Does beating Warriors make Cleveland Cavaliers the NBA’s Best Team?

Draymond Green, LeBron JamesLast night featured one of the most-anticipated games of the 2014-15 NBA season, with the Cleveland Cavaliers hosting the Golden State Warriors. All eyes were on this contest because Golden State featured the league’s best record at 44-10, while Cleveland is hitting their stride after winning 17 out of their last 19 games.

This matchup was potentially a 2015 NBA Finals preview, and if the results are any indication – a 110-99 victory by Cleveland – the East should do very well in the Finals. Okay, so that’s putting the cart ahead of the horse, but the Cavs have even more momentum going forward after this huge victory.

The same can be said of LeBron James, who scored a season-high 42 points and grabbed 11 rebounds against Golden State. He came out strong right from the gate after scoring 24 points in the first half, and he continued attacking in the second half too. Kyrie Irving pitched in 24 points, along with a 10-for-10 performance from the free throw line.

Golden State’s star players, on the other hand, didn’t fare quite so well. Stephen Curry ended with 18 points on 5-of-17 shooting while Klay Thompson added 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting. David Lee came off the bench to lead the Warriors with 19 points.

cleveland-cavs-beat-warriors-1One thing became immediately clear after this game: for the first time since the season’s start, Cleveland is truly back in the discussion for serious title contenders. Furthermore, LeBron has made himself a strong MVP candidate with his best performance of the year against the NBA’s top team. King James easily outplayed one of the strongest MVP contenders, Curry, while continuing the excellence that started when he came back from an 8-game layoff in January. Of course, if LeBron falls short of the MVP award, he can still sleep at night knowing that he’s already earned 4 of them.

His bigger dream at this point is definitely bringing Cleveland its first NBA title. And this seems like a very realistic goal when considering that the Cavs continue climbing in the Eastern Conference standings. They’re currently half a game ahead of Chicago in the Central Division, while maintaining the number-three seed. They also sit just a game behind Toronto for the East’s second seed. Cleveland likely won’t catch Atlanta for the top seed, but if they keep playing like this, will it really matter? Moreover, is there another NBA team that can beat them?

If the Warriors hope to answer yes to this question, they’ll need a stronger defensive effort in the future. This shouldn’t be a problem because, coming into last night’s contest, they ranked No. 1 in defensive efficiency. However, they couldn’t contain a red-hot start from the Cavs, who put up 32 points in the first quarter and 61 by halftime.

James lighting up Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes was a big reason for this offensive outburst. But four other Cavs ended up in double digits too, meaning there’s no shortage of options on the Cleveland roster. Of course, there are over three months of basketball left to be played, so it’s a little early to anoint the Cavs as the automatic champion.

Golden State Warriors Betting: Was Klay Thompson’s Max Contract a Good Idea?

klay-thompson-max-contractOn the surface, it appears that Klay Thompson is worth every penny of the 4-year, $70 million max contract that he just signed with the Golden State Warriors. After all, the 6’7″ shooting guard is just 24, he’s leading the league with 29.7 PPG, and he’s nailing almost 54% of his shots from the field. So if there’s somebody who deserves a max contract it’s this guy, right?

Purely in terms of scoring and shooting the basketball, yes, Thompson’s contract is totally justified. But from a winning perspective, this move has to be questioned by anybody who looks closely at the matter.

First off, consider that noted champions like Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade had already won NBA Championships by the time that they signed a major contract. Sure many free agents also get max deals without truly proving they’re winners. However, the teams that sign/re-sign them out of desperation are often relegated to mediocrity for years in the aftermath.

Now consider Thompson, who’s being paid like the centerpiece of a championship caliber team that includes Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala. So far in Thompson’s young career, the team has missed the playoffs once (2012), lost to the Spurs in the conference semifinals (2013), and lost to the LA Clippers in the first round. And while they won 51 games last year, legacies are made through the playoffs, where Golden State had a regression.

Thompson’s playoff legacy right now is of a guy whose game fades when the competition level is increased. For evidence of this, look at how his numbers dipped against the Clippers:

2013-14 Regular Season – 44% shooting, 41.7% three-point, 18.4 PPG
2014 Playoffs (7 Games) – 40.8% shooting, 36.4% three-point, 16.4 PPG

klay-thompson-max-contract-1Assuming the Warriors make the playoffs again this season, one could argue that Thompson’s scoring and shooting will pick up. But the flipside is that there’s no guarantee his game will rise to the level of NBA postseason competition.

What’s more is that Thompson doesn’t turn in big numbers on the defensive end either. Last season he averaged 0.9 SPG and 0.5 BPG through 81 contests. These aren’t exactly stats that would impress Bryant, Wade, Michael Jordan, Jerry West or any other championship shooting guard who cared just as much on the other end of the floor.

Let’s face it…the Warriors overpaid for a one-dimensional shooter who’s won one playoff series in his career. Granted he’s a great shooter who will get better over the years. Furthermore, somebody was going to pay this guy the big bucks – definitely Minnesota if they could landed him through the failed Kevin Love trade.

But now Thompson becomes one more huge contract on a team that has too many of them. And while he may provide much more than the oft-injured Andrew Bogut and his $13 million contract, we don’t see Thompson becoming the type of max-contract player who carries his club deep into the playoffs.

Stephen Curry vs. Mark Jackson Three-Point Contest features Big Surprise

mark-jackson-stephen-curry-three-point-contestA clip recently surfaced of the Golden State Warriors having fun at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. And the highlight of this fun: a three-point contest between All-Star Stephen Curry and his coach, Mark Jackson.

Actually, this doesn’t sound like much of a contest at all because Curry is one of the deadliest sharpshooters in the NBA, boasting a career 43.9% shooting average from behind the arc. His shooting form is just as pretty as his numbers suggest.

Jackson, on the other hand, has a few things working against him. For starters, it’s been a decade since he last played an NBA game. And although he wasn’t totally inept from the three-point line when he did play, Jackson was a mediocre 33.2% shooter from downtown. And as for his shooting form, well, the former Pacers guard’s ugly push shot leaves a lot to be desired.

So, with the background now set, would you believe that Jackson actually dominated his young padawan in this three-point contest? As can be seen in this clip, Curry shot a very disappointing 6-for-15 from three different spots on the court. Meanwhile, Jackson showed that he can be very proficient when given all day to shoot as he went 9-for-10 during the challenge – sweeping all three spots in the process.

Jackson did have a small advantage in that he got two years of practice at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse court (then-Conseco Fieldhouse practice court) in the late 90s. However, it’s still an impressive showing from the old veteran. Curry took the beating in stride, joking afterward about how this was like a regular season college game, and he would turn things on if there was an NCAA Tournament-style three-point contest among the Warriors.

He’s no doubt got more competitive things to worry about with Golden State battling for playoff positioning in the tough Western Conference. The 36-24 Warriors are currently the sixth seed in the West, four-and-a-half games behind the fifth-seeded Rockets (40-19) and fourth-seeded Clippers (41-20). However, they’re only half a game ahead of seventh-seeded Phoenix Suns and eighth-seeded Dallas Mavericks.

2014 NBA All-Star Rosters set – 7 First-Time Players make Cut

lamarcus-aldridge-all-star-gameThe 2014 NBA All-Star reserves were recently announced, which means that we now have complete teams to discuss. In all, seven players received their first ever All-Star selection, with Stephen Curry both getting his first nod and a starting role thanks to the fan vote.

Other first-time players who’ll be joining Curry on the Western Conference team include LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis. The latter will be taking Kobe Bryant’s place on the team since he’s injured and can’t play. Lillard is not only playing in his first All-Star game, but also competing in four other contests over the weekend. As for Aldridge, he’s not only a first-time All-Star, but also a legitimate MVP candidate this year.

Moving to the Eastern Conference, first-time selections include DeMar DeRozan, Paul Millsap and John Wall. Now in his fifth year, DeRozan really seems to have stepped his game up while averaging 22 PPG and leading Toronto to the top of the Atlantic Division. Millsap, who’s spent most of his career in the West, seems to be enjoying his change of scenery in Atlanta. And Wall has now reached the potential that everybody predicted for him coming out of Kentucky.

Now that we’ve covered the first-timers in the 2014 NBA All-Star game, let’s take a quick look at the complete rosters, with stats included.

* = Starter
+ = Injured player

Eastern Conference All-Stars

* F Carmelo Anthony, New York – 27.3 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 3.0 APG
* F Paul George, Indiana – 22.7 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 3.4 APG
* F LeBron James, Miami – 26.3 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 6.6 APG
* G Kyrie Irving, Cleveland – 21.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 6.4 APG
* G Dwayne Wade, Miami – 18.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 4.7 APG
F/C Chris Bosh, Miami – 16.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.1 APG
G DeMar DeRozan, Toronto – 22.0 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 3.8 APG
C Roy Hibbert, Indiana – 12.2 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.1 APG
G Joe Johnson, Nets – 15.4 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.7 APG
F Paul Millsap, Atlanta – 17.7 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 2.9 APG
C Joakim Noah, Chicago – 11.5 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 4.2 APG
G John Wall, Washington – 20.0 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 8.5 APG

Western Conference

* F Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City – 31.0 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 5.3 APG
* F Blake Griffin, LA Clippers – 23.7 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 3.5 APG
* F Kevin Love, Minnesota – 25.6 PPG, 13.3 RPG, 4.0 APG
*+ G Kobe Bryant, LA Lakers – 13.8 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 6.3 APG
* Stephen Curry, Golden State – 24.5 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 9.1 APG
F/C LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland – 24.1 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 2.8 APG
F/C Anthony Davis, New Orleans – 20.7 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 1.4 APG
G James Harden, Houston – 23.8 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 5.4 APG
C Dwight Howard, Houston – 18.6 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 1.7 APG
G Damian Lillard, Portland – 20.9 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 5.8 APG
F Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas – 21.9 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.8 APG
G Tony Parker, San Antonio – 18.1 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 6.3 APG
G Chris Paul, LA Clippers – 19.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 11.2 APG

2014 NBA All-Star Game to feature 4 First-Time Starters

paul-george-pacersThere’s not normally a lot of turnover when it comes to NBA All-Star game starters. Fans usually vote big-name veterans in as starters, whether they’re injured or healthy. Case in point, Kobe Bryant has played all of six games this season, but he was still voted into the All-Star contest.

Speaking of which, Bryant had previously said that the game needs to feature some younger players. And he’ll get his wish because four first-time All-Stars were also voted in as starters too. Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Paul George and Stephen Curry all garnered enough fan votes to start in their first All-Star contest.

Many were surprised that Curry wasn’t selected as a starter or reserve last year. But he won’t have to worry about that this season after garnering lots of fan votes. Love is another interesting story because he passed Dwight Howard just before the voting closed. “Hey, I’m popular now,” Love said jokingly. “It’s very humbling to me to be starting in the All-Star game. I tip my hat to the fans in the Twin Cities and all over Minnesota and beyond.”

stephen-curryIt’s little surprise that George was voted in as a starter. He’s led Indiana to the league’s best record so far and is averaging 23.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG and 3.4 APG. Kyrie Irving has also put up some very solid numbers, with 21.7 PPG, 6.1 APG and 3.0 RPG. Amidst a weak crop of Eastern Conference point guards, Irving definitely stands out, even with the Cleveland Cavaliers’ struggles.

The 2014 NBA All-Star reserves will be announced on January 30th, two weeks before the game takes place on February 16th in New Orleans. We’ll cover the entire All-Star game rosters when they’re released, but for now, here’s a look at the starters.

Eastern Conference

Kyrie Irving, PG Cleveland Cavaliers – 21.7 PPG, 6.1 APG, 3.0 RPG
Dwayne Wade, SG Miami Heat – 18.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 4.7 APG
Paul George, SF Indiana Pacers – 23.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.4 APG
LeBron James, SF Miami Heat – 26.2 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 6.5 APG
Carmelo Anthony, SF New York Knicks – 26.1 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 3.1 APG

Western Conference

Stephen Curry, PG Golden State Warriors – 23.5 PPG, 9.2 APG, 4.6 RPG
Kobe Bryant, SG Los Angeles Lakers – 13.8 PPG, 6.3 APG, 4.3 RPG
Kevin Durant, SF Oklahoma City Thunder – 31.0 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 5.1 APG
Blake Griffin, PF Los Angeles Clippers – 22.6 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 3.5 APG
Kevin Love, PF Minnesota Timberwolves – 25.0 PPG, 13.0 RPG, 4.1 APG

What Impact will the Andre Iguodala Trade have on the Warriors?

andre-iguodalaFormer Denver Nuggets small forward Andre Iguodala was already set to sign a 4-year, $48 million deal with the Golden State Warriors through free agency. However, he went to his new club via a three-team trade instead. This deal, which also involves the Utah Jazz and Nuggets, allows all three teams more roster and salary cap flexibility. Here’s a look at what all three parties got in the deal:

Golden State Warriors – Receive Andre Iguodala from Denver and guard Kevin Murphy from Golden State.

Denver Nuggets – Get guard Randy Foye from the Jazz along with a $9 million trade exception (for Iguodala) which they can use any time next year.

Utah Jazz – Receive Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins and Brandon Rush, and their $24 million in expiring contracts from the Warriors. Utah also gets Golden State’s 2014 and 2017 first round picks as well as 2016 and 2017 second round picks. Additionally, Denver sent the Jazz a 2018 second round pick.

Moving past the salary cap implications and trade exceptions of this deal, Iguodala is definitely the big news here. In his lone season with Denver, the 6’6″ guard/forward helped his team return to relevancy as they went 57-25 during the regular season – a 19-game improvement from the previous year.

The Nuggets rode into the playoffs on a high note, having grabbed the third seed in the Western Conference. However, they were bounced out of the first round by the sixth seed, Golden State. This certainly wasn’t Igoudala’s fault as he averaged 18.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 5.3 APG and shot 48.3% from the three-point line.

andre-iguodala-1During the regular season, he put up numbers of 13.0 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 5.4 APG and 1.7 SPG. Statistically, Iguodala has had better seasons during his career. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story here because the Arizona product’s impact on the Nuggets was huge.

Aside from helping Denver boost their win total, Iguodala was a true lockdown defender with the ability to shut down point guards, shooting guards and small forwards. Some even argue that Iguodala is the best wing defender in the league – LeBron James included.

The 29-year-old is also one of the NBA’s best passers from the wing, as evidenced by the 5.4 APG he averaged for Denver last year. With his excellent ballhandling skills, it was basically like the Nuggets had two point guards on the floor in Iguodala and Ty Lawson.

Now he’s bringing these same attributes to a young Golden State team that’s already on their way up. Iguodala should fit in very nicely with star point guard Stephen Curry, shooting guard Klay Thompson, power forward David Lee, wingman Harrison Barnes and center Andrew Bogut. Assuming Bogut and Lee can stay healthy in 2014, the Warriors have a truly complete starting five, with Barnes and Carl Landry providing some nice minutes off the bench.

andre-iguodala-2Curry and Iguodala’s chemistry should be excellent right away. The two became great friends during Team USA’s run to the 2010 FIBA title. And Curry was a huge reason why Andre turned down an extra $4 million from Sacramento to play for Golden State.

A couple of notable spots where Iguodala figures to have an immediate impact include passing and stealing the ball. Aside from Curry (6.9 APG) and the departed Jarrett Jack (5.6 APG), the Warriors had no true passing threats. Now they add a non-point guard who can dish out assists just as good as Jack did.

So where will the addition of Iguodala put Golden State in the Western Conference race next season? It’s hard to say because the West is so muddled, but our guess is that you can expect the Warriors to at least grab one of the top four playoff seeds – maybe even better. Of course, with the Thunder, Spurs, Clippers and Grizzlies all coming back with strong squads, this won’t be easy.