Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker

Five reasons these are not last year’s Spurs, they are contenders

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Last season, the Spurs won 61 games, went into the playoffs as the top seed thought of as contenders, then got unceremoniously bounced in the first round because they could not handle the big, athletic front line of the Memphis Grizzlies.

This season, the Spurs are again entering the playoffs as the top seed and are talked about as contenders. They again face a first-round opponent with a big front line — the Utah Jazz — and some think the same thing will happen again.

The Spurs may not make the NBA finals, but they are real contenders this year. Here are five reasons this year is different than last.

1) Manu Ginobili is healthy. Ginobili is what turns the Spurs offense from “good” to “best in the NBA” and he was out last season but is back healthy this season. (The entire city of San Antonio just knocked on wood.) What makes him so dangerous is that can take whatever the defense gives — he can knock down threes, drive the lane (left or right), is solid from the midrange, plays well in transition and… you get the point. He also shoots well in the clutch. This is the guy that makes the Spurs special and he is back this year.

2) Tony Parker is playing the best ball of his career. He should be in the MVP discussion this year. Not saying he should win it (that’s LeBron James) but Parker should be in the conversation. Parker leads the Spurs in scoring (18.3 points per game, a number he stepped up when Ginobili was out) and is also at a career high in assists — when he is on the floor he assists on 40 percent of his teammates baskets. Parker gets an offense based on cuts and off-ball movement going, he is at the heart of their rapid ball movement side to side. He simply is better this season than last.

3) San Antonio depth and athleticism — this is a team. This was the knock on them since 2004 — they were old and no longer athletic enough to play with the elite teams in the league. But that’s not the case anymore, they have rookie Kawhi Leonard, they bring in youth with DeJuan Blair, Danny Green and Gary Neal, plus Tiago Splitter has taken a step forward and given them a solid big man to put in the middle. Combine that with a shooter like Matt Bonner (plus they have Stephen Jackson now) and they can throw a lot of different matchups at you. The amazing part is how little drop off there is in execution from the first to second unit.

The turning point for the Spurs may have come at the end of January this season when the starters were getting smoked by Dallas and when the bench made a comeback Popovich rode them all the way through into the overtime. And lost. But since then this team has rallied as a unit and the depth has been part of that.

4) Tim Duncan found the fountain of youth down by the Riverwalk. Tim Duncan never has been bad, but he had seemed to take a step back in recent years from great to solid. He was always fundamentally sound, but he seemed older and a step slow. Since the All-Star break he has seemed a threat again. Maybe that is him getting better looks thanks to the Spurs fantastic ball movement, but whatever it is it is working. And if Duncan is on the Spurs are on.

5) These Jazz are not those Grizzlies. This Utah team is playing well and we’ve all fallen in love around the NBA blogosphere with their big lineup of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors together. No doubt, that lineup is good — but it is not as good as the level the Grizzlies were playing at last year. Zach Randolph was probably the best single player in the first round last year, he was a force of nature. I like Jefferson, but his ceiling is not that high. These Jazz also don’t defend like those Grizzlies did.

It is possible the Spurs will see the Grizzlies again in the second round. And that would be a fun matchup. But the Grizzlies are going to find out these Spurs are a lot better now than those ones they knocked off last year. These Spurs are legitimate contenders.

Cavaliers fan makes good on bet, eats shirt after Warriors win West

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Don’t make a bet you’re not willing to follow through on. I mean, we all do it — “If Trump wins I’m moving to Canada” — but never really mean it. We don’t follow through.

Except sometimes people do.

Reddit NBA user ‘PARTYxDIRTYDAN’ made a bet that he would eat his shirt if the Warriors repeated as Western Conference champions. Call it a bad beat if you want — he came about as close to winning that bet as he could without actually winning it — but the man was good to his word. He had a little BBQ sauce on it, but he ate his shirt.

He probably shouldn’t make a similar bet in the Finals, no matter how big a Cavs fan he is.

(Hat tip Deadspin)

NBC/PBT Podcast: Cavaliers vs. Warriors NBA Finals preview with Dan Feldman

CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 18: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors and LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers react during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on January 18, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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LeBron James got what he probably wanted deep down — a second chance at Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals (starting Thursday night). It’s a chance for revenge from last season and to knock Curry off his pedestal.

Except this is a difficult matchup for the Cavaliers and their current style of play, something Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports get into in this breakdown of what’s to come on the NBA’s biggest stage.

They both foresee a long couple of weeks coming for Kevin Love, and difficulty for the Cavaliers getting enough stops. While the Cavaliers now want to play faster and shoot threes, they may have to change tactics against the Warriors.

As always, you can listen to the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes, download it directly here, or you can check out our new PBT Podcast homepage, which has the most recent episodes available. If you have the Stitcher app, you can listen there as well.

Early NBA Finals betting money flowing to Cleveland

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 16:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shakes hands with Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors after the Warriors defeated the Cavs 105 to 97 to win Game Six of the 2015 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on June 16, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Golden State is the clear favorites to beat the Cavaliers and repeat as NBA Champions.

But for gamblers, there’s not much money to be made in taking the safe route, where you have to risk a lot to win a little. The money is on the underdog.

Which is why the early cash has gone to Cleveland, something reported by online gambling site Bovada.lv. Here are their current odds to win the series:

Cleveland Cavaliers +175 (7/4)
Golden State Warriors -210 (10/21)

(That means for every $100 bet on Cleveland the gambler would get $175 if they win; where with Golden State it would take a $210 bet to win $100.)

“We opened the NBA Finals at Cleveland +200 (2/1) and Golden State -240 (5/12) and the public pounced on Cleveland, forcing the adjustment of the lines to +175 and -210,” said Kevin Bradley, Bovada.lv Sportsbook Manager. “While the wagering has evened out a bit more on each side, 60% of the public is currently on the Cavaliers.”

This just makes sense as a gambler — why would I risk so much to win with Golden State? I get the much better payoff with a smaller amount bet with Cleveland, even if the outcome is less likely to go my way.

Remember, for a book the goal is often even betting on both sides, so that they rake in their percentage and win regardless of the outcome. That said, the books may be Warriors fans for the next couple of weeks.

Bismack Biyombo says he wants to stay with Raptors, would take hometown discount

TORONTO, ON - MAY 15:  Bismack Biyombo #8 of the Toronto Raptors celebrates late in the second half of Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Miami Heat during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 15, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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Bismack Biyombo made $3 million this season playing for the Raptors.

Next season he is going to make five times that or more playing somewhere. Biyombo is a free agent and the going rate could be $17 million a year.

After a breakout playoffs, Biyombo wants to stay in Toronto with the Raptors and would even consider a hometown discount to make that happen. That’s what he said on Sportsnet 590 The FAN’s Andrew Walker Show. Does Biyombo expect to wear a Raptors jersey next season?

“Honestly, I do. We still have some unfinished business. It was so much fun to see the team go from last year to this year making the Eastern Conference finals. Be it would be fun to go even further next season.”

The Raptors want to bring him back, but the salary cap makes it difficult. The Raptors do not have Biyombo’s Bird rights, so they need to use their salary cap space to re-sign him. The Raptors top priority is bringing back DeMar DeRozan (who will be a max or near max player), and remember they gave Jonas Valanciunas a four-year, $64 million contract extension last summer.

Would Biyombo be open to a discount to stay in Toronto?

“Yeah. Things can always be worked out. I’ve said that to my people, I’ve said that to Masai. When the right time comes I’d be open to figuring something out. At the end of the day it’s for fun, not money. It’s not always about money. Money is great, but at the same time I ask ‘how much fun am I going to have? The city is great, the team is great, and we’re winning.”

The question may be how big a discount are we talking about? Let’s say Team X does offer $17 million a year for four years, would Biyombo start at $15 million to stay? $13 million? Where is that number?

Next season Biyombo is going to make more money than he had in his entire NBA career up to this point. This is set your family up for generations money, and while the sentiment that the game should be for fun is what we as fans of the game want to hear, how much money would you leave on the table in his shoes?

With the Raptors talking about giving Valanciunas a bigger role in the offense next season, how much can they afford to pay his backup? Biyombo could be on the move.