagining the Brewers might be respectable enough against Jaime Garcia that he wouldn’t earn his $9700 salary. Instead, the Cardinals lefty was almost as brilliant as Velasquez: CGSO, 13K for 54.1 FPTS.

Salazar’s 31.9 FPTS was more than enough to put me in the money, but using Garcia instead would have left $1300 for even better hitting. All that is ancient history. Today we start a new season with a new draft.

$20,000 MLB Contest Free To New Users

The $20K Moonshot is our MLB freebie. The $3 entry fee will be waived for new deposits and you could win $2,000. There are 1,540 guaranteed cash prizes and a maximum of only 7,666 entries. Even after the 2:20 EDT entry deadline, you can swap players in and out of your lineup until their games begin.

lineup-4-15There are expensive aces galore to choose from. Clayton Kershaw $13700 once again faces Madison Bumgarner $11400 and Chris Sale $12200 will be tough on the Rays. However, you have to compromise on bats to afford those guys, so we’re trying to get decent production on the mound at a lower cost

The Cubs are 8-1 with an average score of 7-2. At home against Chad Bettis $7800, you have to like all their hitters. Kyle Hendricks $7400 beat Zack Greinke in Arizona last time; the control artist won’t run up the K’s but should earn another W with a quality start.

Joe Ross $7700 was outstanding in his opener and costs $100 less tonight against the Phillies. That’s hard to resist, but Jeremy Hellickson $6800 has been very good so far (11K, 1 BB in 11.2 IP) and whatever he’s doing differently might surprise the Nationals.

Our batting order looks strong, with four Cubs and four All-Stars. You can save at C with Yadier Molina $3500 or Miguel Montero $3000. Both veterans are healthy and off to good starts.

Anthony Rizzo $4700 is my top choice at 1B but it’s worth noting that Mark Trumbo $4100 just took Cole Hamels deep, now has a 1.088 OPS,  faces a much easier southpaw tonight and also qualifies in the outfield.

The only reason not to use Altuve at second is a hunch on Robinson Cano $4500, who hit two homers in 11 AB at Yankee Stadium last year. If you spend more on pitching, 2B/SS Addison Russell $3100 and Jonathan Schoop $2800 are possible bargains.

There’s unprecedented talent in MLB at 3B, with Josh Donaldson $5000 in his prime, while superb young two-way stars like Nolan Arenado $4200, Manny Machado $4400 and Kris Bryant $4400 are still improving.

DK lets us use Manny at SS, an even better idea, though Troy Tulowitzki $4100 went deep last night and Xander Bogaerts $4000 has hit well (11-for-30) against the knuckleball.

In the outfield, Jose Bautista $4900 is an “obvious” selection after crushing two homers off Rick Porcello $7200 in Toronto last week. My concern is that every team will pitch around Joey Bats until Edwin Encarnacion $4800 (.599 OPS) begins to hit; the Edwing home run trot has yet to be seen. Mike Trout $5400, Bryce Harper $5100 and Giancarlo Stanton $5300 all have good matchups. Andrew McCutchen $4500 is overdue for a breakout game. On the lower end of the salary scale, Dexter Fowler $3900 reached base four times for us last night and costs $100 less. Rookie Jeremy Hazelbaker $3700 keeps on hitting and rookie Nomar Mazara $3300 has all the tools.

Pos Premium Bargain
P1 Clayton Kershaw $13700 Kyle Hendricks $7400
P2 Chris Sale $12200 Joe Ross $7700
C Yadier Molina $3500 Miguel Montero $3000
1B Anthony Rizzo $4700 Mark Trumbo $4100
2B Robinson Cano $4500 Jonathan Schoop $2800
3B Josh Donaldson $5000 Kris Bryant $4400
SS Manny Machado $4400 Addison Russell $3100
OF1 Bryce Harper $5100 Dexter Fowler $3900
OF2 Mike Trout $5400 Jeremy Hazelbaker $3700
OF3 Andrew McCutchen $4500 Nomar Mazara $3300

The Fantasy Spin features DFS advice every day of the NBA season, and switches to baseball in the summer. Follow Kent Williams @SheridanFantasy for updates.

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Sheridan: My Season-Ending Awards Ballot Thu, 14 Apr 2016 20:13:26 +0000

SheridanheI always wait until the final game of the NBA season is in the books before handing in my postseason awards ballot, and the reason is twofold: If the deadline is not until Thursday afternoon, what’s the hurry? (This is how journalists work when it comes to deadlines. Most of us, anyway.) The second is because you always want to wait and see if something happens on the final night of the season to change either your ballot or your expectations.

IKobeGoodbyen this case, the final night brought Steph Curry’s 3-point total for the season to 402, illustrating ever further why I believe he will become the first unanimous MVP in NBA history.

But we also had Kobe Bryant scoring 60 points on a personal-record 50 shots in his farewell game at the Staples Center, the kind of once-in-a-lifetime moment that just may influence some outlier’s ballot.

I already have a steak dinner “at a really good steakhouse” wagered with my friend Sid Blauner that Curry will win the award unanimously, but now I fear that I will be picking up the tab on an $80 porterhouse because someone with a purple and gold screensaver is going to give Kobe his first-place vote as some sort of a legacy tribute. Does Vic the Brick have a vote? I’m seriously worried here.

This 2015-16 season was always about two things and two things only: The Warriors’ chase of the record for most wins in a season, 73, which they accomplished on the final night behind Curry’s 10 3-pointers and 42 points; and Bryant’s farewell tour, which was stirring no matter where and when you had a chance to see him. Safe to say there has never been a farewell tour quite like it in NBA history, and to go out with 60 … damn, I am going to miss the Mamba.

I covered him his rookie season when he made his one and only trip to Madison Square Garden, and back then the media was seated on “press row” – the scorer’s table – with the AP seat at the very end of the table. This was truly the best seat in the house, allowing me to peer into every huddle, listen to the ways each coach communicated with his players, actually hear what was being said between players and referees on the court, and use those up-close observations to spice up my game stories with information you couldn’t get anywhere else.

GS_Warriors_Nosebleed_SeatsThose seats are not press seats anymore; the Knicks and most other teams long ago began giving them away to sponsors while pushing the media further and further away from the action. When I covered the Knicks and Warriors at MSG this season, I could actually see down through the top of the huge scoreboard hanging at center court. Binoculars would not have been sufficient to get a clear sense of what was happening below. Perhaps binoculars with magnifying glasses duct-taped to each lens would have helped, but you get the point.

In many ways, the good old days are behind us, and the media is considered a nuisance rather than a necessity. The best seats in the house go to the national TV broadcasters, the PA announcers, the statisticians and the 1 percenters. Word on the street in Los Angeles was that courtside ducats for Kobe’s final game were going for $25,000 apiece.

Valet parking for your vehicle, be it the newest Tesla or a vintage Bricklin, was not included.

Of course, the season did have its distractions, what with the Gloria Govan and Iggy Azalea episodes, the Kurt Rambis Twitter controversy, the sub-zero conditions at the All-Star Game in Siberia Toronto, the greatest Slam Dunk Contest of all time, the mainstreaming of resting your best players (Tristan Thompson played 4 seconds in the season finale to keep his consecutive games streak alive), the George Karl death watch, the Colangeloization of the Sixers, the requisite Kardashian-related drama, the media’s obsession with analytics (it is easier to find a player’s defensive win shares on than it is to find a player’s scoring average on, the battle over the legitimacy of daily fantasy sports as a game of skill, and the cold-hearted firing of an usher in New Orleans for allowing an 8-year-old boy to run onto the court during a timeout to hug Carmelo Anthony.

Curry11If you love this game, as the slogan used to say, you had to sift through a whole bunch of noise to read about it. But at least we always had League Pass and the ‘Dubs and Stephen Curry, who made it all worth it.

So now we move to the playoffs, and let’s just say it’s safe to book our flights and hotel rooms in Cleveland two months in advance. Watching the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs will be as painful as watching Ernie Els trying to knock down a 3-foot putt at Augusta, but we will all get through it just as he did. We will have our champion, we will move on to the draft, the naming of the Team USA squad and then the Rio Slaughterfest, and then we get to come back again in the fall and make wagers on whether Steph can make it to 403 3-pointers.

Don’t put it past him. He is a freak of nature.

Which brings us to the awards – and the lack of drama surrounding them. MVP and ROY are locks, and the best debate surrounds Most Improved Player. As colleague Jan Hubbard wrote earlier this week, the notion of a reigning MVP being considered for MIP was downright preposterous … until now.

My ballot is below (thanks to the NBA media relations staff for granting me the honor to vote again) the video player with a discussion of the toughest picks with CineSport’s Noah Coslov:


Stephen Currywarriors small logo1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors. The next pair of sneakers I will buy, if they are not Converse All-Stars, will be Under Armours. Same goes for my sons. They don’t want to be like Mike … or like LeBron. And they would rather show up 2 hours early for an NBA game just to watch Curry practice his ballhandling than watch an actual game on TV. They laugh at my generation, which actually watches commercials. And they shake their heads when you tell them that you actually pay for League Pass. “Dude, ever hear of the Internet?” Since they are watching NBA games for free, it is no surprise that they want their health care and their college tuition to be free, too.

Russell Westbrookthunder small logo2. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder. The league-leader in triple doubles, he got his 18th before halftime in OKC’s 81st game. “He’s probably the most athletic player I’ve ever played against,” Bryant said. Which, you know, is quite a mouthful. Finished tied for eighth in scoring, second in assists, and 31st in rebounding – but first among guards. His 7.8 boards per game gave him a higher average than LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Al Horford and Serge Ibaka.

Kevin Durantthunder small logo3. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder. Scored 20 or more points in 64 consecutive games, a streak he will carry into next season. And he reached No. 64 in a great mano-a-mano vs. Kobe, who once accomplished the feat 63 consecutive times. Somehow, this fact did not make it into the AP recap of the game. Back when I worked at the AP, an omission like that would earn you a transfer to Fargo. Or Lubbock. Round 2 vs. the Spurs will be an epic. Can Kawhi Leonard keep him below 20? I predict yes.

Damian Lillard4. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers. The only holdover from the Trail Blazers’ starting five from a year ago, he averaged 25.1 points to finish sixth in the league. Yes, his .419 shooting percentage was somewhat alarming, but when you are basically a one-man show whose team finished fifth in the West after looking like a lottery lock in the preseason, you give a guy a pass on some stuff. Prediction: If Portland somehow knocks off the LA Clippers in the first round, Lillard will have earned himself a spot on Team USA for the Rio Olympics.

LeBron Jamescavs small logo5. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers. Predictably, he took the first seven-eighths of the season off, got his coach fired, feuded (or not) with teammate Kyrie Irving, became a secondary storyline as his return to Cleveland became oh-so-2014, and made more cryptic comments on Twitter than @netw3rk, who has made a career out of being profound and hilarious in 140 characters or less. They taught us to write tight in J-School, but this fella has set the industry record for dollars earned per keystroke, defeating Bill Simmons. That ain’t easy.


Karl Anthony Towns headshotwolves small logo1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves. Haven’t seen anyone with the ability to score in the low post come around since Tim Duncan was a rookie, and Towns’ game is already so much more versatile than Timmy’s was when he came out of Wake Forest. I do not have a steak dinner wagered on whether he will win unanimously, mainly because I am a home delivery customer of the New York Post and thus read more about Kristaps Porzingis than I did about Carmelo Anthony.

Devin Booker headshotsuns small logo2. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns. The Bermanator will no doubt call me out on this one, but I like guys who get better as the season progresses more than guys who hit the rookie wall and never recover. He had six 30-point games, five over the final 23 games of the season. How many times did the Latvian Legend reach 30? Hint: it rhymes with “Hero.” Bonus points awarded for appearing to be 14 years old.

Kristaps Porzingis headshotknicks small logo3. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks. Remember when Knicks fans booed him on draft night? It’s weird, but New York fans used to be considered the most savvy in the sport. Or maybe that was just something that New Yorkers said to each other. This fella will be a real nice player for a long, long time, but he will never, ever average more points per game than the guy one spot ahead of him on this list.


Portland Trail Blazersblazers small logo1. C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers. We have had a season-long debate on this site over whether Curry should win this award, too, as his improvement from his MVP campaign of a year ago was beyond astounding. But the official NBA ballot includes this phrase: “This award is designed to honor an up-and-coming player who has made a dramatic improvement from the previous season or seasons.” McCollum is an up-and-coming player. Curry is not. Hey, you gotta play by the rules.

Stephen Currywarriors small logo2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors. So, yes, we are playing by the rules in “honoring” McCollum with our first-place vote. But when you start quantifying improvement from the previous season, what Curry did with his scoring average, his 3-point shooting, his win shares, his taking over the role as the NBA’s Alpha Dog … the list goes on and on … you cannot ignore how improved he was. More on this from esteemed colleague Jan Hubbard.

Giannis AntetokounmpoBucks60new3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks. Yes, the Bucks were the East’s biggest underachievers aside from the team 90 miles to the south. But I did spend $199 on League Pass for a reason, and flipping over to watch the exploits of the Greek Freak was always worth the while. This young fellas is going to redefine the point guard position in the near future, and a year from now I predict I will be writing him into the No. 1 spot on my ballot and comparing his triple-double total to Westbrook’s.


Stottsblazers small logo1. Terry Stotts, Portland Trail Blazers. Fifth place in the West. AYFKM? This is a guy who was atop the Most Likely to be Fired List when the season began (which was only moments after Derek Fisher was mixing it up with Matt Barnes in front of Gloria Govan’s kids in California when he was supposed to be coaching the Knicks at training camp.) A lot of guys have stolen Jim Dolan’s money, but none worse than Fisher. Stotts’ team has a puncher’s chance to get past the Clippers in the first round. Always beware of the team that has nothing to lose whatsoever.

Caseyraptors602. Dwane Casey, Toronto Raptors. Went into the final week with a chance to finish with the East’s overall No. 1 seed and has improved his win total in every single season since taking over. Oh, and he did it this season pretty much without DeMarre Carroll, the team’s prized offseason acquisition. Something I betcha didn’t know: The Raptors have the East’s stingiest defense, allowing 98.2 points per game. And again, that was without their 3-and D guy.

Popovichspurs small logo3. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs. Something to be said for posting the best record in franchise history, and it was unsettling to see his team play second fiddle to Golden State for the entire season despite recreating his team around a new Big Two of Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. His Spurs led the league in defense by a lot, allowing 92.9 ppg — three points fewer than the second-place finisher, the lottery-bound Utah Jazz.


Draymond Greenwarriors small logo1. Draymond Green, Warriors. The toughest choice on any of my ballots, because Kawhi Leonard of the Spurs is pretty much equally deserving. But you gotta pick someone and are not allowed to vote for a tie. Both guys can guard all five positions, both guys are headliners of the all-underrated team, both guys get it done on both ends o the floor. So what does it come down to? Well, 73 wins carries a lot of weight.

Kawhi Leonard2. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs. Sort of feel guilty for leaving out of my top five in MVP voting, but that Aldridge fella did come on pretty strong over the second half of the season. The first player this century given a max contract by the Spurs earned every penny of it, and if there is a God, we will see this guy and his monster-sized hands try to slow down Curry in the Western Conference finals when Popovich will finally have to show his cards.

Hassan Whitesideheat small logo3. Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat. Well, he has his starting job back as we head into the playoffs, much to he dismay of Amar’e Stoudemire, and you really can’t blame Erik Spoelstra for milking this guy for all he’s worth before the Heat lose him as a free agent. Killed everyone by averaging 3.48 blocks, but the number that is truly astounding is his blocks per 48 minutes — 6.08. He played only 28 minutes per game and was the only player among the top 40 in blocked shots to have more blocks than fouls.


OKC_HS_Enes_Kanterthunder small logo1. Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder. Would be a starter on 29 other teams (OK, maybe not Sacramento), but instead anchors a very tough second unit that would be even better if Sam Presti had made a decent trade at the deadline instead of giving up two players and two picks for Randy Foye. Strange bird, that Presti. Kanter averaged 12.5 points and 8.0 rebounds despite playing only 21 minutes. He will not appear on any Defensive Player of the Year ballots, but hey, we all have our faults.

Jamal CrawfordClippers60new2. Jamal Crawford, L.A. Clippers. Our man Kels Dayton is leading the Will Barton bandwagon, but his boss puts a higher value on winning, and you know, I get to call the shots when it comes to the official ballot. Per David Aldridge of (congrats on the HOF induction, compadre), Crawford’s offensive rating in the last five minutes this season is a ridiculous 126.1, best among all bench players with 20 or more appearances in games down the stretch.

Blazers3. Will Barton, Denver Nuggets. Could have chosen Barton or Andre Iguodala for third place, but went with the guy who stayed healthier and kept on producing, game after meaningless game, until Game No. 77 rolled around. Look, Jeremy Lin is pretty deserving, too, along with Jrue Holiday and Dennis Schroder and Shaun Livingston. But I am going with Barton as a favor to Kels, who is my favorite young writer (apologies to Zach Lowe).


The balloting rules say you get to pick 10 guys irrespective of their position. Imagine if they did that with the All-Star ballot?


Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota
Devin Booker, Phoenix
Kristaps Korzingis, New York
Josh Richardson, Miami
D’Angelo Russell, LA Lakers


Justise Winslow, Miami
Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia
Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver
Myles Turner, Indiana
Frank Kaminsky, Charlotte


The rules state that voters must pick two guards, two forwards and one center.


C: Hassan Whiteside, Miami
F: Draymond Green, Golden State
F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio
G: Chris Paul, LA Clippers
G: Ricky Rubio, Minnesota


C: DeAndre Jordan, LA Clippers
F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta
F: Tony Allen, Memphis
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City


The rules here also require voters to choose one center, two forwards and two guards. Would have preferred choosing three “frontcourt” players as we do in All-Star balloting.


C: DeAndre Jordan, LA Clippers
F: LeBron James, Cleveland
F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State


C: Al Horford, Atlanta
F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio
F: Draymond Green, Golden State
G: Klay Thompson, Golden State
G: Damian Lillard, Portland


C: Hassan Whiteside, Miami
F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta
F: LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio
G: Kyle Lowry, Toronto
G: Chris Paul, LA Clippers

Chris Sheridan is publisher and editor-in-chief of Follow him on Twitter.

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Ladewski: Warriors Make their Mark, but Legacy is a Work in Progress Thu, 14 Apr 2016 17:43:52 +0000

Paul LadewskiNow that the Warriors have caught and passed Michael Jordan and his 1995-96 Chicago Bulls as the first team to win 73 games in the regular season — and don’t say Sheridan Hoops didn’t warn ya a long time ago, not once, but twice — let the debate about their place in history begin.

Because, you know, that’s what fans and media do when a team pulls off the darn near impossible, the utterly unthinkable in this age of metrics and quantitative analysis and bestowing premature sainthood.

73What makes these Warriors so unique is that they pose as many problems for the judge and jury as their opponents. If you haven’t noticed, this isn’t your father’s NBA anymore. Heck, it not’s not even your older brother’s for that matter.

The game is sooooo much different from even 10 years ago, which renders any comparisons to the distant past practically meaningless. The growing obsession with the 3-point shot has changed everything, and the numbers tell us that the Warriors shoot it about as well (42 percent) and more often (32 per game) than any team ev-er.

Here’s all that one needs to know about Stephen Curry and the Warriors in their epic season: They outscored opponents by 10.6 points per game from beyond the arc alone. Only Dell Curry and the 1996-97 Charlotte Hornets connected at a sightly higher rate, but they hoisted nearly 15 fewer shots per game.

Oh, and the Warriors play defense, too.

“I can’t believe what I’m hearing from supposedly knowledgable people about a team that has been this good,” Hall of Fame straight-shooter Warriors legend Rick Barry told me the other day. “It boggles the mind. (Ex-Chicago Bull) Scottie Pippen says he would hold Steph Curry to what — less than 20 points a game? Gimme a freakin’ break! Is he desperate for publicity or something? It’s a joke.

“Both teams are very good at both ends. The Warriors would have trouble against Michael, obviously, and the Bulls would have trouble against Steph. The Warriors would spread the floor, and the Bulls would have to work so much harder that they wouldn’t be as effective defensively. It would be a competitive series. But I’m not saying this because I played for the Warriors. I’m saying it from a basketball perspective.”

As one who survived Michael Mania back in the day, I can tell you there is one area that those Bulls are no match for these Warriors. None at all.

It’s called fun.

That’s right — the pure, once-in-a-lifetime joy that only a select group of athletes can experience in their careers.

96-BullsSee, those Bulls were cold-blooded killers. Jordan would have it no other way. They would look you in the eyes, plug you in the forehead, move on to the next city then whack someone else again.

Tony Soprano and Paulie Walnuts couldn’t have done it better.

The Jordanaires were a cliquish group — His Airness, Pippen and Ron Harper in one corner, the so-called supporting cast in the other and Dennis Rodman on Mars, naturally.

On the court, they were ruthless in the grind-it-out, half-court game at both ends. That even went for the practices, where Jordan blackened one of Steve Kerr’s eyes so badly that Kerr publicly blamed it on a home accident lest he incur even greater wrath in the future.

These Warriors are California cool.

They like to dominate opponents, all right, but they don’t bludgeon them. They kill them softly from a distance, more like death by a thousand paper airplanes. Some guys are closer than others, and, yeah, Draymond Green has been known to fray some nerves at times, but this is a group that truly enjoys being around each other.

Curry-PopcornThe all-in vibe starts with Curry, the most likable, well-grounded superstar the league has seen in years. Whereas Jordan had become unapproachable later in his career, Curry is content to be the humble servant.

The more success Curry has in the future, the more likely that is to change, but for now, he’s one of the few world-class athletes to whom the common man can relate.

“I enjoy what I do,” Curry explained to reporters after a victory in Chicago not long ago. “I’m blessed to be able to play this game, be healthy (and) play with some great teammates. We have fun the way that we play. When we put together a performance like that and everybody is feeling good and everybody is involved, it’s a fun brand of basketball.”

So not only have Curry and the Warriors won more regular-season games than any team in league history, but they’ve done it with a brand of ball and infectious enthusiasm that the basketball world hadn’t seen before.

But before we attach a legacy to the golden Warriors, there’s another deed to be done. Because if the Champs fail to repeat, they’re destined to be known as colossal underachievers, the greatest team ever to gag on the Big One.

A regular-season record without the league championship is Hollandaise sauce without the filet mignon. And the Warriors darn well know it.

“(The record) is history, but there is added pressure on us there to win the championship,” Andrew Bogut conceded. “With great things comes more responsibility, and this is one of those things.”

Or as Curry put it, more to the point, “It would suck to not finish the job off.”

Yeah, it would kinda suck if the Warriors laid an egg in the postseason, all right.

They enter the postseason as the most prohibitive favorites in years. In the last two seasons, they own an 88-12 record with Curry, Green, Bogut, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes as the starters, and the first team is locked and loaded for round one.

Kerr“It’s a relief, especially getting through it in full health,” Kerr said. “We’ve got all our players available for Saturday’s playoff opener and everybody’s in a good spot, and that was my main concern coming down the stretch once we secured the 1 seed.”

Yet as we know, the regular season and postseason are not one and the same.

Even the mighty Bulls struggled to close the deal in the 1996 playoffs. After victories in 10 of their first 11 games, the Jordanaires squandered a 3-0 lead in the NBA Finals. It took them six games to put a 64-win Seattle SuperSonics team to bed.

If the Warriors follow suit, we can anoint them as the Greatest Team of the New Era, at the very least. But then and only then.

Paul Ladewski is a veteran Chicago sports journalist who in 2015 relocated to the Bay Area as the Warriors beat writer for the San Francisco Examiner. He is a regular contributor to

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Danny Schayes on Dolph Schayes: A special NBA father-son team Thu, 14 Apr 2016 15:01:14 +0000

dannyschayesBasketball recently lost one of its pioneers. While that term is thrown around whenever a player from the black and white era passes away, the true understanding of what it means to be a pioneer is lost. In my view a pioneer is someone who is a visionary who transforms and then defines how things are done moving forward, creating an enduring standard.

Danny-DolphMy dad, Dolph Schayes was such a person. As a player in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s my dad set and held many records … but those records don’t begin to describe his influence on the game.

He entered the NBA at the age of 19. While he would have qualified under today’s One and Done rule, the difference was that he had already graduated from college. After skipping two grades in high school, he holds the distinction of being the youngest player to start a Final Four game at age 16. He graduated from New York University in three years with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. He used to joke that he took that major because since the airplane had just been invented he figured there wasn’t that much to learn.

As an NBA player, he holds the distinction of being the only player in history to lead his team in scoring every year that they were in the NBA (the Syracuse Nationals). He also scored the first basket in All Star Game history. He used to love to ask trivia questions about the NBA. People soon figured out that he was always the answer.

dolph_schayes_mainHe reinvented the power forward position. He changed it from being the team’s enforcer to a face up scorer with a deadly outside shot. His game was defined by constant movement, aggressive rebounding, and tremendous durability. His consecutive games record was one of his favorites. He was Karl Malone before it was cool.

He was a student of the game. As a young player he developed a smaller rim that fit inside the regulation rim. Practicing on that smaller rim improved his accuracy. He regularly made shots that would be 3-pointers today.

Hot Rod Hundley used to comment that Dolph was the only player whose team would set a triple pick to get him an open 30 footer. And he was such a good shooter that defenders would fight to get through the screens! One of his accomplishments that he was most proud of was leading the league in free throw percentage.

His was so durable that one year he broke his shooting wrist and transformed into a left-handed player. He later broke the other wrist and still scored 18 points a game with both wrists in casts. When the casts came off he found that his ability to go both ways made him unstoppable on offense. In an era when few players had long careers, my dad played 16 years and to the end regretted that he retired too soon.

He also started one of the earliest basketball camps in America. He and Bob Cousy started camps around 1951 and created an industry. I went to his basketball camp every year and received a tremendous basketball education. People still come up to me 30 years later and relate how my dad’s camp was the best time of their lives.

Dolph-SchayesBut what truly defined my dad is his impact on people. My dad loved being Dolph Schayes. He was remarkable in the interest he took in others and the influence he had on so many people’s lives. Even though he grew up in New York City, he lived his entire adult life in Syracuse, New York. He was such a part of the community. His name and address was always in the phone book and he connected with people everywhere he went. A friend related a story of how my dad met his son at a banquet when the boy was 8. They kept in touch over the years with my dad asking about his grades, his game, and other things that mattered to the boy when they would see each other. Years later my dad went to see him play in college. He was not just interesting but interested!

Years later when my mom became ill he nursed her back to health and was at her side 24/7 for months taking care of her. For a guy who lived his life as the center of attention, it was remarkable to see him love my mother so completely.

While he was a great player, he was a better person. A true pioneer.

I will be proud to see his number raised to the rafters Saturday night in Philadelphia. But believe me, I was already a very proud son.

Danny Schayes, after a two-year stint as columnist for SheridanHoops, is a Director of Business Optimization at Intensity and a leader in the business of professional sports. Schayes frequently advises sports organizations in complex business matters that include contract negotiations, pricing strategy, marketing optimization, and executive leadership. Follow him on Twitter.

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DuBose: Rockets hope postseason can change narrative Thu, 14 Apr 2016 15:01:11 +0000

DuBoseHOUSTON — From the moment the Houston Rockets broke training camp in late September, one of the primary goals had been to earn a playoff rematch of last season’s Western Conference finals against the Golden State Warriors.

So, mission accomplished?

Not quite. Undoubtedly, the Rockets envisioned themselves closer to the team they were in 2014-15 (56-26 overall, No. 2 seed) than the mediocre, 41-41 squad that had to win its final three games this week just to qualify for the playoffs as the eighth and final seed.

James Harden“We wanted to make the playoffs,” said star guard James Harden, who finished 2015-16 as only the fourth player in NBA history to average at least 29 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds per game over an entire season. (The others were Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Oscar Robertson.)

“We didn’t want to go home,” Harden added after the 116-81 home win over the Sacramento Kings in Houston’s regular-season finale. “We got some big wins. Even though the Kings were short-handed, we went out there and took care of business.

“A lot of people wrote us off and thought we weren’t going to make the playoffs. Well, here we are.”

Their reward? Starting Saturday afternoon, the Rockets will open a seven-game series in Golden State against a 73-9 Warriors squad that just finished off the winningest season in NBA history. It would be a mild upset for the Rockets to even steal a game or two from the defending champions, and winning four out of seven over the top seed would qualify as one of the greatest upsets in sports history.

However, the Rockets say they aren’t backing down from the challenge.

Patrick Beverley“With any situation any human being is in, when their back is against the wall, you’ll never know how strong you are until you have to be strong,” said point guard Patrick Beverley, who set a career high with 12 assists in Houston’s playoff-clinching win on Wednesday night. “That’s the position we were in, and it made us play some of the best basketball we’ve played all season.”

“We feel we can go all the way,” added veteran forward Josh Smith, who just rejoined the team’s regular rotation within the final week of the season.


The irony of this pairing is that on paper, the 2015-16 Rockets would seem to match up better with the Warriors than the 2014-15 squad did.

What is often forgotten about the Houston-Golden State matchup in the 2015 Western Conference finals is that it wasn’t a blowout. While the Warriors did win the series, 4-1, four of the five games were competitive in the final quarter — and in Houston’s opening two losses at Oracle Arena, the Rockets had the ball in the final seconds with a chance to tie or win on both occasions.

Harden, in particular, was phenomenal — having posted averages of 28.4 points (46.7-percent from the field, 42.9-percent from three), 7.8 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game during the series.

But the Rockets still didn’t have quite enough to finish off the Warriors late.

Pat Beverley WikiOn paper, Houston’s biggest deficiencies seemed to be poor defense at point guard and a lack of interior scoring on offense. With usual defensive pest Beverley out with a wrist injury, the Rockets turned to veterans Jason Terry and Pablo Prigioni at the point — and league MVP Stephen Curry went on a scoring spree against the aging duo.

This season, Beverley is starting and healthy.

At power forward, Donatas Motiejunas’ absence due to back surgery meant the Rockets had to turn to Smith and Terrence Jones, and neither of those two could create offense on the low block the way Motiejunas did.

Like Beverley, Motiejunas is also now starting and healthy.

On paper, the pieces are there for the Rockets to give Golden State an even tougher test in 2015-16 than they did a year ago.

“It’s going to be fun,” Beverley said. “We understand it won’t be easy.”

“Nobody is picking us to do anything,” added Jason Terry, a former NBA champion and at 38 years old, the team’s elder statesman. “But I think we can do something special.”


Unfortunately for the Rockets, games aren’t played on paper. While the team entered the season with championship-contending expectations, the pieces never seemed to mesh anywhere close to as well as they did a season ago.

Ty Lawson was brought in as a sorely-needed secondary playmaker after Harden, but his play was so poor that the Rockets ultimately ended up releasing him via a buyout.

dwight howardDwight Howard’s role in the offense has steadily declined, as has his athleticism. Now 30 years old and in his 12th NBA season, the nights of vintage Howard have been fewer and farther between, and the big man’s average of 8.5 field-goal attempts per game is the lowest since his rookie season.

And while veterans Corey Brewer and Josh Smith were crucial spark plugs off Houston’s bench in 2014-15, their play has been significantly more erratic this season — possibly due to coaches around the league having more time to scout their roles in Houston and make further adjustments.

On the coaching side, Kevin McHale went from receiving Coach of the Year consideration a year ago to being fired after a 4-7 start. Interim replacement J.B. Bickerstaff has brought a sense of youthful energy and is well-respected in Houston’s locker room, but his results (37-34) with this season’s group are not appreciably better than McHale’s were. Before the trade deadline, Bickerstaff referred to his team as “broken”.

The upside is that Harden remains as dominant as ever, averaging 29.0 points, 7.5 assists and 6.1 rebounds per game while seemingly willing his Rockets to the playoffs down the stretch of the season. But the supporting cast has not lived up to their end of the bargain.


Given those problems, many fans around Houston actually wanted Houston to miss the playoffs. If the Rockets had missed the postseason, they would have kept their first-round draft pick (likely No. 13 overall). However, because they made the playoffs, they lose the draft pick to Denver as part of general manager Daryl Morey’s ill-fated deal for Lawson.

That “tank” sentiment did not, however, make its way into Houston’s locker room.

“We can’t worry about the outside noise and the negativity,” Harden said. “Our focus is on the guys inside this locker room and going out and winning as many basketball games as we can.”

Harden remains one of the league’s most cut-throat competitors, and he would undoubtedly love another shot against Curry — the rival he battled with for MVP honors just one season ago.

Howard, meanwhile, will likely opt out of his contract after the season and enter free agency in July — and a strong showing against the loaded Warriors on the NBA’s biggest stage could go a long way toward landing him the type of long-term contract he desires. Howard was a dominant playoff performer during his first two seasons in Houston, so he may very well step up his game, again.

Bickerstaff HardenAnd for Bickerstaff, it might be his last chance to make a strong case to Morey and owner Les Alexander on why he should remain the team’s coach moving forward.

Besides individual motivations for the players and coaches and the sheer spirit of competition, there’s also the matter of the team’s perception. Assuming Howard opts out, the Rockets will be flush with cash in July’s free agency and aggressively pursuing top talents — including Harden’s former teammate, Kevin Durant.

In those free-agency pursuits, one of the main selling points by Houston is the team’s frequency of making the postseason. Indeed, they’ve now qualified for the Western playoffs in all four of Harden’s seasons in Houston.

If the Rockets had somehow missed the playoffs altogether, or perhaps even if they are swept in a series of embarrassing blowouts, it would be fair to wonder if top free agents might reject Houston on the basis of culture.

But if the Rockets can regroup and put forth a strong showing against the Warriors, the opportunity is there to reshape the narrative — even if they don’t pull off the all-time upset of taking four games.

“Obviously they’re playing well, but we are, too,” Harden said of the matchup with Golden State. “It’s going to be a great test for us, but we’re excited for the challenge.”

Barring a shocking series win, the Rockets are still expected to dramatically remake their roster over the summer. To that end, a late lottery pick (which would have been garnered by missing the playoffs) in the upcoming NBA Draft might seem helpful at first glance.

Rockets jersey sleevesBut from a practical standpoint, Houston has a much shorter-term focus. Harden’s contract expires in 2018, meaning the Rockets essentially have two more seasons after this one to put a contender around him and give him a compelling basketball reason to stay put in Houston. A late lottery pick would be unlikely to contribute so soon to that cause. Let’s not forget that Morey’s Rockets had similar picks for three straight years from 2010 until 2012, and the selections — Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris and Jeremy Lamb — were hardly franchise-changers.

As a result, the end game for these Rockets is two-fold. First, no matter how unlikely, they plan to give it their best shot against the Warriors in the first round to see if they can somehow salvage this underachieving 2015-16 campaign. Assuming they cannot, the next goal is to reshape the perception of the franchise to make it a more attractive destination come July.

It certainly is not the scenario Houston had planned on entering the season, but they now at least have a chance to take the uphill climb and advance closer to their long-term goal of building a contender. Missing the playoffs altogether would have made the hill to get there even steeper.

Ben DuBose is a veteran sports reporter who has followed the Houston Rockets and the NBA since Hakeem Olajuwon was Akeem Olajuwon. He writes for both SheridanHoops and ClutchFans, an independent Rockets blog. You can follow him on Twitter and listen to his Houston sports podcast.

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