The Saturday Starting Five: Your Season Assured

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Hey, so, you’re stuck with me on the weekends, so I thought we’d put together something you can count on. Every weekend here at PBT we’ll have the Saturday Starting Five. Five elements, chosen thematically (so I’m not just basically vomiting words onto a screen for you) and brought for discussion about the NBA. Our opening topic?

Five things you can count on in the NBA this and every year (except next year when we’re locked out because that’s totally going to happen.).

#1: At least two teams are going to completely exceed all expectations.

Startling, I know, but in a league as dead-set predictable as the NBA, this is actually worth mentioning. Last season the Bobcats were considered by many to be one of, if not the worst teams in the league. This despite Larry Brown’s penchant for overachieving with lesser parts. Granted, pundits couldn’t see the addition of Stephen Jackson coming down the pipeline, but the fact is that last year, just like this year, the Bobcatss were slated to be terrible. Now the Cats might actually be terrible, but it’s still good when you’re rolling down those teams and dismissing them to stop and ask “Are they actually that terrible?” Because when spring rolls around and that team’s in a playoff race, it’s going to seem so obvious that they’d be good.

Oh, and a side note, every columnist, pundit, and blogger is praying that the team they think is terrible won’t be the one to exceed expectations. I personally am dreading if Darko Milicic is actually a viable center, Kurt Rambis actually plays Kevin Love and Wesley Johnson is any good. I’m going to look dumb. Like, really dumb. Exceptionally stupid. Worlds O’ Dumb.

#2: One team’s going to bottom into nothingness.

Perhaps you don’t remember this, but the Nets weren’t supposed to be that bad last season. No kidding. They weren’t going to be title contenders, or anything, but a nice reasonable near-.500 record was expected. Instead, they just lost and lost and lost. I watched several of those games early on, including the Miami buzzer beater loss. And you could just feel that cloud descend over them. It would follow them for almost the entire season.

Think last season was an outlier? Chicago went from an Eastern Conference favorite to giving Scott Skiles a pink slip on Christmas. This happens. Consistently. And there’s almost no way to see it coming.

It’s going to happen to a team we don’t suspect. Minnesota should have been the worst team in the league last year. It took an extraordinary plummet by the Nets for them to be second worst. And that may happen again this year. There’s no real way you can see it coming, either. Heck, it could be the Heat. That’s how tentative this league is. (It will not be the Heat.) So keep that in mind while you’re talking up how your team could make the playoffs.

#3 A mid-teen drafted rookie will blow us away.

10. Paul George
11. Cole Aldrich
12. Xavier Henry
13. Ed Davis
14. Patrick Patterson
15. Larry Sanders
16. Luke Babbitt
17. Kevin Seraphin
18. Eric Bledsoe
19. Avery Bradley
20. James Anderson

One of those guys is going to be much better than we expect. It may be one of the guys 20-plus, like Darren Collison last year, though Ty Lawson qualifies. One of these guys will be better than we expect, much better. It’s only natural. There are so many misses in the top 10 usually, that someone’s going to slip, and when you slip, you can slip by handfuls. Of those options, it’s hard to identify the easy one. But then, each year it’s hard to identify. My money’s on either Patrick Patterson or Larry Sanders, but wouldn’t it be ridiculous if the Celtics landed themselves another great point guard? Or if Cole Aldrich was, actually, you know, good?

Just be prepared for one of these guys to make a huge jump.

#4 At least one coach is cashing one of his final paychecks.

My favorite fired coach story of the past few years was Scott Skiles. The Bulls fired him on Christmas Eve. Think about that. Oh, hey, it’s the holiday season. A season of love and peace. Hey, Scott, we got you a present! It’s the curb! It’s all yours! And we got you this boot to get you there! I mean, seriously. Who does that? The answer is “probably the same people who get into a shoving match with a coach who they later lame duck for about six months after they shouldn’t have hired him in the first place anyway.”

The point is, before the calendar hits 2011, we’re going to see a coach released back into the wild. Sometimes it’s a long time coming, sometimes it’s a reactionary move that speaks to the front office’s short leash. Jay Triano is one that comes to mind, if the team once again comes out with a terrible defensive rating. Whoever suffers element #2 above is also a strong candidate.

It’s sad that we know someone’s going to lose their job this far in advance, but we do. This is the NBA. It has benchmarks like every other league. And Christmas is the time for coaches to exit, stage right.

#5 An MVP candidate will come out of nowhere.

Carmelo Anthony really did have a strong case for the first two months of the year last year. Then Amar’e Stoudemire made a really strong case towards the end of last year. Those are two more predictable candidates, but they’re still outside of the Big 4 (LeBron, Kobe, Wade, Dwight). With two candidates (sorry Chris) on the same team, there are more spots open (with one already awarded to Kevin Durant automatically).

It’s one of the best parts of the season, a player making a huge leap that suddenly makes you wonder if he’s the best. For all the disappointing injuries, suspensions, team turmoil, and this season, CBA talks, there are bright spots, and watching players make leaps to elite status is one of them. I for one, am ready for it. 24 Days, kiddos.

24 days.

NBA: Kenneth Faried got away with foul on decisive basket in Nuggets’ win over Bulls

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The Bulls’ biggest loss Friday was Jimmy Butler to injury. His absence certainly contributed to a loss to the Timberwolves the following night.

But Chicago also lost to the Nuggets on Friday, and perhaps that wouldn’t have happened if the game were called correctly down the stretch.

With Denver up two points and 21.1 seconds remaining, Kenneth Faried offensively rebounded a free throw and scored. The Bulls then intentionally fouled down the stretch, and Faried and Danilo Gallinari added a few free throws in the Nuggets’ 115-110 win.

One problem: Faried should’ve been called for offensively fouling Taj Gibson on the key putback, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report:

Faried (DEN) extends his arm into Gibson (CHI) and dislodges him, affecting his ability to retrieve the rebound.

This was a huge swing. Instead of Taj Gibson – a 69% career free-throw shooter – going to the line for two attempts with Chicago down two points, Faried put the Nuggets up four. Even if Gibson split at the line, the Bulls would have been in significantly better shape.

As usual, we can’t know what would’ve happened if this call were made correctly. But it significantly set back Chicago.

NBA considering if jump-on-back foul should be flagrant foul

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The video above is an intentional foul — Chris Paul jumped on the back of Dwight Howard. The same thing has happened to Andre Drummond.

Is it a flagrant foul?

The Boston Celtics tweeted this out on Sunday.

The NBA was quick to let people know that this is just something under consideration — there has been no change in the rules. This may well be where the league is headed, but it’s not there yet.

The NBA defines a flagrant foul as “unnecessary contact committed by a player against an opponent.” To me, leaping on a player’s back like that qualifies. (A flagrant two foul is “unnecessary and excessive contact” and leads to an ejection; this is not that.)

Jared Dudley — one of the more vocal players on union issues — added a good point.

Consider this part of the coming changes on the intentional fouling rules period. But this one tweak could come much faster.

NBA: Foul on Cavaliers that sparked Celtics’ comeback called in error

Cleveland Cavaliers' J.R. Smith makes a move on Boston Celtics' Evan Turner (11) during the third quarter of a NBA basketball game in Boston Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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The Cavaliers were in great shape against the Celtics on Friday, leading by four points with seven seconds left.

Then, it all went so wrong for Cleveland.

J.R. Smith was called for fouling Evan Turner on a made layup, cutting the margin to two points. Turner missed the free throw, but the ball went out of bounds off the Cavs. Then, Avery Bradley made a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Boston the win.

Rewind, though, and an incorrect call drove the sequence, according to the NBA.

Smith shouldn’t have been called for fouling Turner, per the Last Two Minute Report:

Smith (CLE) makes incidental contact with Turner’s (BOS) body as he attempts the layup.

If this were officiated correctly, the Cavs would’ve had the ball and a two-point lead with 5.9 seconds left. That’s not a lock to win – they’d still have to inbound the ball and make their free throws – but it’s close.

Cleveland is definitely entitled to feel the refs wronged them out of a victory.

Report: Kevin Durant has “done his due diligence on the Bay Area”

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Kevin Durant has not made up his mind about what he will do as a free agent this summer. Until his playoff run ends, whenever that may be for the Thunder, his focus will be on bringing a title to Oklahoma City.

But even he admits he can’t help but think about free agency a little.

The buzz around the league is Golden State is at the front of the line if Durant decides to leave OKC, and he has done some research, reports Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.

The Warriors play in front of an intimidating Oracle Arena crowd and are expected to debut a new San Francisco arena in 2019. Durant has quietly done his due diligence on the Bay Area, too, sources told Yahoo Sports.

His people — specifically agent Rich Kleiman and personal manager Charlie Bell — would be stupid not to have done some research on not only Golden State but on every other team he might consider: Houston, Miami, Washington, both teams in Los Angeles, the Knicks, and on down the line. Golden State, playing with Stephen Curry, certainly would have its attractions.

I’m still in the camp that Durant signs a 1+1 deal to stay in Oklahoma City (meaning he can opt out after one more season, in 2017), and it’s all about the cash. While he could get 30 percent of a $90 million cap this summer (about $27 million a season to start), with one more year of service in 2017 Durant could get 35 percent of $108 million ($37.8 million to start). That’s a lot of cash. Plus he gets one more chance at a ring with Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, who both are 2017 free agents.

But you can be sure whatever Durant decides, it will be well researched and thought out. And he’s not going to announce it in a live special on ESPN.