51 Questions: Who is the second best team in the East?

17 Comments

51 Questions in 51 Days. PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27.

In the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers set the bar — and set it clearly above every other team. The defending conference champs are going to be healthy and deeper. That brings us to today’s question:

WHO IS THE SECOND BEST TEAM IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE?

Kurt Helin: Washington Wizards

The second tier of the Eastern Conference is one of the fascinating storylines to watch this season, as the Wizards, Hawks, Bulls, Raptors and Heat could finish in about any order and I wouldn’t be shocked. Nor would I be shocked if the Bucks or Celtics jumped into the top six (especially if one of those other teams stumble). But enough caveats:

I’ll take Washington.

I’m not completely comfortable that pick, but I’m higher on the Wizards than most — this is the season they take a step forward and reach the conference Finals. For that to happen, I’m betting on Bradley Beal staying healthy all season and playing like the guy from the playoffs who looked like he deserved a max contract. I’m expecting Beal and John Wall to take a step forward together as clearly the best backcourt in the East. I’m betting on Otto Porter playing like the guy from the playoffs (actually better than that, it’s been overstated how well he played). I’m betting on Porter, Jared Dudley, and Alan Anderson being able to fill Paul Pierce’s shoes. I’m betting on (and expecting) coach Randy Wittman to play a lot more small ball with Porter/Dudley at the four, spacing the floor and allowing Wall to penetrate and break down defenses. I’m betting on Nene being healthy for the playoffs (I’m not crazy enough to expect an injury-free season from him).

That’s a lot that has to go right, but I think the odds of those things happening are better than rookie coach Fred Hoiberg being the missing ingredient in Chicago, or everything going right in Miami, or Atlanta playing as well as they did the first half of last season.

Dan Feldman: Chicago Bulls

This is a wide-open race with about five legitimate contenders and another few teams capable of surprising in a weak conference beyond the Cavaliers.

I’ll take Chicago, because the team is flush with talent, and I don’t think Tom Thibodeau’s defensive culture will erode overnight. I very well could be overrating Fred Hoiberg after watching Steve Kerr’s masterful job with the Warriors, but a new coach could do wonders in raising the Bulls’ ceiling. Simply splitting up the Joakim NoahPau Gasol combo and pairing each with one of Nikola Mirotic and Taj Gibson would go a long way.

An interesting side question: How many teams would you need to answer this question and feel you had at least a 50% chance of being right. It’s definitely at least two — probably three, but maybe even four.

Sean Highkin: Miami Heat

There’s no sure thing in the Eastern Conference once you get past Cleveland. All the likely candidates either lost a key player (DeMarre Carroll for the Hawks, Paul Pierce for the Wizards) or have major injury concerns (Chicago and Miami). But none of them are more intriguing — or have a higher ceiling — than the Heat. The starting lineup of Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside was one of the on-paper best last season, but they never actually got to play together after Bosh was diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs immediately following the deadline trade for Dragic. This year, they will. There’s a lot of versatility in that lineup: everyone can defend, and the presence of Dragic and a healthy Bosh will limit the offensive burden on Wade. Even factoring in the 20-plus games he will inevitably sit out (that’s just his reality at this point), there’s enough scoring firepower there to get by.

Pat Riley has also done a good job retooling the bench. Justise Winslow fits the profile of a long-term replacement for Deng; even if he doesn’t start in his rookie season, he can still contribute, especially on the defensive end. Amar’e Stoudemire and Gerald Green were smart minimum signings who can still help a team in limited minutes. All of this could fall apart if one of the starters misses an extended period of time, or if Whiteside can’t sustain his out-of-nowhere success for a full season. But all the pieces are here for a team that could be dangerous.

Watch Spurs Collins bloody Russell Westbrook with a foul, get ejected

Los Angeles Lakers v San Antonio Spurs
Ronald Cortes/Getty Images
0 Comments

Jakob Poeltl was dominating the paint, scoring 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting with nine rebounds in 10 minutes, and giving the Lakers serious trouble. Then he had to leave the game with a sore quad, meaning Zach Collins would get more run.

Collins was ejected for a flagrant foul 2 on Russell Westbrook that left the Lakers guard bloodied.

Collins plans to appeal the ejection he said after the game.

Collins will face a fine or suspension from the league, although he doesn’t have a history of this kind of foul, something the league takes into consideration. Westbrook also got a technical for going after Collins.

The Lakers went on to beat the Spurs 143-138, behind 39 points from LeBron James. It’s the second time the Lakers have defeated the Spurs in three days, the kind of wins over tanking teams the Lakers need if they are going to turn their season around.

Watch Victor Wembanyama drop 30-point double-double in France

0 Comments

Maybe you spent your Saturday afternoon watching Lionel Messi doing Lionel Messi things. Or intense college football rivalries.

In France, they spent part of the day watching Kylian Mbappe be brilliant but then flipped over and watched future No.1 pick Victor Wembanyama drop a 30-point double-double.

That’s two straight 30-point double-doubles for Wembanyama.

He will be the No.1 pick next June (barring something catastrophic), and teams are already thinking about the lottery next June.

Expect some other teams to jump in that mix at the bottom because the depth of this class goes well beyond just Wembanyama with Scoot Henderson, Amen Thompson and others. The tanking is coming people.

 

Boogie Cousins called Warriors GM Myers and got reality check on why he’s not in NBA

2022 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Golden State Warriors
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

DeMarcus Cousins didn’t understand why he didn’t have an NBA contract this season.

He thought he had proven he could help teams in need of front-line depth last season, first in Milwaukee when Brook Lopez was out following back surgery and gave them 9.1 points and 5.8 rebounds a game of solid play. The Bucks ultimately let Cousins go for financial reasons, so the Nuggets picked him up to backup Nikola Jokic. He was again solid, averaging 8.9 points and 5.5 rebounds a game (and he had a 31-point night against the Rockets).

Confused, he called one of the former GMs who brought him in, Bob Myers of the Golden State Warriors. Myers relayed their conversation on the All That Smoke podcast (via NBC Sports Bay Area).

“DeMarcus called me a month ago and he said, ‘Why am I not in the NBA?’ ” Myers told Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on the “All The Smoke” podcast earlier this week. “And I said, ‘You want that answer? … Because people are afraid of how you’re going to act.’ And he’s like ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Well whatever the reason is, it’s here now.’

“And I like DeMarcus. You guys may know him. He’s just, I can’t blame him for him because of all he’s been through.”

Not long after that conversation, Cousins spoke with Chris Haynes and said he learned from his past mistakes.

“Have I made mistakes? Absolutely. Have I done things the wrong way? Absolutely. For that, I’m very apologetic. But I’ve done even more things the correct way and I’ve done even more positive things compared to my negatives. I just don’t want those positives to be overlooked. And obviously, whenever it gets to the point where the negatives outweigh the positives, you should probably move away from him. That’s just how life goes. But I don’t believe I’m in that boat. I’m just asking for a chance to show my growth as a man and a player.”

Cousins also had physical issues, including a torn ACL that cost him a season with the Lakers in 2019-20. He also had domestic abuse allegations at the time (those charges were dropped a few months later).

Cousins just wants the chance to prove he is past all that and can help a team like he did last season. There have been rumors out of Taiwan that Cousins could join Dwight Howard in that league, but Cousins has not confirmed that. He still wants his shot in the NBA. So he waits, and hopes he can change the narrative around him.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says of Evan Mobley, ‘He can be better than me’

Cleveland Cavaliers v Milwaukee Bucks
John Fisher/Getty Images
0 Comments

Evan Mobley hasn’t taken the leap forward in his second season many expected, partly because he has to adjust to playing with a new, dominant backcourt in Cleveland of Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland. Mobley is getting nearly five fewer touches a game and is not getting the same chances to use his off-the-bounce skills (73% of his shots this season come off zero or one-dribble) as he did when he was a rookie.

That doesn’t mean his superstar potential has gone away. Just ask Giannis Antetokounmpo, as Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer did.

“He can be better than me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com in an exclusive interview while walking out of Fiserv Forum… “I don’t see why he can’t. It’s up to him. I will always try to improve. Every day. But he has the skill set to be a very, very good player. He’s 7-feet tall. He can move really well. He can shoot. He is very smart. As you said, he watches tapes of other players, which is very, very good for a young player. If he takes this seriously, he is going to be great.”

Better than Giannis? What could possibly make him say that?

“I didn’t average what he is in my second season, so he’s already ahead of me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com. “It’s in his hands. If he stays humble, continues to work hard, focuses on the game and shows love to the game of basketball, he is going to be really good.”

One of the players Mobley is known to study on tape is Antetokounmpo. Of course, mirroring the force and athleticism Antetokounmpo plays with is next to impossible, but Mobley has the skill set that could see him become a shot-creator and scorer on the wing with the ball.

The Cavaliers don’t need him to be that with Garland improving and Michell being better than advertised. Cleveland has a top-five offense and hasn’t had to turn to Mobley for more scoring and shot creation. But that can change, especially come the playoffs against the strong defenses of teams such as the Bucks and Celtics. Ultimately, how far these Cavaliers can go in the postseason over the next few years could come down to the growth of Mobley on the offensive end.

Antetokounmpo believes Mobley could be special in that role, which should give fans in Cleveland even more hope.