Kevin Durant: A Superstar worth Betting on in the Playoffs

kevin-durant-playoffs-starThe Oklahoma Thunder had a rough ending to last season. Despite earning the Western Conference’s top seed, they were bounced in the second round of the playoffs by the defensive-minded Memphis Grizzlies. Sure, Russell Westbrook was out with an injury, but it still didn’t feel good losing the series 4-1, despite having home court advantage.

Taking all of this into account, the Thunder got some sweet revenge by polishing off the Grizzlies in Game 7 of their first-round series. And who was leading the charge? None other than Kevin Durant.

The team’s superstar showed up when everything was on the line as he scored 33 points and delivered knockout blow after knockout blow in the 120-109 victory. Oh, and might we add that he nailed all five of his three-point attempts.

This was definitely a boost for a guy who’d taken so much criticism earlier in the series. And to be fair, the criticism wasn’t totally unwarranted as Durant was shooting pretty poorly and being face guarded by Tony Allen. Yes, the points were there, but his shot volume was also sky high. After the first six games, he was just 61-of-148 from the field and 12-of-48 from the three-point line (25%). An Oklahoma city newspaper headline was quick to dub him “Mr. Unreliable.”

kevin-durant-playoffs-star-1However, “The Second Coming” rebounded to go 12-for-18 in Game 7, with the aforementioned five three’s. “I got out of my own way,” Durant said. “I was thinking too much. I was worrying about what [the media] was saying. I was worrying about what shots I was going to shoot throughout the game.”

In the end, it wasn’t his shot or showing up Allen that propelled Durant to an exceptional performance in the deciding game. Instead, as Thunder point guard Derek Fisher points out, it was showing up for his teammates. “Kevin wasn’t worried about getting his shot, or his points, he was worried about letting the guys in the locker room down,” Fisher said. “For him, that was the hardest part. He felt like he was letting guys down as the franchise player, as the leader. Every great player goes through it at some point, all of them. There starts to be some doubt. There starts to be criticism all around you. There’s second-guessing. They all do – and Kevin worked his way right out of it.”

As Durant showed during this series, he doesn’t let all of the talk or previous struggles keep him from performing when everything’s on the line. So what if a paper from his own city dubs him Mr. Unreliable or he’s missing countless shots from downtown. That said, anybody who’s betting on Oklahoma City to win, or just engaging in live wagering on Durant’s play, can definitely take comfort in knowing that they’re picking a winner.

kevin-durant-playoffs-star--2As for their next challenge, they take on the emotional Clippers, who topped the Golden State Warriors in a hard-fought series that was marred by owner Donald Sterling’s racist comments. Much like the Thunder, L.A. boasts a very talented team. And this will be a high-scoring affair since Oklahoma averages 106.2 PPG while the Clippers pour in 107.9 PPG. One more similarity between these teams is that they feature some top-flight stars, with the Thunder having the Durant/Westbrook duo and L.A. featuring the Chris Paul/Blake Griffin combo.

The key difference could be defense, which Oklahoma City plays better than L.A. And while both of these squads are exiting emotional series, the weary Clippers battled through adversity created by Sterling and an overly physical series with Golden State. This is a close one to call, but when you also throw home court into the equation, we like the Thunder in seven games.

Kevin Durant: The Obvious MVP Choice in 2014

kevin-durant-mvpThere are several players who have made legitimate cases for the Most Valuable Player award this season.

There is of course reigning MVP and two-time defending NBA champion LeBron James, who’s averaging 26.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG and 6.5 APG. There’s LaMarcus Aldridge, who’s helped Portland climb to the West’s third seed amid averaging 24.3 PPG and 11.6 RPG. Then there is Blake Griffin, who has carried the Clippers in the absence of Chris Paul with 23.3 PPG and 9.7 RPG. And we can’t leave Paul George out of this discussion either since he’s got the Pacers atop the East on the strength of his 22.7 PPG and 6.4 RPG. But as good as these guys have been, none of them come even close to Kevin Durant this season.

An easy place place to start here is the numbers. Durant is averaging 31.1 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 5.3 APG and 1.5 SPG. What’s particularly impressive about Durant’s scoring average is how efficient he’s been, shooting 41.3% from the three-point line and 51.2% overall.

kevin-durantLooking past the numbers, you can also point to what Durant has helped his team do. Currently, the Oklahoma City Thunder have the league’s best overall record at 39-11. Sure, this is only a game better than Indiana, but the way Oklahoma is playing, there’s little reason to believe that they won’t stay in their lofty position. Assuming this does indeed happen, there’s little reason to give anybody else the 2014 NBA MVP award.

Of course, you can never count out a champion. And this is exactly the case that LeBron is still trying to make. His Heat maintain a very respectable 34-13 record, which is 4.5 games behind the Thunder. But the rebuttal to this is that Durant’s averaging more points, rebounds, steals and blocks than James – plus his team’s record is better.

Now does this mean Oklahoma City will go on to win the NBA title? The Pacers, Heat and Spurs will definitely have something to say about this. But if everything stays on the same course, Durant can at least be sure of winning his first career MVP award.

Houston Rockets want Dwight Howard, trying to trade Thomas Robinson

dwight-howardA few weeks ago, the Houston Rockets finished up a pretty solid season after making the playoffs and taking two games from the Western Conference’s number one seed, the Oklahoma City Thunder. Of course, there is definitely room for improvement following a first round playoff exit, and the Rockets are looking to spend big in the free agent market this summer. Their first choice appears to be Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard.

Apparently, Houston has been interested in Howard for quite some time and are trying to clear cap space for the seven-time NBA All-Star. Seeing as how he’ll command a maximum contract, the Rockets desperately want to have enough cap space by July’s free agency period. Their first step to making this happen involves attempting to unload top-five draft pick Thomas Robinson for anything they can get.

dwight-howardThe 6’10” power forward is expendable after a disappointing rookie season that was split between Sacramento and Houston. Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski wrote about this with the following:

The Houston Rockets are determined to trade forward Thomas Robinson – the fifth pick in the 2012 NBA draft – to create salary-cap space for the pursuit of the Los Angeles Lakers’ free-agent superstar Dwight Howard, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.

The Rockets have made clear to multiple rival teams that they plan to accept the best offer to move Robinson and eliminate his $3.52 million salary for the 2013-14 season.

Without the salary of Robinson and others, the Rockets will have the space to offer Howard a maximum deal starting at approximately $20.5 million a season.

thomas-robinsonIt’s no surprise that Robinson is trade bait in this situation. After being selected fifth overall in the 2012 NBA Draft, the Kansas product has failed to live up to expectations. He played 51 games in his rookie season for Sacramento and averaged 4.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG and 0.4 BPG. Robinson was then traded to Houston, where he played the final 19 games of his rookie year and didn’t do much better after averaging 4.5 PPG, 4.1 RPG and 0.3 BPG.

Going back to Howard, the 6’11” rock-solid center would definitely give Houston the star power they need to enter the Western Conference’s upper echelon. The Rockets already feature shooting guard James Harden, who averaged 25.9 PPG, 5.8 APG, 4.9 RPG and 1.82 SPG last season. They also have solid role players in Jeremy Lin (13.4 PPG, 6.1 APG), Chandler Parsons (15.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG), Carlos Delfino (10.6 PPG, 3.3 RPG) and Omer Asik (10.1 PPG, 11.7 RPG).

Putting Dwight Howard in the middle of all this could make them a top 3-4 team next season. In 76 games for the Lakers, he averaged 17.1 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 2.4 BPG while shooting 57.8% from the field. And these numbers came despite playing alongside several other career All-Stars such as Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.

Of course, picking Howard up is no guarantee because the Dallas Mavericks and Golden State Warriors are also hot on his trail. Plus they still need to find a taker for Robinson, which may not yield a lot in return.

There’s also the matter of Los Angeles still being able to sign Howard. This is a definite possibility since the Lakers will have plenty of talent again next year. On the other hand, Howard may not want to relive last season’s disaster, where L.A. was most one of the most disappointing teams in NBA history.

The free agency period starts on July 1st, so it’ll be interesting to see where Howard is leaning after this point.

Former NBA Lottery Pick Robert Swift hits Rock Bottom with Home Foreclosure

robert-swiftThere was a time when 7’1″ Robert Swift was a very intriguing talent to NBA GMs. And this talent was enough to convince the Seattle Supersonics to draft him with the 12th overall pick right out of high school. What ensued was an injury-plagued, highly disappointing career that never saw Swift play more than 47 games in a season. He was eventually released by the Oklahoma City Thunder (formerly Sonics) in 2009 and sporadically played for the NBDL’s Bakersfield Jam as well as the Tokyo Apache afterward.

When neither of these stops worked out, Swift moved back into the $1.3 million home that he’d occupied during his Seattle days. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like he wisely managed the estimated $20 million that he earned during his career because Swift’s home is now in foreclosure. What’s worse is that he’s refusing to leave the property, which features a bullet hole in the garage, beers cans on the lawn, and several broken-down cars in the driveway.

So not only has the former NBA lottery pick totally trashed a luxurious home in an upscale Seattle neighborhood (Sammamish), but he’s also unwilling to vacate the premises. According to Seattle-based news station KOMO, Swift has one week to move out of the newly-purchased home or police will get involved in the matter. You can see the KOMO News video here.

Seattle SuperSonics v Sacramento KingsAs the video shows, some of the handiwork that Swift has done on the 4-bedroom, 6,400-square-foot home includes boarded windows, chipped paint everywhere, and water-filled buckets outside. Now this might be how you’d expect a band of frat brothers to take care of a house, but not somebody who just turned 27 years old.

Going back to Swift’s career, he first garnered national attention after leading California’s Garces Memorial High School (Bakersfield, California) to a USA Today top 25 ranking. The big man eventually finished his career at Bakersfield High School and committed to the University of Southern California.

However, he turned down his commitment to USC and instead declared for the 2004 NBA Draft. After being the Sonics’ first pick, he had a largely insignificant rookie season which included 0.9 PPG, 0.4 RPG and 0.4 BPG in 16 games. In his second year, Swift made a big improvement under coach Bob Hill after averaging 6.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG and 1.19 BPG in 47 contests.

Robert was named the starting center to open the 2006-2007 NBA season. However, he ruptured the ACL in his right knee in the first preseason game and sat out the entire season. He returned in the 2007-2008 season, but tore a lateral meniscus after just eight games. Swift’s final year in the NBA saw him average 4.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG and 0.9 BPG; however, the Oklahoma City Thunder renounced his rights 26 games into the season.

He then played for the Bakersfield Jam for two games, but left the team after citing personal reasons. Swift last played professional basketball for the Tokyo Apache under his former Sonics coach Bob Hill; the team eventually folded and left Robert Swift without a job. Despite being just 27, he hasn’t played a minute of pro ball since 2010.

NBA Power Rankings for February 23rd, 2013

serge-ibakaThe defending champion Miami Heat have really started to take form in February. They’ve now won nine straight games, including victories over the LA Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls. The hot streak doesn’t look to end any time soon either because Miami has some easy home games coming up. This being said, we had to put the Heat on top this week in our NBA power rankings. However, there were a couple of other teams who are right on Miami’s trail for the best overall ranking so let’s discuss all of this below.

1. Miami Heat (38-14) – LeBron James has definitely been the biggest catalyst in the Heat’s great month. He’s averaging 30.2 PPG in February, which is up three points from his season average of 27.2 PPG. The big challenge come playoff time will be finding reliable bench production. Ray Allen has averaged 10.8 PPG off the bench, but he’s only scoring 7.6 PPG this month and is shooting 31.1% from the field.

2. San Antonio Spurs (44-13) – It’s hard picking a number one team when you also factor in how successful the Spurs have been lately. They’ve gone 16-2 since early January and have held the league’s best record for two weeks. And they’ll finally be ending a nine-game road trip in Phoenix tomorrow night, which means a friendly home stretch is coming up. Tony Parker is quite possibly having the best season of his 11-year career with 21.1 PPG, 7.6 APG and 53.6% shooting.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder (40-15) – The Thunder finally ended a three-game losing streak by beating the Minnesota Timberwolves at home. Based on their recent struggles, Oklahoma City has now fallen behind the Spurs by three games in the Western Conference race. So it’ll be interesting to see how they respond over the final 27 games of the season. Serge Ibaka has really improved his offensive role with the team in averaging 13.3 PPG and shooting 55.6% from the field. Of course, he’s still providing excellent defense too with 3.0 BPG.

chauncey-billups4. Los Angeles Clippers (39-18) – After suffering through a terrible stretch from mid-January to early February – where they lost 8 out of 11 games – the Clippers appear to be back on track. They’ve now won four out of the past five games, with the lone loss being to the Spurs. Chauncey Billups returned from a long injury layoff during this stretch and is giving the team a big boost with 10.4 PPG and 44.4% three-point shooting.

5. Indiana Pacers (34-21) – Just last week, we predicated that the Pacers would soon take over the Eastern Conference’s number two spot. And this came true in a major way after Indiana thumped New York by 26 points. Paul George (17.7 PPG) was huge in this game as he scored 27 points and carried the Pacers to victory. David West (17.2 PPG) has also come up big in plenty of games this season, giving Indiana a nice one-two punch.

6. Memphis Grizzlies (36-18) – Who’d have thought that the Grizzlies would be firmly entrenched in the West’s number four spot after trading away their leading scorer, Rudy Gay. They’ve now grabbed six straight tony-allenvictories and are getting more offense out of starting SG Tony Allen, who’s averaging 11.6 PPG and shooting 57.5% in February. Traditionally known for his defense, Allen is having a career revival in Memphis.

7. New York Knicks (32-20) – The aforementioned 26-point loss to the Pacers isn’t the only problem that the Knicks have had lately. They’ve dropped four straight games and fallen out of the Eastern Conference’s top two spots for the first time this year. Unfortunately, Amar’e Stoudemire’s return hasn’t quite provided the boost New York has been looking for in the win-loss column – although he is averaging 13.3 PPG and 5.0 RPG.

8. Denver Nuggets (34-22) – The Nuggets continue to fall down our power rankings after losing four out of the past five contests. Losses to Toronto and Washington have really hurt Denver’s bid to grab home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Of course, you can’t really blame any of this on PG Ty Lawson (16.2 PPG) since he’s played incredible and is averaging 23.0 PPG and 9.0 APG in February.

9. Brooklyn Nets (33-23) – Brooklyn recently went on a good run after beating Indiana, Milwaukee (twice) and Denver – before finally losing to the Rockets last night. Brook Lopze continues to impress in his fifth season with 18.9 PPG, 7.3 RPG and 2.1 BPG. He’s especially stepped up his scoring production in February after contributing 20.1 PPG this month. You can bet that Lopez is still carrying a chip on his shoulder after not making the All-Star team.

10. Chicago Bulls (32-23) – As more and more reports surface regarding Derrick Rose’s return, it’s looking like he won’t be back this season. The thinking here is that the Bulls don’t want to rush their franchise player back onto the court – especially when the supporting cast is doing an admirable job already. Center Joakim Noah has really stood out this year by averaging 11.3 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 20.6 BPG and 1.29 SPG.

NBA Power Rankings for February 17th, 2013

lebron-jamesThe San Antonio Spurs continue to roll, despite being in the midst of a 9-game road trip. They’ve won 14 out of the last 15 games and are firmly entrenched atop the NBA standings. However, the defending champion Miami Heat have also played well as of late and are starting to take control of the Eastern Conference. So which team is number one in this week’s power rankings? Here’s the answer…

1. San Antonio Spurs (42-11) – The Spurs have truly broken away from the pack over the past five weeks. Once sitting behind the Clippers and Thunder in the West, San Antonio has now bolted out to a 2.5-game lead over Oklahoma City for the league’s best record. Second year player Kawhi Leonard (10.5 PPG) is really doing well during this stretch and he’s scoring 16.6 PPG over the past five games. This has supplemented the already-high and expected production from Tony Parker (20.8 PPG), Tim Duncan (17.2 PPG) and Manu Ginobili (12.3 PPG).

2. Miami Heat (36-14) – Miami cemented their second place spot after winning their past seven games. In fact, we were really debating about whether to put the Heat above San Antonio – especially after a 10-point victory at Oklahoma City. That makes Miami winners of seven straight games and places them four games ahead of second place New York in the East. LeBron James has really taken the team on his back lately and is averaging 31.5 PPG in February.

russell-westbrook3. Oklahoma City Thunder (39-14) – The Thunder have had a rough week after losing to the Heat by 10 and the Utah Jazz by 15. However, they’re still in second place in the West and are getting excellent play out of stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Kevin Martin is also in line for a Sixth Man of the Year award since he’s scoring 15.0 PPG and shooting 43.6% from 3-point territory.

4. L.A. Clippers (39-17) – Up until a couple of weeks ago, L.A. had lost 8 out of their past 11 games. However, they’ve since won four straight games and move up a spot from our last power rankings. Three of these victories have come on the road – with one being a 14-point win against the Knicks. The Clippers have a very well-rounded team since six players are averaging in double figures with Blake Griffin (18.5 PPG) and Jamal Crawford (16.8 PPG) leading the way.

5. Indiana Pacers (33-21) – After winning 6 out of their last 8 games and beating Miami, Chicago and Atlanta during this stretch, Indiana moves up a couple of spots. Now this team gets a week to rest up before taking on New York in a big Eastern Conference showdown. Based on how they’ve been playing over the past two months, we really like the Pacers chances of moving up to the East’s number two seed soon.

amare-stoudemire6. New York Knicks (32-18) – New York opened this year with the league’s best record and held the top spot for weeks. However, they’ve stumbled somewhat as the season has dragged on and have lost three out of the past four games. What’s particularly disheartening about these losses is that two of them came to Eastern Conference bottom-feeders Toronto and Washington. Perhaps the Knicks will get back on the winning track as their team chemistry gets more used to having Amar’e Stoudemire (13.6 PPG) in the lineup.

7. Denver Nuggets (33-18) – Denver had been a fast-climbing team in our rankings after winning nine straight games in late January/early February. However, they hit a big roadblock by losing their last three contests. If there’s any silver lining with the losses to Boston, Toronto and Brooklyn, all of the contests have come on the road. Plus Ty Lawson (15.8 PPG) has really stepped up his game by averaging 22.0 PPG throughout February.

8. Memphis Grizzlies (33-18) – After the Grizzlies traded away Rudy Gay, the common reaction was that Memphis would fade away and have trouble earning a playoff spot in the West. However, they’re hanging onto the West’s fourth seed and have grabbed three straight victories. It’ll be interesting to see how the Grizzlies replace Gay’s 17.2 PPG as the season rolls along.

brook-lopez9. Brooklyn Nets (31-22) – Sometimes it’s hard to figure out where Brooklyn fits among the league’s top teams. One week they’re beating Indiana and Denver, the next week they’re losing to Washington and the L.A. Lakers. In any case, it’s all combined to leave the Nets sitting at fourth place in the East. Brook Lopez continues to lead this team with 19.0 PPG, 7.4 RPG and 2.17 BPG.

10. Chicago Bulls (30-22) – Chicago drops two spots in our rankings after losing five out of their past seven games. Now all of these losses have come to good teams, but they’re still losses nonetheless. For this reason, we thought of putting Golden State (30-22) at the number 10 spot. However, we like how complete of a team the Bulls are with Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Nate Robinson, Joakim Noah and Richard Hamilton all in this lineup.