PODCAST: Phil Jackson Isn’t The Only Item Up For Discussion

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Phil Jackson to the Knicks was definitely the story of the day. When a guy with 13 championship rings takes on a new job, there’s no getting around the importance of the moment.

But there are 29 other teams making news of one kind or another, and I found time on 1280AM in Salt Lake City to deviate away from Jackson and discuss Coach of the Year, the sleeper teams in the East and the West, and the debate over whether Blake Griffin has become a more worthy MVP candidate than LeBron James.

Popular Basketball Internet Radio with Sheridan Hoops Radio on BlogTalkRadio

How Did Most Improved Player Candidates Fare in March Madness?

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andredrummondIt’s March Madness, and that can only mean one thing.

I just spent the past 48 hours writing three paragraphs on all 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament for my blog, RoundballDaily.com. If I have to hit the parentheses button one more time, I’m going to lose my index finger (I put a lot of the stats in parentheses). Dammit.

In the spirit of the Big Dance, I’ve decided to take a trip down memory lane and reminisce about the greatest March Madness moments from each of our Most Improved Player candidates. Lord knows it’s a better idea than putting them all into a fake tournament.

So without further paragraphs, let’s take a look at each player and how they fared in March Madness:

Goran Dragic: OK, bad start. Dragic didn’t play college basketball because he’s from Slovenia. But if he had, I think he would’ve gone to St. Mary’s, and led them to the Sweet 16. There, his Gaels would have gotten hosed on every call and subsequently lost to an overseeded Duke team led by a bunch of future crappy NBA players. I think Jay Bilas would have described him as a “really good” point guard with “excellent ball skills.”

Andre Drummond: UConn was a disaster the only year Drummond was there. The Huskies lost to Iowa State in their first game and Jim Calhoun’s last one. Andre averaged 10 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.6 Calhoun Panic Attacks per game that season. He was way too talented for those numbers.

Lance Stephenson: He played one season at Cincinnati, which didn’t make The Dance. “Born Ready” was probably outstanding in the NIT, even though the Bearcats bowed out in the second round.

Anthony Davis: The ‘Brow is the clear winner here. He’s a college legend for his ridiculously successful freshman year at Kentucky in 2012. Davis won the National Freshman of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Player of the Year awards. He also won the national championship and ended up as the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, something no one else in NCAA history has done. Other than that, he sucked.

DeAndre Jordan: A Jordan-led Texas A&M team almost upset Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love’s UCLA squad in 2008, falling 53-49, in a second-round heartbreaker. I can remember Jordan holding onto his shorts in the lane as the camera panned to him immediately after the buzzer sounded. It was a heck of an effort. Jordan only spent one season at A&M and averaged just 7.9 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks.

Isaiah Thomas: The Hustlin’ Husky was a star at Washington, where he played in the Big Dance each of the three years he was there. UW hasn’t been back since. The best tourney moment for Thomas had to be when he led the 11th-seeded Huskies to the Sweet 16 in 2011. That Washington team manhandled Darrington Hobson and No. 3 New Mexico, 82-64, in the second round.

Well…that was fun, wasn’t it?

And the best part? No Rony Seikaly Region.

On to the rankings.

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Sixth Man Rankings: The Knicks’ current win streak should be taken with skepticism

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knicksThe Knicks have won five straight games and now sit just 3.5 games from the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. The fans of Gotham are finally excited about the Knicks for the first time this season. The Bucks come to New York on Saturday, and if the Knicks can pull out an expected victory, they’ll close the gap between them and the Hawks even further.

Right now, ESPN.com has the Knicks’ playoff odds at 15%. With the Knicks having five very winnable games over their next six, I’d spot their chances at about 33% today.

Moreover, on a larger level, with Phil Jackson reportedly close to signing on with the team this week, there’s a sense of relief among the fans that the team may finally have a realistic plan in place to build a roster for the future.

Unfortunately for Knicks fans, the temporary excitement in the Knicks’ hot streak is slightly misguided. As analytic-guru and writer Dean Oliver calculated in his book Basketball on Paper, winning streaks of five or six games are actually quite common in the NBA — even for underachieving teams.

The Knicks are currently 26-40, good for a winning percentage of .394.

As Oliver discovered after extensive research of historical NBA seasons, teams with winning percentages of .400 or better have a 55% chance of winning five games in a row over an 82 game schedule.

Even if the Knicks defeat Milwaukee on Saturday (not a given, considering they dropped their last matchup to Milwaukee in February), a six-game win streak for a mediocre team is still quite common in today’s NBA. According to Oliver, a .400 team has a 27% chance of winning six games in a row over the course of a season. Just last month, the Cavaliers won six games in a row and proceeded to lose seven of their next nine. Winning a string of games is not indicative of a team turning their season around.

Furthermore, out of the teams New York has beaten recently on this little streak, only the Timberwolves own a winning record (32-31). This win streak is more a reflection of the poor competition the Knicks have faced rather than the Knicks having magically figured things out. Head coach Mike Woodson still doesn’t seem to grasp who can (and can’t) play well together:

On a more positive note for Knicks fans, one thing they can be happy about is J.R. Smith’s sudden positive turnaround. Over the Knicks’ five game streak, Smith has averaged 16.6 points, 3.6 assists and 3.4 rebounds. As his production’s increased, his efficiency has improved as well. He’s shooting 43% from deep over the streak and hasn’t committed a turnover in four of the team’s five wins.

Considering he has been averaging just 13.3 points and shooting under 40% from the entire field for the season, the Knicks must be relieved to see their longterm investment starting to look adequate again.

On to the rankings…

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From the Clouds: This Week’s Most Improved Player Rankings

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MikeFrancesa2008

A well-proportioned, wise Italian man with a radio show in New York once told me and a listening audience of probably hundreds that the NBA “goes into the clouds” in February and March. I can’t really remember his name, OK? So let’s just call him Ike Manfresca.

Manfresca’s quote has always stuck with me, because:  (a) it was so strange and (b) it’s the perfect way to describe the seasonal malaise that rolls in around this time of year, like a warm front heading northeast from the Great Basin.

In March, the NBA exists in a dream-like state, as players shuffle through the hazy backstretch of the season, traveling from city to city to city almost on muscle memory.

They box out, fill fast break lanes and take contested jump shots without even thinking, like you getting off that exit you always get off on your way to work. You know what I’m talking about. Sometimes you sit there and think, How did I get here this morning? I don’t remember anything from the minute I remote-started my car.

It’s the same with coaches, who will complain to referees and shout nonsensical jargon at their players without using the frontal lobe of their brains.

How did we end up in a 3-2 zone?, they wonder. I don’t even remember anything I said in that second quarter timeout.

For fans, March is the time when you stop listening to the guest speaker and start to wonder how many bananas you’ve eaten in your life.

Casual fans have already turned their attention to college basketball, which is infinitely more exciting this time of year. It’s easy to tune out the professionals and happen upon scores while looking up at TV screens at the bar, or by accidentally clicking “NBA” instead of “College Basketball” on your smartphone app.

Sure, many teams are fighting tooth and nail for the posteason, and some, like the Pacers (who have lost four in a row), might be sleepwalking as home court advantage – and ultimately the Larry O’Brien Trophy – slips through their fingers, eyes glazed over.

But for most fans, the games have gotten repetitive and redundant. Bobcats-Nuggets in November is exciting and intriguing. Bobcats-Nuggets in March i

Sorry, I lost interest in that last sentence.

It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just that the NBA season is like a movie that waits too long to get to the climax. We get it. The East sucks, LeBron is awesome, Kevin Durant might win MVP, and Kels Dayton is an up-and-coming sportswriter.

Enough cheeky dialogue. Get to the part where people start jumping out of planes!

It’s going to happen soon, but first we have to take a trip through the clouds. Call it the calm before the storm. Or call into Ike Manfresca’s radio show.

Wake me up when we get to April.

Until then, I’ll be watching the MAAC championship.

On to the rankings.

 

 

Whoa….how did we get here? I don’t even remember typing any of that.

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Tweet of the Night: Brent Barry impressed by the Suns despite their loss to the Clippers

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Blake_Griffin_with_ball_20131118_Clippers_v_GrizzlesMonday’s contest between Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns looked to be over early when Blake Griffin was having one of those games where he simply could not be stopped by anyone.

Griffin scored 22 points in the first quarter alone on an array of shots and moves around the basket and even payed a little homage to Karl Malone on this breakaway dunk. He shot a ridiculous 14-of-16 from the field for 37 points, and the Clippers got out to a 62-45 lead at half time. The Suns, however, kept clawing away at the lead despite the power forward’s dominance and eventually brought the game down to a single-digit lead for the Clippers in the fourth quarter.

Unfortunately for both teams, things had to get real feisty before that happened.