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Category: Know Thy Enemy

Know thy enemy: Phoenix Suns

I'm not sure what's more ironic about the Phoenix Suns' return to their fast-paced roots after a failed reinvention attempt via the addition of Shaquille O'Neal.  That Shaq would get traded to Cleveland for Ben Wallace, among the few players that makes Shaq a perfect "seven seconds or less" fit by comparison.  Or that Wallace- since bought out and now reunited with the Detroit Pistons- is fighting for center's PT with Kwame Brown, who's hands down (pun intended) the least equipped player to catch no look feeds from Steve Nash.  It's not even inconceivable that Big Ben and Kwame could be the starting 4/5 combo.  So what can we learn from all this? 

The Shaq era was one hell of a disaster for Phoenix.  And Detroit's game plan likely doesn't include the words "D'Antoni" or "lite."

All jokes aside about the Shawn Marion-Shaq trade's shocking lack of logic (to this day, my wife says she's never seen me more confused than the 4-5 hours immediately following this swap) it's commendable that Kerr would opt for professionalism over ego and admit/correct a mistake.  Catering to the team's collective strengths can't possibly hurt, but unfortunately, it's not the cure-all in a brutally tough Western Conference.  To get a perspective, I sent a series of questions to our ol' buddy "Phoenix Stan," editor of the terrific Bright Side of the Sun blog.  As always, PS can be counted on for a smorgasbord of insight.  The conversation is below the jump.

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Know thy Enemy: Golden State Warriors

Golden State Warriors

Last Season: 29-53 (.354, 3rd in the Pacific Division, 10th in the Western Conference)Scream

Key Additions: Drafted Stephon Curry. Also brought in Acie Law, Speedy Claxton, Devean George  and Mikki Moore, but if any of those guys become "key," the Warriors will have officially crossed into a realm scary enough to be the setting for the next installment of Saw.
Key Subtractions: Jamal Crawford, Marco Belinelli

(You just think the lil' guy is watching Warriors highlights from last season... Amazing how the color palate matches, though.)

The Real Housewives of Atlanta. Joan and Christina Crawford. The Nazis and the French Resistance. All examples of relationships functioning at a more harmonious level than the Golden State Warriors. While the assembled hoards in El Segundo spent Media Day desperately trying to prove the circus had come to town in the form of Ron Artest's social media smorgasbord and Lamar Odom's E!-tastic wedding, the real McCoy was taking place upstate, short only dancing bears and bearded ladies. Monta Ellis welcomed Curry to the locker room by declaring the Warriors wouldn't be able to win says there's no way the Warriors can win with both the two of them on floor at the same time. Stephen Jackson wants out, because, and I'm paraphrasing only slightly here, it's exceedingly obvious the team is run by nitwits, and the chances of him ever being on a winning squad in Oakland appear as likely as Paris Hilton being named Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Hard to believe Captain Jack has already been suspended, thanks to his actions against the Lakers at the Forum. Two preseason games missed, something that, as an angry 10 year vet, I'm sure tore him up inside.

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Know thy enemy: Memphis Grizzlies


2008-2009 record: 24-58
(.293, 5th Southwest division, 12th in the Western Conference)

Key Additions:
Signed Allen Iverson.  Traded for Zach Randolph (seriously) and Jerry Stackhouse (for about an hour).  Drafted Hasheem Dan_and_bear_i6ih Thabeet, Sam Young, DeMarre Carroll. 
Key subtractions: Hakim WarrickDarko Milicic (which led to a week of Quentin Richardson).  Quinton Ross.  Greg Buckner.
Soon to be subtractions:
Marko Jaric, given permission to skip camp and seek a trade.  And eventually seek a buyout, when Team Jaric discovers 2 yrs/almost 15 mil is rather pricey for an 11th man, even if the price tag includes the occasional chance to ogle Adriana Lima.


No franchise enjoys permanent "salad days."  Sub-par seasons are part of the business of sports.  Some "dark days" are more pitch black than others- for all the talk about the Kwame-Smush-Cook "agony," compared to most rebuilding eras, it was pretty quick and painless- but as Led Zeppelin said, "upon us all, a little rain must fall."  The key is how a franchise handles stormy weather.  Some teams (OKC, Minny) may scuffle throughout 2009-2010, but you can picture seeds being planted for a fruitful harvest.  There are teams like the Knicks, whose "2010 or bust" plan strikes me as a disappointment in the making, but at least it's a plan, for better or for worse.  Better than being bad and rudderless. 

Which brings us to the Grizzlies.  They're definitely bad, and for the life of me, I can't figure out what they're doing. 

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Know thy enemy: Oklahoma City Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder

Last Season: 23-59 (.280, 5th in the Northwest Division, 13th in the Western Conference)

Key Additions: Drafted James Harden, BJ Mullins, traded for Kevin Ollie, Etan ThomasKevin Durant Action Figure
Key Subtractions: Earl Watson, Damien Wilkins.

I'm willing to wager that a healthy portion of NBA teams- lottery and playoff squads alike- would trade their lot in life for what the Thunder have cooking in their big cast iron, high plains basketball kettle. A killer core of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green, none older than 23, with more potential added in first rounder Harden. Scads of draft picks at their disposal. Cap space stretching to the tips of Oklahoma's vast horizon. A home city forgiving of their growing pains and just happy to have the team- any team, really- in town, meaning there's no rush to try and mess with the rebuilding blueprint and risk screwing things up in the process.

So intense has the love grown among fans and scribes alike for GM Sam Presti that it feels almost dirty, like he should be shrinkwrapped and put in the naughty section of the magazine rack. But it's all well deserved, which is why the man is smiling. You'd smile too if the future of your franchise was this bright.

As for this season, with the bottom of the Western Conference playoff race at least theoretically in question, the Thunder are a popular dark horse pick to slip in should any of last year's entrants leave the top eight. It's not as far-fetched a notion as it might seem at first glance. Yeah, OKC won only 23 games a year ago, but they started 1-16, then 3-29. After that, Durant and Co. were a still-bad-but-far-more-respectable 20-30. Five more wins there and the Thunder are a .500 team. Would that be enough to sneak in?

Sure, it takes a little imagination, but not the sort of hard drugs required to picture, say, the Kings playing deeper into April.

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Know thy enemy: Los Angeles Clippers

Los Angeles ClippersClippers Bear

Last Season: 19-63 (.232, 4th in Pacific Division, 14th in the Western Conference)

Key Additions: Drafted Blake Griffin, traded for Craig Smith, Sebastian Telfair, Rasual Butler.
Key Subtractions: Zach Randolph, Paul Davis, Zach Randolph, Mike Taylor, Fred Jones, Zach Randolph, Zach Randolph, Alex Acker (I kid), Zach Randolph, Zach Randolph, and Zach Randolph.

(Look, it's Clipper Bear-rell! Cue collective groan...)

A Heaven's Gate franchise for nearly their entire existence, 2008-2009 may just have been their Gigli.Or vice versa. Or maybe it was their Meet Dave/Adventures of Pluto Nash. Whatever the cinematic comparison, for LA's other squad it was, even relative to a history fairly riddled with this sort of thing, a total disaster from start to finish. Last summer's triumph of landing Baron Davis immediately went sour for the Clippers when Elton Brand defected to Philadelphia. Davis showed up out of shape, got hurt, shot 37% when he did manage to play, and didn't get along with Mike Dunleavy. Essentially, he brought nothing to the floor except Kate Hudson. Davis was hardly the only problem. Marcus Camby was injured in the preseason. Ricky Davis got hurt, as did Chris Kaman. Jason Williams retired before he ever suited up. Maybe he had a vision?

It all served to kick the jersey maker into overdrive. Over the course of the season, trades- including perhaps the worst swap of the decade, bringing in Randolph and his tailor-made-for-bad-teams game and albatross of a contract- and injuries put 19 different guys in red, white, and blue.

Not exactly a recipe for continuity.

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Know thy enemy: Sacramento Kings

It's back! Our yearly tour of the Western Conference. We'll go in reverse order of last year's finish, leading up to the start of the season.

Sacramento KingsSacramento Kings pufy ball

Last Season: 17-65 (.207, 5th in the Pacific Division, 15th in the Western Conference. Had there been 20 teams, they'd likely have been 20th.)

Key Additions: Drafted Tyreke Evans, Omri Casspi, and Jon Brockman. Signed Sean May, Desmond Mason. Traded for Sergio Rodriguez.
Key Subtrations: Guys like John Salmons and Brad Miller went to the Bulls at the trade deadline last year. Other than that, they really didn't have many key players to subtract. Can Shelden Williams and Bobby Brown be considered "key?" It's a reasonable question.

Arco Arena may be filled with barn-like "aw shucks" charm and deafening noise when the team is good, but when the Kings suck- and they suuuuuuuuck- it's a horrible venue. Genuinely awful. It should be replaced, but when that'll happen is an open question. The Maloofs say the team isn't going anywhere, but at the same time acknowledge that the economy, particularly in California, isn't exactly conducive to the construction of this sort. (You may have heard the economy has taken a bad turn?) So, at least in theory, they'll wait... and in the meantime seem unlikely to spend any money bettering the squad. That means a foreseeable future in which the Kings rarely win and the building is rarely filled, save those nights when the Lakers come to town and the place is packed with Kobe jerseys. Or maybe they'll move after all.

Either way, the citizens of Sacramento deserve better. What else do they have?

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Blog Swap: The Dreamshake address the burning issues

We've mentioned them before on the site, but if you're looking for solid recon on the Rockets, The Dreamshake is a good place to start.  They've been at this whole basketball blogging thing for a long time, and do top shelf work.  I'm talking shelves perhaps only The Dream himself could reach without the aid of a stepladder or phone books stacked on a dining room chair.  

(By the way, Hakeem Olajuwon, nicknamed The Dream and actually from Africa, should never be confused with this guy, nicknamed "The African Dream," and actually from South Carolina.  But I digress...)

We shot them some questions, and they were kind enough to answer.  Kinda like the way we answered your Q's during today's chat.

1) Aaron Brooks started the series with Portland on fire, but tapered off with his shooting as it went along.  How good do you think he needs to be for Houston to pull the upset.
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Nuggets of information (Ha!)

We didn't do much pregame analysis before weak sister opponents like the Clippers and Kings because, quite frankly, it didn't matter.  Those are games where the score is always more about the Lakers than anything the opposition does on the floor. Tonight, though, the Lakers get a genuine test in the Denver Nuggets, winners of eight straight and 13 of 14 overall. 

The last time these teams met, back on February 27, the Lakers had one of their worst offensive performances since they took belts off basketball shorts, scoring only 79 points and shooting a rather appalling 29.8% from the floor in a 90-79 loss.

Despite having the second seed in the Western Conference nearly locked up, the Nuggets still don't get much love when the jabbering classes break down the postseason, and will hope tonight to gain a little respect.  Obviously Chauncey Billups has changed the complexion of the team, but as Phil Jackson notes, a healthy Nene supplemented by Chris Anderson (who had seven blocks on the 27th) gives the Nuggets a much stronger defensive identity.  Even Carmelo Anthony is buckling down on that end. 

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Nuggets about Nuggets: Lakers in Denver

Chicken_nuggets

Before the start of the second half, when I put on my puffy fortune telling hat and conjured images of the future in my trusty crystal ball (which, interestingly enough, functions as a paperweight and GPS as well), I predicted disappointment tonight in Denver for the Lakers:

Back end of a back-to-back, high above sea level, against a team that seems to be overlooked despite a (as of Tuesday) .680 winning percentage.  Chauncey Billups has added order and presence on the perimeter, 'Melo has raised his game, and Nene has solidified the middle of a defense that had all the interior strength of a cherry cordial. These Nuggs guys play some D, folks.  A tired Lakers squad falls behind early, then is put away by a strong fourth quarter from the home team.

Some of those things still apply.  The Lakers played last night, arrived late into Denver, which is still at high altitude.  Nene, after missing games with knee issues, will be back in uniform tonight, and (as Kobe will tell you in the vids below) Chauncey has made a huge difference for George Karl's bunch.  On the other hand, the .680 winning percentage is down to .655 after losses in three of their last four games, and the Lakers are hardly tired after poleaxing the Suns Thursday night. 

But, as I mention to Jeremy Wagner of the Roundball Mining Company, I think the Nuggets are a team that deserves more attention from Lakers fans.  A little more respect, if you will.  They're not a threat on the level of Utah or San Antonio, but still a squad I've decided to take seriously.  Good call? I asked Jeremy for his thoughts:

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Lakers vs. Thunder: Mind the gap

The Lakers are 41-9.  They just beat Boston and Cleveland on the road, capping a perfect 6-0 trip.  They currently rule the NBA like Bill Cosby once did Thursdays.  The Oklahoma City Thunder are 13-38. That's a .255 batting average, lower than all but three teams across the NBA.  And did I mention OKC's 3-20 road mark?  The Lakers should, and very likely will, win tonight's game at Staples, but asMind_the_gaplogo_2 it was when the Lakers hosted Charlotte back on Jan. 17- we all know how that turned out- the records don't tell the whole story here.  A few things to keep in mind:

  • Including their win over Golden State on New Year's Eve, the Thunder are 10-9 over their last 19, including wins over Portland, Utah, and Detroit, and a one point loss to Denver.  10-9 isn't championship material, but it's not .255, either.
  • Since Scott Brooks shifted him back to small forward, Kevin Durant has been awesome.  He still lacks the strength to defend one-on-one, but his scoring has skyrocketed, and his splits show consistent improvement in FG%, rebounding, and assists.
  • Jeff Green has also made a major leap in production this season, and has become an increasingly tough cover.  With Russell Westbrook's 15/5 tossed in, OKC has a talented core. 
  • For the season, the Thunder are among the league's lowest scoring, least efficient teams, but over their last nine games have scored 108 points a night.  On the other hand, they're incredibly turnover prone (no surprise, given the youth and lack of depth) and can't defend
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