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Chris Paul Changed His Narrative Without Winning a Ring

Just a few short years ago Chris Paul, one of the greatest point guards of his generation, if not in the history of the NBA, had a decaying reputation.

Paul Changed Narrative Without Championship

Everyone acknowledged his talent. He has a supreme basketball IQ, can score on anyone in any number of ways, and was an absolute floor general always in command of the situation at hand.

Some of those things, however, began to work against him in recent years. So much so that there was actually a debate on whether he or Rajon Rondo was the worse teammate. Rondo said it’s Paul, for what it’s worth.

Now, Paul isn’t exactly innocent of all the charges brought against him in the court of public opinion. He has had moments where his passion has gotten the best of him. Videos like the one below do him no favors.

No one likes to lose, but that is a reaction one wouldn’t even expect to see at a bitty ball game, let alone from a veteran NBA player. Sorry, not just a veteran. A ten-time All-Star, nine-time All-NBA and All-Defensive Team selection, six-time steals leader, .four-time assists leader Oh, he was also Rookie of the Year and, obviously, First Team All-Rookie selection.

That’s a helluva resume for someone who does what we see in that video. It wasn’t an isolated thing either. We all remember the story of Paul trying to storm the Los Angeles Clippers locker room with his Rockets teammates.

Or the image of his former teammate on the Rockets James Harden swatting his hand away during a timeout.

It hasn’t just been attitude questions surrounding Paul. There have also been charges of choking and being injury prone. The latter has more credibility but neither is really on target. Interestingly enough, all of the things held against him have always been present in his NBA career.

But he got the benefit of the doubt in New Orleans, be it due to youth, the small market, or the general belief that he didn’t have enough around him to compete.

That changed when he arrived in L.A., but no the before he got one more image booster from the NBA. At the time, the league controlled his team, the Hornets, and David Stern made the infamous decision to nix a deal that would have had Paul joining the Lakers and teaming with Kobe Bryant.

Instead, CP3 wound up with the Clippers and began the era known as Lob City, a high-flying circus of a group that included Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Doc Rivers was the last remaining piece from that era

Unfortunately, injuries continued to be an issue not just for Paul but also for Griffin. The group fell short of expectations, much in the same ways Paul’s Hornets did. This time, though, the spotlight was much brighter.

People began to focus on his injury history. His past playoff performances began to be scrutinized with his statistical output being undercut by those clutch moments where he came up short.

We even reached a point where his style of basketball was being questioned as conducive to winning. Pundits once lauded his ability to control the game and now they condemned him for dribbling the air out of the basketball.

Six seasons in L.A. Six straight playoff appearances. Zero Conference Finals berths.

This was after three trips to the playoffs in New Orleans with similar results. Again though, that spotlight was so much brighter in La La Land. He was a veteran and nine-time All-Star. At some point, explanations become excuses no matter how legitimate they may be.

That’s how significant the trade to Houston was. It not only showed that Paul was still a desired commodity (something that had been publicly in question), it allowed him to show his game was malleable. If he could play with Harden, who has a “ball hog” rep of his own, then surely the talking heads were wrong about Paul.

But his Houston tenure went just like his previous two stops. Plagued by injuries and disappointment.

Though he did exorcise his demon of not reaching the Conference Finals. When Harden said he knew what had to be done following the Rockets elimination in 2019, many of us knew what was coming. We saw him slap Paul’s hand.

Houston traded CP3 to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Russell Westbrook. It was a deal that no one would have predicted months earlier but was made necessary following the surprise request and subsequent trade of Paul George. It was actually an idea bandied about back in 2011 when Paul was still with the Hornets. Of course, the circumstances were different this time around with both players looking to rehab their images.

The talk was OKC was just a pit stop, a temporary situation until he inevitably got dealt to a contender; namely the Miami Heat. The Thunder had gutted their team moving Westbrook and George, the latter of which bought a bevy of draft picks, young guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Danilo Gallinari back in return. This was clearly an organization transitioning to rebuilding mode.

Until they weren’t.

ESPN gave the Thunder a .2 percent chance of making the postseason. Not only did they make it, but they were also the fifth seed and took the Rockets seven games. It was yet another first-round exit but you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would attack Paul, who had 19/11/12 in the deciding Game 7.

On the contrary, Paul earned recognition for bringing together the ragtag bunch. He was, at least partially, credited with the development of Gilgeous-Alexander and making the trio of he, SGA, and Dennis Schroder work.

We know about Paul’s mentorship of young players off the court and all he does in the community but this was the first time in a long time that he was in that role and he seemingly crushed it. So much so that there has been talk that new Chicago Bulls head coach Billy Donovan owes the fact that he got another job so quickly to Paul and what the Thunder did on the floor.

Talks now, while the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat battled to and in the NBA Finals, is rife with players requesting their teams trade for Paul and positive speculation of reunions with former coaches.

In stark contrast to just two years ago when the book on his legacy was thought to have already been written. A player so many thought was selfish and played a losing brand of ball is suddenly a sought-after piece for a contender and mentor for teams like the Bulls, who have young point guard (and Paul mentee) Coby White.

Chris Paul legitimately changed the entire narrative around him without winning a ring.

Don’t think that’s been given up on though.

The Bubble-Offs Have Finally Begun

Hoops fans we’ve been waiting for these upcoming moments for the last five months! The 2020 NBA Playoffs or what I’m coining the Bubble-offs. You all see what was done there? The road to this year’s championship will be like no other. It’s possible a team that had no business being in the tournament comes away with the trophy. Tell you one thing, if the bubble-offs are anything like the eight-game restart we’re in for some of the most exciting games you’ll ever want to see.

The Bubble-Offs are Here

It all kicked off this past Saturday when the NBA had its first-ever play-in game to get that last coveted 16th spot for the playoff birth. The Memphis Grizzlies and the Portland Trailblazers didn’t disappoint either with rookie phenom Ja Morant and bubble MVP Damian Lillard going toe to toe. Now let’s take a look at some teams that could burst the bubble of the two top-seeded and finals favorites Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks.

Time for the Bubble-Offs

Locked In

If you had the Monday blues the NBA had you covered with a full slate of games beginning with the Denver Nuggets taking on the Utah Jazz. Unfortunately, Utah was without starting point guard Mike Conley Jr., who left the bubble for the birth of his child.  The other games on the docket were the Brooklyn Nets facing the Toronto Raptors, the Philadelphia 76ers taking on the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Clippers seeing the Dallas Mavericks.

The top seeds are locked in, Bucks who take on the Orlando Magic and Lakers battling the Trailblazers, but there’s this thing called upsets or we can call them “bubble-sets.”   See what I did there again?  There’s usually one or two every playoff season and this year is no different.  The rest of the field shapes out like so, the Indiana Pacers versus the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder against the Houston Rockets.

Potential Bubble Busters

The first potential bubble buster is Dame Dolla and the Trailblazers. Upsetting the Lakers would be reminiscent of the ‘07 playoffs when Golden State defeated Dallas. They match up well but King James won’t be stopped, in year 17, averaging 25 PPG, and a league-leading 10 assists a contest. Also, they have to contend with Anthony Davis‘ 26 PPG. After those two stars, there’s a significant drop off in firepower especially with no Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo.

Portland has its own dynamic duo. Lillard is averaging 30 PPG, 8.0 APG, and is fifth in PER. Then you have CJ McCollum (22 PPG) who can light it up when he gets hot. Don’t forget, they also have an ‘03 draft alum in Carmelo Anthony; or should we say Slim Melo. Since the restart, he’s averaging 17.5 points a contest. The supporting cast appears to have the edge as well with Jusuf Nurkić averaging a double-double since coming back, Hassan Whiteside league leader in blocks at 2.9 and the bubble emergence of Gary Trent Jr.

The second team possibly popping bubbles is the defending champion Toronto Raptors. Though 2019 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard left for sunny L.A. and nobody has to deal with Drake on the sidelines. Even as the second seed in the East, the Raptors are not getting their respect. They basically have the same team with a superb coach in former Coach of the Year Nick Nurse. Veterans Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka steady the team, Pascal Siakam continues to develop into a star. Lastly, we can’t leave out Fred VanVleet, who just came off a 30- point, 11-assist Game 1 performance. It’s highly likely the Raptors will clash with the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals again. Don’t be surprised if it’s deja vu.

Grab Your Front Row Virtual Seat

This year’s playoffs will definitely have a different feel. All the games are at one site, there’s no home-court advantage or crowds. Player reactions are different as the stars adjust to not being able to feed off the fans. Role players must step up without pressure from the fans. These are all factors that will bring more excitement to this year’s games.

NBA Western Conference Playoff Preview

The calendar has turned to March and the madness is about to begin. Yes, that might have been a reference to college basketball but that still doesn’t change for the NBA. Last week I covered the Eastern Conference.

The playoffs bracket in the West is closer in terms of playoff positioning, but the Los Angeles Lakers sit at the top led by all-time great LeBron James. Can we consider LeBron a legend even though he is still active? We can get to that next week when I’ll be diving into some of the more debatable topics this league provides its fans.

Previewing the Western Conference Playoffs

The Front-Runners

The Lakers have a sturdy 5.5-game lead on the Los Angeles Clippers who many consider the favorite to come out of the West. The Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Dallas Mavericks are all separated by 5.5 games. These last few weeks could help win homecourt advantage for certain teams that thrive in there home arena.

Home-court advantage is going to be critical. If Denver gets home court over the Thunder (which would happen if the playoffs started today). Both teams are significantly better at home than on the road. Think about if Oklahoma City stole home-court advantage and was able to win their first-round series. That could change the outlook on the franchise.

The current seventh-seeded Mavericks actually boast a 21-11 road record, so they could play spoiler in a series. Luka Doncic is built for the playoffs. They might lose their first-round series, but there will be fireworks because of the Mavericks averaging 116 PPG, which ranks third in the NBA.

Last, Not Least

The battle for the eighth spot in the west might be the most interesting. The Memphis Grizzlies are sitting with a 3 game lead over the Sacramento Kings.

Other potential suitors for that eighth and coveted spot are the Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs, and New Orleans Pelicans. All of these teams sit no more than four games back. The most compelling story is the upstart Pelicans who are led by rookie sensation Zion Williamson. But we have to respect what Memphis has done here. Their schedule after the all-star break was second in difficulty, and with a little over a month to go, they have a solid three-game lead. The Grizzlies are led by another rookie sensation in Ja Morant.

Look at the top-seeded Lakers. They have two of the top-five players in the league. Some are here to argue that Giannis Antetokounmpo is the best in the league and I have no qualms about it. I would be remiss to say that LeBron is still the number one player in the world given his incredible IQ, distribution, and understanding of the game and what needs to be done to win a title.

Still Up There

At this point, we are tired of LeBron and it skews our view on him in terms of greatness. In any best-of-seven series, the Lakers will have an all-time great as the best player on the floor. But will his supporting cast be able to do enough to get him to the finals?

The number-one threat to the Lakers returning the NBA Finals is the Clippers. After an intense six-game series where the upstart Clippers pushed the Warriors to the brink with inspiring play, free-agency ended with them having acquired the defending Finals MVP in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, a two-way superstar who could help the Clipper reach the promised land. The Clippers have the star power and defensive prowess to wear the Lakers down and are 2-0 against their cross-town foe.

But this reporter has seen this before. Who remembers when the 2011 Chicago Bulls went against the Lebron James led heat? Yes I know, we have different levels of stars. And Leonard and George are lengthy defenders who can combat LeBron. But when it comes down to it in a best-of-seven, give me LeBron.

Keep an Eye On

The Nuggets and Rockets are third and fourth in the Western Conference. The Nuggets main question still remains. Do they have the star power to get to the finals? Simple answer. No.

Denver is a good team, don’t me wrong. But right now they would face the Thunder in the first round; no easy out. In the second round, they would face the Clippers. They don’t have the bodies to guard the likes of Leonard and George. The athleticism of the Clippers would be too much.

The Rockets are a gimmicky team trying to beat you by spreading the floor and being unconscious from the three-point line. They have the superstar power to get to the Western Conference Finals but those stars haven’t punched their ticket to finals since 2012. That was when James Harden and Russell Westbrook were with the Thunder.

How It Plays Out

Throughout a seven-game series, the Rockets will be worn down. If they come out of the first round, they’ll be minced meat for either the Lakers or Clippers. The bottom-four teams in the playoffs have young (to a degree), up-and-coming teams that will have their title window soon. Just not quite yet. The Thunder are the surprise of the season.

After trading Westbrook and George, everyone thought the team would tank to hopefully draft their next superstar. That is not the case. Chris Paul and company are having a fantastic season and look to ruffle some feathers in the first round. Utah is a defensive dynamo led by Rudy Gobert. Unfortunately, they do not have enough pop to get to the finals. Hopefully, they’ll see Donovan Mitchell pop in the playoffs again. The Jazz are just hoping to advance to the second round.

As for the Mavericks and the Grizzlies, the only thing I want to see is the blossoming of Doncic and Morant. These two young players are on another level, and I hope to see them raise their game in the playoffs. Doncic has been in big moments for nearly a decade and you can tell in his early career he has the makings of being something special. He is currently averaging 28.5 points per game, 8.8 assists, and 9.3 rebounds.

One for the Road

Ja Morant is the Rookie of the Year in my opinion. Trust me I love Zion just as much as the next guy. But Ja has been nothing short of special for this upstart Memphis bunch and a playoff appearance in his rookie season is nothing but a sign of great things to come.

It is March and that can only mean one thing. The basketball world will come into the focus with the NCAA tournament and the NBA playoffs to follow shortly after. These are all the things I am looking for in this year’s playoffs. If you read last week’s article I chose the Boston Celtics, and for this week. I believe the Lakers will meet them in the NBA Finals, and the winner will be in next week’s article.

If you have anything you want to discuss you can hit me up on twitter @illiniRyan7

NBA Eastern Conference Playoff Preview

As the dust settles from what was a fantastic All-Star weekend in the great city of Chicago. The NBA has been back for nearly a week now and the discussion of playoff seeding and “tanking seeding” are all the rave.

We’ll be discussing things you want to look out for a be wary of because the playoffs are a great predictor of things to come. Stars become superstars in the playoffs. And the only way to win titles is to have superstars. So let’s begin with the Eastern Conference:

Previewing the Eastern Conference Playoffs

 

The Milwaukee Bucks sit eight games above the Toronto Raptors and have a firm grip on home-court advantage throughout the playoffs (5.5 Games). Giannis Antetokounmpo is the front-runner for MVP for the second season in a row averaging 29.7 PPG and 13.7 RPG. The Bucks look like a clear favorite to win the Eastern Conference and reach the NBA Finals, but let’s slow our roll.

Kawhi Leonard may have left the East, but there are some stars to be born in the playoffs. Pascal Siakam is looking to ascend into superstardom by leading the Raptors back to the NBA Finals to defend their title. But the number one threat to the Bucks and their title chance is the Boston Celtics.

The Celtics are third in the East and are looking prime to make a deep run in these playoffs. The Celtics have three players averaging over 20 PPG in Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker, and Jaylen Brown. Gordon Hayward averages nearly 18 PPG as well. They are well-coached by Brad Stevens who made a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals with a less talented squad. Boston is third in points allowed per game (106.5) and has proven to be good on the road.

If you think about the top-five players in the series, There’s an argument that the Celtics have four of the top five. Yes, Khris Middleton was an All-Star. But he hasn’t proven that he can show up in the playoffs. Last year in the Eastern Conference Finals, Middleton scored no more than 14 points in any game. Giannis can’t depend on him. The Celtics have the talent and depth to take the Bucks on for supremacy of the East.

Teams 4-6 in the eastern race are the Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, and Indiana Pacers. These three teams are very solid and talented but do not pose a real threat to the East. The 76ers have the most talent but can’t seem to get it together. They’re an amazing home team (27-2) but abysmal on the road (9-21). This team can play with the Bucks and Celtics but will be minimized due to the major difference in coaching. Stevens and Mike Budenholzer are in a different league compared to Brent Brown.

Miami has Butler and a hard-working group of players, but they’ll be overwhelmed in the playoffs. They could still win a series if they get the right matchup though. The Pacers are a good, well-run team. And their superstar Victor Oladipo recently returned from a gruesome injury. This year in the playoffs the Pacers should look to steal a first-round series win, and gain confidence for the future.

The seventh and eighth-seeded teams are the Brooklyn Nets and the Orlando Magic. Well, let’s just say this. These teams are not winning a title this season. But the trajectory of these two teams is going to be different over the next few seasons.

The Nets are without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. The loss of those two is obviously why they can’t compete for a title yet. But the expectations will rise in Brooklyn next year. Orlando must be in the playoffs by accident because who knows what they’re trying to do as a franchise. They need to start shipping some of these pieces off and try to accumulate talent.

Last but not least, the team on the outside looking in, the Washington Wizards (4.5 games behind the eighth seed). Bradley Beal has been unconscious recently dropping back-to-back 50-point games.

I will leave you with these final thoughts. Superstars win in the playoffs. This has been happening ever since the birth of the game. The Bucks have the best player in the world in some eyes (not mine). But I believe the Celtics will be representing the East in the NBA finals. What is today? Yeah, mark it down. If you want to jump in on the debate please follow me on twitter @illiniRyan7 and let’s talk some hoops.

2019 NBA Conference Finals Primer

We were told these playoffs would be lacking. That due to the absence of Lebron James and the foregone conclusion of a Golden State Warriors three-peat, there would be no intrigue to the 2019 NBA postseason. All that has happened is an MVP-favorite guiding his team to its first Conference Finals since 2001, two teams showed us they might be capped as currently constructed, and a host of game-winning daggers. And there was the first buzzer-beater in Conference Semifinal history. But now, with only four squads left, we can expect to not only keep seeing the awe-inspiring moments but perhaps see more of them.

 

NBA Conference Finals Primer

Battle of the Backcourts

Golden State will kick off the Conference Finals against the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday. The two teams split their regular-season meetings at two apiece. There is postseason history here as well as the Dubs eliminated the Blazers in the Conference Semis in 2016 (five games) and swept them in the first round of the 2017 playoffs. There have also been comparisons between the two teams leading men, Damian Lillard, and Steph Curry. The nature of the series even has extra meaning for the Curry family as Steph and younger brother Seth get set to do battle, at least some of the time.

Golden State Warriors

Kevin Durant is set to miss at least the first game of the series as he recovers from a calf strain. That is no small loss as Durant is the leading per game scorer in these playoffs (34.2 PPG) and averaged 28.8 versus Portland in the regular season. They will look to Steph and, Splash Bro, Klay Thompson to pick up the slack much as they have since KD went down. Klay went for 27 points on 50 percent shooting and 7-13 from three while keeping the team afloat for three-plus quarters in the closeout game against the Houston Rockets. Steph was frigid to start that game, going scoreless for the first half only to finish with a team-high 33 points.

The Warriors also got some vintage performances from Draymond Green (13.2/10.7/8.2.) and Andre Iguodala (13.5 PPG, 48% from three) in the last round. Green should be able to keep it up after the Blazers allowed Denver’s Paul Millsap to average 17.4 points and 8.7 boards despite Portland’s bigs all being at least 6’9”. Iggy might have a tougher go of it. Will Barton, who fills a similar role for the Nuggets, averaged 10.1 PPG and shot 34.5 percent from long distance. The length of Portland could force Iguodala to do more of the other things that make him valuable.

 

Portland Trail Blazers

Portland was written off by some (*cough* me *cough*) when they lost center Jusuf Nurkic for the rest of the year to a gruesome injury at the end of March. They finished the season 7-2 without the Bosnian Beast and have gone 8-4 in the playoffs. His loss has been softened by the play of late-season acquisition Enes Kanter (averaging 12.9 PPG and 10.5 RPG in the playoffs) but could be felt if Boogie Cousins returns this series. The Blazers have to be hoping that Rodney Hood’s injury doesn’t linger; they will need the 14.7 PPG on 57 percent shooting and 50 percent from deep that he surprised with last round.

One of Maurice Harkless or Al-Farouq Aminu (or Sunday’s surprise contributor Evan Turner) will need to find whatever led to their outbursts from this postseason and do it every game. All conventional wisdom favors the Dubs so Portland will have to try to steal one, preferably the first one, to have a real chance. They allowed Jamal Murray (23.6/6/5.6) and Gary Harris (13.7/4.6/2.1) to put up numbers at or above their regular season outputs. As good as those two are, they are no Splash Bros. Dame (28.4/4.8/6) in the playoffs) and C.J. McCollum (25.6/5.8/3.4) will need to continue doing the heavy lifting even if the other Blazers contribute close to their playoff best.

 

Anomaly Meet Throwback

Our second Conference Finals matchup is anything but second fiddle. Featuring the two top teams in wins and two of the game’s top five players, Bucks-Raptors should more than live up to expectations. Milwaukee took care of the Boston Celtics in short order (five games) while Toronto needed seven games (and a Herculean effort) to advance. There is so much riding on this series and that is not considering the actual goal of winning a championship. Will the gregarious Giannis Antetokounmpo prevail? Or will the quiet, calculating Kawhi Leonard reinsert his name among the game’s best?

 

Milwaukee Bucks

The Greek Freak is the odds on favorite for MVP. And while it is a regular-season award, his performance in the playoffs has been in-line with the rest of the year. He is still leading his team in points (27.4) and rebounds (11.3) per game, and he only slightly trails Khris Middleton in assists in the playoffs. He is also averaging 12 free throws a game which would have led the league. Giannis is not flying solo, however. The Bucks have five players averaging double-digits in the playoffs, six averaged double figures last round, and seven reached the mark in the closeout game. That kind of effort will go a long way for Milwaukee; not only this round but perhaps in the NBA Finals.

The Bucks shoot a lot of threes; they came in second to the Rockets in attempts per game during the regular season and the playoffs. But their defense against the Cs should not be overlooked. They held Boston to 104.4 PPG, 41 percent shooting, and 35.8 from distance. That was down from their 112.4 PPG, 46.5 percent from the floor, and 36.5 from deep of the regular season. Now, the Celtics themselves played a large role in their own demise, but the Bucks did have the number-one defensive rating in the NBA. The return of Malcolm Brogdon could prove huge. Also in their favor is that Toronto is averaging roughly 11 points per game less in the playoffs than they did during the season (114.4 to 103.6) and shooting only 32.7 percent as a team from deep.

 

Toronto Raptors

Kawhi essentially dragged the Raptors to the finish line in game seven versus the Philadelphia 76ers. He dropped 41 points and grabbed eight boards with three assists and three steals. He shot poorly, as did most of the other Raptors. But he was also often the only one looking to score late. Leonard has drawn lofty comparisons over the last few weeks as he is averaging 31.8/8.5/3.6 and slashing 53.9/40.8/86.8 in the playoffs. Against the Sixers, it was 34.7/9.9/4 with the Klaw seemingly growing stronger as the playoffs have worn on.

There is only one way this could be going better for Toronto when it comes to Leonard and free agency. Serge Ibaka (17 points!) was the only teammate above 11 points. Kyle Lowry scored just 10 points, but he did have six dishes and six rebounds with only two turnovers. Pascal Siakam is either hurt or the moment is too big for him. He is averaging 20 points and 7 rebounds in the playoffs but was very passive on Sunday. Marc Gasol has been awful shooting the ball and his 102.7 defensive rating is the worst on the team. Danny Green hasn’t been much better as the entire team is shooting 32.7 percent from deep, well below their 36.6 from the regular season.

 

Priming the  NBA Conference Finals

There has been something for everyone in these playoffs and that should continue with the Conference Semifinals beginning Tuesday. Can Dame and CJ breakthrough? Plus, Curry versus Curry in what could be the last stanza for the Hamptons Five. The Greek Freak versus the Klaw as an MVP hopeful takes on a player reminding us of some of the all-timers. Will it take a ring to keep Leonard from running West? Can Giannis cap a potentially MVP-winning season with a shot at the Larry O? We get closer to finding all of that out Tuesday night.

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