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Triple Zeros: Clips and Salsa

Triple Zeros

Clips and Salsa

In this episode of Triple Zeros, Josh reacts to the first round of the NBA Playoffs continuing thanks to Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers Game 6 win over Luka Doncic and the Mavericks. He also takes a moment to acknowledge the feats of Devin Booker and Trae Young and shining brightest on the biggest stages. Then things switch over the NFL as the league is already pushing for an 18-game schedule. Plus Todd Gurley could re-unite with Jared Goff in Detroit, and so much more!

Anchor | Apple

5 Most Impactful Guards from the First Round of the NBA Playoffs

It Needs to Actually (Finally) Be ‘Dame Time’

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Clocker Sports

Triple Zeros. This is content to help reach the green light. Tis is content to help reach the green light. Ths is content to help reach the green light. Thi is content to help reach the green light. his is content to help reach the green light. Tis is content to help reach the green light. Ths is content to help reach the green light. Thi is content to help reach the green light. his is content to help reach the green light. Tis is content to help reach the green light. Ths is content to help reach the green light. Thi is content to help reach the green light. Triple Zeros

Searching for the Next Breakout Team in the NBA

Every year a team in the NBA shows they have a little more firepower in the chamber than anyone expected. It can be because of the addition (or subtraction) of a player or coach. Or it can just be lightning in a bottle; a team jelling at the right time in the Association. Regardless, we see it all the time and this season is no different.

The New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns are the best examples of this from this season. New York sits fifth in the East at 19-18 thanks in no small part to the addition of head coach Tom Thibodeau. For Phoenix, it was the Point God, Chris Paul, who has them as second in the ever-tough West with a 24-11 record.

Different needs and methods, similar results.

Which Team is Next to Break Out in the NBA?

Just A Piece Away

New Orleans Pelicans

The first group is made up of teams that are a player or coach away from being a threat and the first team in that group is the New Orleans Pelicans. A predicted team on the rise in 2020, they finished 13th in the West.

Part of why it didn’t work is they were a roster (and organization) in transition. Now with the team firmly Zion Williamson’s (sorry Brandon Ingram) they need to retool it to his strengths.

Ingram and Lonzo Ball fit well enough but center Steven Adams doesn’t. He isn’t a great rebounder or defender so he’s basically just clogging the paint.

New Orleans needs a modern, stretch big (looking at you, Chris Boucher) to take advantage of what Zion does and maximize the talent around him.Josh Hart and Nickeil Alexander-Walker can platoon at guard but Jaxson Hayes does nothing to alleviate the problems an Adams-Williamson pairing causes. Too bad they extended Adams upon trading for him.

Memphis Grizzlies

Much like with New Orleans, we thought we’d be getting a much-improved version of the Memphis Grizzlies in 2020-21. So far they’re in the same spot they finished last season in, ninth in the Western Conference standings. But they’re five games better through 33 games than they were at the same point in 2020-21.

Ja Morant missed time earlier in the year with an ankle injury, but it’s Jaren Jackson Jr. that’s missed the entire campaign while recovering from meniscus surgery. Imagine this unit at full strength.

The problem for them is the West is just as tough a conference as it’s been for the majority of the last 20-plus years. Even with all hands on deck, Memphis would still have to contend with the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs of the world.

While Kyle Anderson and Dillon Brooks are nice players, they need a wing that can get his own to fully realize their potential. Demar Derozan would be a nice addition if his Spurs weren’t fighting for the playoffs themselves.

Something’s Not Right

Dallas Mavericks

Dallas has a once-in-a-lifetime talent and MVP candidate on the wings in Luka Doncic. They also have a big man in Kristaps Porzingis that’s so unique he was given the nickname “the Unicorn”. And they have one of the best coaches of his generation. So how are they eighth in the West?

They arguably have a better duo than a couple of the teams ahead of them. But Doncic and Porzingis have only played in 78 of a possible 192 games together. They’d naturally lose some to rest and Prozingis missed an entire season recovering from a knee injury.

Since he returned to the court in 2018 it’s actually 78 out of 110 games. That’s much better and still not enough.

Dallas could also use a player on the wing to take some of the pressure off of Doncic. It would help the team as a whole honestly since they can’t rely on Porzingis to be available.

Atlanta Hawks

Trae Young was dubbed the next Steph Curry while still in college at Oklahoma. It’s not a bad comp. But in hindsight, while we got the Curry-esque individual numbers from Young in his sophomore season, we have yet to see the type of leadership that makes Steph so unique. It’s that ability that made Kevin Durant joining the Splash Bros. work.

Young hasn’t shown that per se and has even shown signs of going the other way in terms of leadership. Earlier this season he was called out by John Collins for being too ball-dominant. His response was to shoot fewer than ten times (the Hawks are 1-2 this season when he hits that mark).

Teammates fight and get over it all the time though. The concerning part was the role Young reportedly played in the dismissal of Lloyd Pierce as head coach. Nate McMillan is a good and deserving coach but Pierce had made himself a fixture in the community.

That doesn’t buy a reprieve from going 16-20 to start the season. Pierce’s firing wasn’t all on Young (and goes back to last season) but if he wanted him there, he’d still be there.

Finding the Next Breakout NBA Team

This could have been titled “What Happened…” given the expectations each of these teams had before the season started. They all have the potential to be the next breakout story. But they’re all missing one thing or another that would put them over the top.

Will they get that one piece, be it player, coach, or moment in time that will get them to the promised land? Who knows. But if Dallas or Memphis grab a wing, New Orleans figures out center, or the Hawks jell we will be speaking of them as we have the Knicks and Suns this season.

Looking at the NBA MVP Race and Its Many Faces

There are many faces, old and new, vying to take home the NBA MVP award this season. Whether or not they will win is a matter of perception just as much as it is on their performances. Whoever gets it will have earned it because the caveat of it being “in the bubble” is no longer an issue. The return of fans has brought some atmosphere back to games; just ask the Lakers.

Last year’s (and the year prior, for that matter) winner, Giannis Antetokounmpo isn’t likely to make it three-straight. His numbers are down almost across the board, most notably from deep and at the free-throw line. Both were areas of concern he was making strides in.

So Clocker Sports is taking a look at the top candidates for NBA MVP so far. We’ll go into the case being made in their favor, and take a look into why voters might hesitate to select them.

The Many Faces of the 2021 NBA MVP Race

1. Kevin Durant

Just a couple of months ago this space was used to make a case for Kevin Durant to win the defunct ‘Comeback Player of the Year’ award. Based solely on off-season workouts and pick-up game footage, it was clear Durant would be returning at least close to the level of play he enjoyed pre-Achilles injury. Just 17 games into the season and Durant is putting up numbers close to his MVP-winning 2013-14 campaign.

Durant has the Brooklyn Nets as the current three-seed in the East despite starting 5-5 to begin the season. His 30.8 PPG is second in the NBA and the second-best mark of his career. He’s shooting better than 53 percent from the floor, again the second-best mark of his career, and hitting a career-high 45 percent of his triples. Durant’s averaging 32.2 points, 7.8 boards, and 5.4 assists per contest in his last 11 games.

The only argument one could make against him is his supporting cast in James Harden and Kyrie Irving is second to none. We’ve seen in the past how having a stellar teammate or two can detract from your efforts in the eyes of voters and fans. But consider Irving’s flakiness or Harden’s defensive issues and ask yourself if Brooklyn, who was the seventh seed last year, would be in the position they’re in without Durant.

2. LeBron James

You’ve heard all the narratives. 36-years old, washed, etc. All have been used to describe LeBron James in recent years just to have him go out and show why those assessments were misguided. Last season he helped bring the Los Angeles Lakers back to the playoffs for the first time since 2013 and their first championship since 2010.

We thought James would ease into the season considering, well, his reaction to the quick turnaround and the sentiments of teammates. While he isn’t leading the league in assists, he’s still leading his team in that category, scoring, and is second on the Lakers (third place in the West) in rebounds. Not bad for an over-the-hill, washed, superstar, huh? Only the foolhardy bought into that narrative.

James got dinged in the MVP race last year and voiced his displeasure. He’ll likely have to do so again because, while Anthony Davis isn’t having the MVP-type season we predicted early on, he’s still a perennial All-NBAer and arguably top-five in the Association. Perhaps the dip in Davis’ numbers can actually be used to boost the argument for James as MVP.

3. Joel Embiid

The best player on the best team in the East, Joel Embiid is having his best season since the 2018-19 campaign, of not his career. Averaging a personal-best 28.6 points and 1.2 steals per game, he’s also knocking down shots at career-best clips slashing .549/.423/.843 and a .588 eFG%. He and Tobias Harris have enjoyed Doc Rivers’ arrival on an individual level the most.

It’s a continuation of last year’s playoffs when Embiid put up 30.0 PPG (a career-high) and 12.3 RPG. Over his last eight games, Embiid is putting up 33.3 PPG and 10.5 RPG. More importantly, the Philadelphia 76ers are 8-0 in those games and 1-2 without him in that span. Philly lost the other two games he’s missed this season as well; not so uncertain evidence.

As always with The Process, it could come down to health. Embiid missed all of his first two seasons as a pro and has yet to appear in more than 64 games, though to be fair, that was his mark in 2019, and the pandemic shut down the season last year. If Embiid can stay on the floor, he has a legitimate shot at being the first center to win the MVP since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000.

4. Nikola Jokic

The Joker is currently the odds-on favorite to win the Maurice Podoloff trophy, thanks in part to his 47-point outburst against the Utah Jazz the other night. Nikola Jokic, much like Embiid before him is experiencing a banner year. He’s sitting with career-highs in points, rebounds, assists, and steals. This, unlike Embiid, is an improvement upon last year’s playoff performance.

Jokic has scored fewer than 20 points just four times this season, and in two of those outings, he had 19 points. He’s only failed to grab double-digit boards four times as well. In three of those performances, he had nine rebounds while he had eight in the other. No player has more 19-plus point, 10-plus board double-doubles than Jokic this season. We haven’t even addressed his passing of which he has nine games with double-figure dishes.  He also has five triple-doubles; tied with Luka Doncic for the lead.

Of course, we can’t let it all be rainbows and puppies. Some of the issues that may come up in the discussion in regards to Joker must be addressed. We cannot ignore that his career scoring year comes with a career-high in usage and shot attempts. Denver was also the three-seed last year and sits at fourth currently. That’s is the smallest of regressions but it must be noted. The Nuggets are getting better production from non-Jokic and Jamal Murray pieces, too. Will that hurt him when the vote comes?

5. The Field

The rest of the list gets kind of cluttered with some decent cases, but not many strong ones. Giannis’ case is the strongest. The reigning back-to-back winner is having a down year, yes. But we know how he goes, so go the Milwaukee Bucks. And for all the picking apart of his game, he still has the Bucks sitting second in the East. Not bad for a guy who can only run and jump.

Paul George has gotten a lot of love for his “redemption” season. Many will overlook his numbers simply because it’s happening in the regular season. ‘Playoff P’ is the guy we all want to see. But he has a bigger problem: Kawhi Leonard. Not only is Leonard ahead of George in PPG, but he’s also ahead in FG% while only slightly trailing in 3P%, rebounds, and assists. This isn’t saying George isn’t having a great year. Just remember who he plays with.

You’ll get calls for Davis to get consideration but, ya know, LeBron. Damian Lillard’s Trail Blazers are 11-9 right now. That ain’t getting it done. Doncic was a preseason favorite but Dallas is 9-13 and he has struggled from deep this season. Still, he has as good of a shot as anyone listed at getting back into the thick of the race. That’ll require some more wins and the Mavericks are fresh off a six-game slide.

T For 3: The Return

The Return of T For 3

Tyler is back with ‘T For 3 –  The Return’ to get into several hot topics in the sports world! From the potential returns of Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor, to Luka Doncic being on his MVP watchlist, and more!

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Triple Zeros: ‘ATC’ – Devin Booker is a Badass Summer Player

We had to run it back with another Clocker Sports ‘Around the Clock’ roundtable discussion. We touched on Devin Booker’s Suns going 8-0 in the bubble and still missing the playoffs, chances the NFL finishes the entire season, and so much more! Head over to ClockerSports.com for more great content and send us the topics you want to hear discussed!

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