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Dethroning the Warriors

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For the fourth straight season, the Golden State Warriors are running through the Western Conference. They are currently 33-9 and despite a loss last night to the lowly Los Angeles Clippers thanks to a career-high 50 from Lou Williams, they are a lock for the number 1 seed in the West. It is almost a foregone conclusion at the beginning of the NBA season that the Finals are going to consist of the Warriors and Lebron (although that doesn’t seem to be the case this season).

So, as I was sitting and watching the Minnesota Timberwolves beat up on the Oklahoma City Thunder last night, a thought came to mind; what teams have the best chance of dethroning the Warriors in the West? I don’t mean knocking them off their pedestal with an upset or two. I mean knocking them out of the playoffs and being the first team not from the Golden State to represent the West in the playoffs since the 2013-14 season. There are a few teams that come to mind.

Tier 1 – Legitimate Contenders

Houston Rockets

 

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Why they can do it: The Rockets are currently sitting at 29-11 on the season, the third best record in the NBA and second in the West. They’ve achieved that while having both Chris Paul and James Harden miss extended periods of time due to injury. Harden is arguably the best player in the NBA and is in every discussion for MVP. With him, Chris Paul and Eric Gordon coming off the bench, the Rockets have more than enough offensive firepower to keep up with the Warriors in a seven game series. The Rockets are currently first in the NBA in offensive efficiency and are averaging 115 points per game this season. This is just 0.7 points behind the Warriors who average the most. Simply put, the Rockets can put the ball in the basket, something you need to do night in and night out against the Warriors if you expect to win.

 

Why they can’t do it: Despite being one of the best offensive teams in the NBA, the Rockets are careless with the ball. They are currently averaging just over 15 turnovers a game. When you’re going against a team like the Warriors that can get out and run with the best of them, turnovers can be a backbreaker if your transition defense is poor. And unfortunately for the Rockets, this is one of their biggest weaknesses. Houston is currently 22nd in the NBA in defensive fastbreak efficiency which measures the amount of points given up on the fastbreak versus the amount of fastbreak opportunities. On the opposite side of the coin, you have the Warriors offense which is the most efficient fastbreak team in the NBA, scoring almost a quarter of their points on the fastbreak. So, if there is a chink in the armor for the Rockets, it is their defense.

San Antonio Spurs

Why they can do it: On the opposite side of the spectrum from the Rockets you have the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs are currently

ranked in the top 5 in every single major defensive metric. They do not give up a lot of points and more importantly, they only give up 27.4 points per game from the three point line. This is crucial when going up against the Warriors who are not only one of the best three point shooting teams in the NBA this season, but possibly in NBA history. This great defense stems from the excellent coaching of Gregg Popovich. Pop is the main reason that the Spurs are not only in every game, but they have been since 1997, which was the last time the Spurs missed the playoffs. There are fans of the Spurs that are 20 years old that do not know what it is like for their team to not be competing for a championship. Coaching and defense wins championships, and that’s what you need against Golden State.

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Why they can’t do it: Unlike the Rockets who could easily trade buckets with the Warriors back and forth, offense is not a strength of the Spurs. They are currently 26th in the NBA in points per game and their leading scorer is Lamarcus Aldridge who averages just over 22 points per game. While the inside game is something the Spurs could exploit against Golden State, they would eventually need to hit some jump shots which is not something the Spurs do very well. Now this could all change if Kawhi Leonard is able to come back and be the force that he was prior to his injury issues. However, he has only played in 8 games so far this season and one has to wonder if his capabilities will be limited when he comes back. With a legend like Gregg Popovich as your head coach you are never going to be out of a game or a series, but I find it hard to believe that the Spurs would have the offensive firepower to outlast the Warriors in seven games.

Tier 2 – Possible Contender/Possible Pretender

Oklahoma City Thunder

Why they can do it: Now I know I started this piece by talking about how I was watching the Thunder get rocked by the T’wolves and while that is true, I still believe this team has the pieces to shock the Warriors if given a chance in the playoffs. The biggest news in the NBA this past offseason was the new big three in OKC, led by MVP Russell Westbrook, perennial all-star Paul George and pure scorer Carmelo Anthony. However, there was little to no chatter about another member of the Thunder starting five: Steven Adams. Adams has grown into one of the better big men in the NBA, averaging 13.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1 block per game this season. If there is a weak spot for the Warriors, it is their interior defense. They currently give up 46 points per game in the paint, which ranks in the bottom half of the NBA. If Adams can continue his possible all-star caliber season and OKC’s big three can elevate their level of play, this team can be a force to be reckoned with.

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Why they can’t do it: The issue with the Thunder this season is the exact same issue that had them bounced from the 1st round of the playoffs last season: depth. The Thunder starting five is excellent when they are clicking on all cylinders, however there is a dramatic drop off between the starters and the bench. While a decline in offensive and defensive efficiency is expected between your starters and your reserves, the decline is too significant for OKC. Their leading bench scorer is Jerami Grant who is currently averaging 7.3 points per game. Aside from Grant, the Thunder have no other reserves that currently average more than 7 points per game. This is not going to get the job done when going against a team that brings the likes of Nick Young and Shaun Livingston off the bench, players that would easily be starters at their position if on a different team. For this reason, the Warriors would likely run the Thunder out of the building in a 7 game series and leave them gasping for breath.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Why they can do it: For some reason, the Timberwolves seem to be flying a bit under the radar this season. This is a team that is currently

27-16 on the season and has two players in the top 25 in the NBA in scoring (Jimmy Butler with 21.6 PPG and Karl Anthony-Towns with 20.2 PPG). Jeff Teague, their big point guard acquisition is finally getting healthy, all of their starters average double digits in points per game and they are coached by Tom Thibodeau who has been a mainstay in the NBA for years. The main strength of the Timberwolves is Karl Anthony-Towns. Towns is an absolute beast inside the paint, however is able to stretch his game all the way out to the three point line where he is currently hitting at a clip of just over 40%. As I stated in the Thunder section, the Warriors main weakness is interior defense so if KAT is able to continue to be a force inside, then a 7 game series between these two teams would be a long and grueling one that could see the T’wolves come out on top.

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Why they can’t do it: The three teams listed above all have something in common that the Timberwolves do not have and that is playoff experience. While the Timberwolves have some players that have competed in the playoffs in the past, namely Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague, the team and organization as a whole is oblivious as of what to expect when you actually get there. Minnesota has not made the playoffs since the 2003-04 season, which is currently the fourth longest playoff drought in professional sports. While I believe this drought will come to an end this season, I do believe that there is a psychological toll this kind of drought takes on not only a team, but a city. Not to mention, most of the players on this team don’t know what it is like to have to compete in a 7 game series. When going up against a battle-tested Golden State Warriors team, this does not play into your favor and is one of the main reasons why I believe the Warriors would still clean up against Minnesota.

Tier 3 – Not Quite There Yet

Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets, New Orleans Pelicans

In closing, I think it is safe to say that the Warriors are going to be a perennial power for many years to come. With the likes of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green, it is going to be nearly impossible for anyone to unseat them as the kings of the West. And with the severe drop-off between the Western and Eastern Conferences, it seems pretty clear that the Warriors are not only the favorites to win the West, but the favorites to win it all as well.

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Drake And The Raptors Are Donating Millions To Youth Groups

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Drake continues to be an ambassador for the NBA and more notably for his hometown team the Toronto Raptors.  Drake and Raptors President Masai Ujiri held a press conference in the arena atrium to announce their $3 million (USD $2.4M) donation to help two basketball initiatives.

A million Canadian dollars will go to refurbishing 12 local community basketball courts over the next three years, while $2 million will go to the nearly century-old nonprofit federation Canada Basketball to develop the sport from the grassroots to pro.

This “Welcome Toronto” project “is an immersive brand experience focused on art, community and ball,” according to the franchise, and includes six themed nights per year for the next three years, new OVO-edition uniforms and an OVO-designed black and gold home court — but it’s the charity donation that makes it most important to Drake.

“The biggest thing I’m most proud of with this partnership is the million dollars that we’re going to be giving to the city to redo these courts” said Drake “hopefully, to create an amazing atmosphere for anyone in that community to come out and either play casual basketball or potentially breed the next generation of Canadian basketball superstars, which goes to our other donation of 2 million dollars to Canada Basketball who have produced incredible talent.”

The Toronto Raptors and Drake's OVO announced the "Welcome Toronto" program which includes donations to charity, plus OVO-themed attire and home court.

The Raptors announced six Welcome Toronto games for which they’ll wear the black-and-gold, OVO-inspired uniforms they unveiled last week, games that will be played on a black-and-gold Air Canada Centre court designed specifically for the occasion.

The games are: Jan. 26 vs. Utah, Jan. 28 vs. the Los Angeles Lakers, Feb. 2 vs. Portland, March 23 vs. Brooklyn and April 6 vs. Indiana.

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Lebron James And Steph Curry Named Captains For ASG

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Lebron James and Steph Curry will put their GM skills to the test after receiving the most votes for the NBA All-Star teams.

The new rule changes allow both players to pick the starters for there teams no matter the conference. The coaches will pick the reserves for each team the same way.  James, as the NBA’s top vote getter, will make the first pick in the draft to determine sides for the All-Star Game next month in Los Angeles.

Curry has been an advocate for the change in the format and was excited at the prospect of becoming a captain. “Why not?” Curry said. “I’ll be the first to usher in the new system. I used to go to the playground all the time and you wanted to be the guy picking teams. That meant you were something on the court back in the day. It’ll be a cool vibe to see how it all shakes out and how unique you can make the lineups.”

After the announcement, Steph took to Twitter to showcase his excitement.

Curry is having fun with the process stating “I may just have to go pick all guards, get the shortest team possible, have some fun with it.” Though that’s not possible with some of the rules. Steph has not decided who he would draft to the Chef Curry squad but thinks picking the reserves is where most of action will be.

“It’ll be interesting to see, probably after the starters are picked, as the reserves are going and you see how the teams are going and you have to pick certain positions, certain skill sets, to try to round out a solid team or just go crazy with it and come up with something funny, like I said, maybe if I could pick 12 guards, see how that goes.”

King James put it plain and simple,  “I’m trying to win.”

“This is the reason they did this format to make it very competitive,” James said. “The All-Star game hasn’t been what it should be the last few years. I’m going to take it upon myself and obviously the rest of the guys to go out there and play the game the right way and compete. Our fans deserve it.”

Lebron also gave some insight on how he manages teams with video games.

“I’m not telling you,” James said. “I’m going to try to build the best team I can. I don’t play fantasy anything. And I don’t trade guys onto teams when I play 2K or play the video games so this is different for me. But I know watching guys and loving their game and all that, if you had an opportunity to play with that guy, how special that would be.”

Checkout our predictions for the starting lineups for the game.

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What We Learned From 2018 College Football National Championship

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Every boy dreams of the day he gets an opportunity to play in the College Football National Championship game. This day came for many freshmen, true freshmen at that. But imagine being a backup to a 25-2 starter Jalen Hurts who has all of the credentials yet still having your name called to start the second half. Well, that’s exactly what happened to true freshman Tua Tagovailoa, but not until the Georgia Bulldogs struck first.

I can guarantee nobody would have predicted younger brother Riley Ridley to outplay big brother Calvin Ridley in the first half either, but he certainly did. With: 12 left in the first half, Sophomore WR Mecole Hardman took the snap on a designed run to the left for the game’s first touchdown. That touchdown put the Bulldogs up 13-0 following a couple Rodrigo Blankenship field goals and was a prime example of how the game was going at that point.

Although being outscored and outplayed by Georgia in the first half, Nick Saban again showed that he’s tough to be outcoached. As Kirby Smart drew up a creative game plan to start the game, it’s how you finish that matters. Saban knew he needed a spark to start the second half, so he decided to bench Hurts and go with true freshman Tua Tagovailoa. It didn’t take long at all before Tagovailoa made a huge impact by making an impressive third-down run for a first down. The freshman put a classy drive together by eventually hitting Henry Ruggs III for a 7-yard score to bring the Crimson Tide within six points.

Just when it looked like Alabama was back in business, another true freshman by the name of Jake Fromm launches an 80-yard dart down the sideline to Hardman for his second touchdown of the game. The high tempo game was then back to a two-score game that didn’t stop there, it was actually just getting started. After both freshmen quarterbacks traded interceptions on back to back positions, Tagovailoa is then able to get them within field goal range. Kicker Andy Pappanastos does the rest by draining a 43-yard field goal to bring them within 10.

Georgia will then go three and out to give the ball back to the Crimson Tide once again. Oh, how the “tides” have turned by this point in the game. Alabama then gets a huge energy boost in its ensuing drive from freshman running back Najee Harris who then pounds the ball right down the field to give Pappanastos a thirty yard try this time. Pappanastos knocks it down to come within seven with 9:24 left in the game and make it a 20-13 score.

With another missed opportunity on a third and short, the Bulldogs found themselves giving the ball up to the Crimson Tide with only a touchdown lead. Just when it looked like Georgia had stopped Alabama’s momentum, Malcolm Parrish gets a huge pass interference call on third down to keep Alabama’s drive alive. With a crucial fourth down from seven yards out, Tagovailoa throws a touchdown pass to wide receiver Calvin Ridley to make it 20-20 with less than four minutes remaining in the game.

The ensuing drive by Georgia is shut down yet again by Alabama with enough time to do some damage. After making all of his field goals inside forty yards during the regular season, Pappanastos hooks it wide left for the second time of the game inside that range as time expires in regulation. Alabama wins the coin toss in overtime but defers the ball to Georgia first to see what they need to score in order to attempt to beat Georgia. The Bulldogs decided to be conservative by running the ball on the first two downs forcing themselves to pass on third down and they take a sack. That allows for a long 51-yard field goal attempt by sophomore Rodrigo Blankenship who is clutch and sends it right through the uprights to go up 23-20 in overtime.

On Alabama’s first offensive play from scrimmage in overtime, Tagovailoa does what every quarterback is taught not to do and gets sacked for a 16-yard loss. It doesn’t take him long to make up for his mistake though. The very next play he looks off senior strong safety Dominick Sanders to allow himself enough time to throw a perfect 41-yard toss to Devonta Smith for the exciting finish and win.
Nick Saban and his Crimson Tide get a 26-23 victory in a thrilling matchup with the Georgia Bulldogs while Tua Tagovailoa gets the offensive MVP award and Da’Ron Payne receives the defensive MVP award. Nick Saban also gets his second straight championship, as well as a 5th national title in 9 seasons. Saban now ties Bear Bryant with 6 national titles.

VIA: AJC

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