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Reaction: Carmelo to the Knicks

The trade we’ve been talking about for a millennium finally went down last night, as Carmelo Anthony got his wish and is now a member of the New York Knicks. Some are saying that the Knicks gave up too much to get him, while others believe that there way no way they could pass on a talent like Carmelo.

What do we think? Well, here’s what the STS crew had to say following last night’s deal:

James Holas – This trade makes me think of the classic Kenny Roger’s joint that’s now the anthem for every wanna be poker player: “You gotta knooow, when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em/Know when to walk away. Know when to run!” Continue Reading

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Chauncey Billups to the Nets Probably Won’t Happen

In what has started to become a weekly thing, the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes has taken another turn. The discussed participants this time around are the New Jersey Nets, who have been trying to find a way to get Anthony for a while now, and the Detroit Pistons, who are clearly looking to change things up within their organization.

The whole deal would center around the Nets getting Anthony, and while that would be a huge land in and of itself, that wouldn’t be all that New Jersey would be getting. Continue Reading

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The State of the Pistons: A Discussion

I’m not a Detroit Pistons fan. I admit that. But, I am a fan of good ol’ fashioned basketball tradition.

And if we’re gonna talk about basketball tradition, we have to talk about the Pistons. Detroit has won three NBA titles in the past 22 years, and while that’s not a ton, it sure as heck is more than most teams can say they’ve won.

We remember the era in the late 80s. It was hard-nosed, aggressive defense that won the Pistons back-to-back championships in ’89 and ’90. Oddly enough, the same formula that allowed the Pistons to win in those two years (great point guard play and a defensive focus) also helped them win the title in 2004. Continue Reading

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Denver’s Hopes Lie in Stopping D-Will

Deron Williams has his Jazz on the verge of advancing to the second round.

The Utah Jazz narrowly missed out on the third seed in the West in this playoffs, but they faltered at the end of the regular campaign, condemning themselves to sixth place.

Instead of facing a Portland team ravaged by injury, Utah would have to face the Denver Nuggets. And that’s no picnic.

Denver is regarded as one of the toughest teams in the league. The Nuggets feature Chauncey Billups, one of the best postseason players in recent NBA history, and Carmelo Anthony, one of the league’s best players overall. The Jazz knew they would also be down Andrei Kirilenko, their multitalented small forward who would have been responsible for containing Melo.

Then, another blow came in Game 1. Mehmet Okur, the team’s starting center, went down, hampering an already overmatched front court.

So the Nuggets took a decidedly uncompetitive Game 1, and many wrote off the Jazz as dead meat.

Then, something happened.

Something reminded the Jazz that they have one of the best point guard–power forward pairings in all of basketball today. Something reminded the Jazz than Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer can actually play this game.

In a nailbiting Game 2, the Jazz emerged victorious 114-111. The stars? You guessed it. Williams put up 33 points and 14 assists while Boozer posted 20 points and 15 boards. Williams has held on to the reins ever since.

In a less stressful Game 3, Williams backed his effort with a 24-and-10 double-double. In the next win, 24 and 13.

So the Nuggets are the ones panicking now. After nearly knocking off the eventual-champion Lakers last year, Denver is on the cusp of first-round elimination, thanks to D-Will.

And after only three solid postseason games, Williams has many thinking he has trumped Chris Paul is the league’s best floor general. To be truthful, the debate is more reasonable now than ever.

Williams’ postseason averages thus far of 26.8 points and 12 assists a contest are unmatched by a Jazz point guard since one of the greatest ever — John Stockton — put up 27.3 and 13.7 when he was 26 in 1989. That’s some good company.

Considering Utah’s immense success so far in spite of a depleted roster, it goes to show how helpful it is to have a good 1-guard running the show.

Let it be a lesson to the Boston Celtics and the Dallas Mavericks. Rajon Rondo and Jason Kidd need to be in charge of your offenses. Sure, the Celtics advanced against a weak Miami team. But the Mavericks are also on the brink of summer leisure as a result of their poorly executed offense. Let Kidd do the work; Dirk Nowitzki’s not alone out there.

For the Nuggets, it is critical to slow Williams down in tonight’s Game 5. Dantley just announced that he’s going to have Billups match up against Utah’s wonder tonight. Maybe a little championship seasoning can help Billups do what Deron’s other defensive assignments were useless in doing: exploiting the weaknesses of team’s wing positions rather than letting Williams and Boozer do the talking.

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Game of the Day: April 13

Denver Nuggets at Phoenix Suns — 10:30 PM eastern, telecast on TNT

With only two days left in the regular season, the playoff race out west is only getting more exciting. Only one-and-a-half games separate second from fifth place, and these two teams are in the thick of it.

Both the Nuggets and Suns come in having won their last games, and they’ve both been hot of late. The Nuggets are 7-3 in their last ten, and the Suns one-up them at 8-2.

Denver features, of course, Carmelo at the 3-spot along with Chauncey Billups. Kenyon Martin will play in his third game back from injury, but it is yet unclear whether he will be in the starting lineup. If he is not, Johan Petro will, once again, fill in for him there.

The Suns bring in a deep team, led, of course, by Steve Nash and a resurgent Amar’e Stoudemire — who has been lighting up the league since the all-star break. Once again, center Robin Lopez will not play, and his status for the playoffs remains undetermined.

The Suns have taken two of the previous three against the Nuggets by a combined 28 points, despite Stoudemire’s being held to 20 point or fewer in both contests. The strong front-court defense of Martin and Nene was surely responsible for that.

Nevertheless, Denver needs to apply its toughness across the board to subdue Phoenix’s relentless offense and come away with the W. If Steve Nash is allowed to get in to a rhythm and take over, forget about it.

I think the Suns will win this one. They have the momentum of having won the two most recent matchups with the Nuggets, and Denver has seemed to play less inspired basketball with Adrian Dantley on the sidelines rather than George Karl.

If Phoenix does manage a win, that could make things very interesting as far as seedings go in the Western Conference, as the boys from Arizona would move one game ahead of the Nuggets, and all they’d have to do is win on Wednesday to keep hold of the advantage over Denver, as tomorrow will be the Nuggets’ final game.

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Game of the Day: March 29

Denver Nuggets at Dallas Mavericks — 8:30 PM eastern, telecast on NBA TV

This should be a good one. The two teams  jockeying for second-place position in the Western conference square off Monday in what could very well be a preview of a postseason series.

Neither team has been playing its best of lately. The Mavs are 6-4 in their last 10 and have been blown out by two lottery teams in the New York Knicks and New Orleans Hornets during that stretch. The Nuggets, 5-5 in their last 10, have also lost to the Knicks. Otherwise, their losses during that stretch have been to playoff teams and Houston, which has a remote shot.

The Mavericks are considered by many to be the only team capable of dethroning the Lakers before the NBA Finals after their deadline trade for Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood.

But beating the Nuggets requires stopping Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups.

Shawn Marion will draw the assignment on Melo, who has been held to under 20 points in both games against the Mavericks this season. Billups has played in only one game against Dallas this season, scoring 6 points on 6-of-8 shooting.

Up front, the Mavericks will get a break with Kenyon Martin out injured for Denver, so Dirk Nowitzki will be able to minimize effort on defense against the non-threat Johan Petro.

Off the bench, expect Jason Terry and J.R. Smith to put up a handful of points. Don’t be surprised if Rodrigue Beaubois does, too, coming off a 40-point performance against the Warriors last night.

The teams have split their series thus far, and I think the Mavericks emerge victorious in this one. Nowitzki should play heavy minutes and put up a lot of points, but Dallas’s defense is what should do the trick. Haywood should have handle on Nene at center, and Jason Kidd can still play decent enough defense to prevent Billups from going off.

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Game of the Day: March 24

Denver Nuggets at Boston Celtics — 7 PM eastern, telecast on ESPN

Well, I recommended Pacers-Pistons for you last night, suggesting it would be the closest of the four games, and it turned out to be the most lopsided of the four. To boot, my prediction of the winner was wrong.

Tonight, I’m torn among three games: the one I selected, the Magic-Hawks, and Spurs-Lakers.  Here’s why I picked the Nuggets-Celtics. While the other two are intraconference bouts, I love the matchup between the Nuggets-Celtics. Every position has something fun to watch. At point guard, sharpshooter and playmaker Chauncey Billups goes at it against the defensively gifted Rajon Rondo, who’s arguably an even better playmaker. At the 3, you have Paul Pierce and Carmelo Anthony — two of the best scorers in the league at the small-forward position. At power forward, Kevin Garnett and Kenyon Martin will play tough defense on each other and put up 10 to 15 points each, and at center, Kendrick Perkins and Nene will bring the pain down low.

Furthermore, both these teams need this game. The Celtics can’t afford to lose any more at home (having lost only one fewer game at the Garden than on the road), and the Nuggets need a win to pace the Mavericks and maintain sole possession of second place in the West.

I peg the Nuggets to come away with the W in this one. Expect a standout performance from Melo, as I wouldn’t be surprised if Pierce tries to conserve most of his energy for the offensive end. Furthermore, look for Ray Allen to have a poor shooting night. Aaron Afflalo is a great on-ball defender and shoot give Allen some trouble on the jumper with his quickness and length.

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Who can challenge the Lakers?

Stopping LA doesn't mean just stopping Kobe. You'll have the limit these guys, too.

The common assumption this season among NBA analysts and fans is that the Lakers have the Western Conference locked up; their starting lineup is too talented and balanced for any opponent to contend with. That assumption is certainly not baseless. The Lakers post one of the best front courts in the league with Ron Artest, Andrew Bynum, and Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom off the bench. Of course, they have arguably the second-best player in the league, the Black Mamba, at the 2, who has the hardware to show he has done it well into June before. Nevertheless, the Lakers do have 18 losses this season — so they can be beaten. Here I’ll run down what factors are necessary to defeat the reigning NBA champions in a seven-game series come playoff time.

Stopping number 24

To beat the Lakers, you need to get a handle on Bryant. If he goes off, the rest of the team is too reliable that there’s very little chance you’ll get a win. Accordingly, Kobe cannot get open shots — if he’s hitting heavily contested 20-foot jumpers, there isn’t much you can do, but giving him easy layups and wide-open shots will lead to a 20-point deficit on the scoreboard in a hurry. So which teams from the West have a defender that can have some chance at containing the Lakers’ star?

  • Houston Rockets, Shane Battier/Trevor Ariza: Last year in the Western Conference semifinals, the Rockets (without Yao for most of the series) played better against L.A. than most teams expected them to. One of the primary reasons for that was the team’s defense on Kobe. Battier drew the assignment most of the time, but Artest got some minutes on him, too. Despite Bryant’s arrogant mouthing of “You can’t guard me” in Battier’s direction after hitting an admittedly difficult shot, Battier did a hell of a job. He limited Kobe’s shooting percentages and made him give up the ball to his teammates more than he likes to. If the Rockets make the playoffs and see the Lakers, expect an equal effort from Shane.
  • Dallas Mavericks, Caron Butler: The Mavericks propelled themselves to elite status in the league with their deadline deal that brought in Butler and Brandon Haywood. Butler has always been a talented defender who draws comparisons to Artest on that end because of his toughness and grit — two things that frustrate #24. Furthermore, Butler’s equal skill on the offensive end will require more attention that Battier’s, making Kobe work harder than he wants to and tiring him out.
  • Oklahoma City, Kevin Durant: You probably weren’t expecting this. But if the Thunder, who seem playoff-bound, draw the Lakers in their first title run in the new location, expect Durant to crave that defensive assignment. He’s not really known as a premiere defensive stopper, but he has the speed to stay with Kobe and, more importantly, the absurd length to bother his shots. They have Thabo Sefolosha, too, who’s near the top of the league in defensive rating.

Taking advantage of the Lakers’ poor bench

No one really seems to notice this, but beyond Odom, the Lakers’ bench is subpar. Shannon Brown has shown some promise, and played well down the stretch last year, but Jordan Farmar is having a down year, and the rest of them are questionable Association players. Consequently, opponents need to take advantage of the few minutes in which the Lakers’ weak points are exposed; they need to dominate during second-unit play.

  • Phoenix Suns: The Suns play fast, so they give a lot of minutes to non-starters, which makes them better conditioned for playoff games. Leandro Barbosa is filthy quick, and quick guards give the Lakers trouble (which I’ll get to later). Goran Dragic, Steve Nash’s backup, is a better distributor than he gets credit for. Up front, they feature Louis Amundson off the bench, a high-effort Varejao-type player, and Channing Frye, a sharpshooting center with whom no player on L.A. can really match up.
  • Dallas Mavericks: I think the Mavericks may be a theme here. Dallas boasts a wealth of talent on the bench. At guard, J.J. Barea plays way better than his size indicates. Rodrigue Beaubois is a rookie but has shown he can score at the NBA level. DeShaun Stevenson, too, can score. And everyone knows what Jason Terry is capable of. Up front, they have Erick Dampier, a defensive stalwart who can guard both Bynum and Gasol.

Matching up in the low post

Gasol, Bynum, and Odom are a huge part of the Lakers’ success. Teams that hope to defeat L.A. need to account for that and have good strength and size up front to defend these players, so they have to rely on Kobe more.

  • Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets gave the Lakers their biggest test in the playoffs last season, and everyone was talking about their toughness and physicality. Nene, Kenyon Martin, and the Birdman Chris Andersen did a great job of slowing down Gasol, Bynum and Odom. With all three of them back this year, expect a similar result.
  • Dallas Mavericks: Sure, Dirk’s a cream puff. But with Brandon Haywood in town now, and Dampier available on the bench, the Mavs have two of the elite post defenders on their squad.

Quick point guard play

One of the central weaknesses of the Lakers’ help-reliant defense is a quick point guard who can get in the lane and take advantage of the Lakers’ starting lineup’s weak link — the aging Derek Fisher.

  • Phoenix Suns: Have you all heard of Steve Nash? Dude gives L.A. trouble every time he faces them.
  • Utah Jazz: Deron Williams, one of the league’s top point guards anyway, should be able to run rampant against Fisher.
  • Denver Nuggets: Chauncey Billups, Mr. Big Shot, does it every year in the playoffs. 2010 should be no different.
  • Oklahoma City Thunder: Russell Westbrook has the speed and athleticism to torch Fisher and the distribution skills to find Durant and Jeff Green for easy baskets when the help comes.
  • San Antonio Spurs: Tony Parker is one of the best at driving the lane and getting layups.

Even with all these things, beating the Lakers is still a crapshoot. You need to do absolutely everything right. Nevertheless, the Rockets and Nuggets proved it is possible last year. Going by these criteria, it looks like Dallas has the best shot. In all these categories, I didn’t even get to mention Jason Kidd — one of the biggest parts of their team. He’s running out of years in the NBA and craving a title after he came so close twice in a row in New Jersey. Wouldn’t it be great for him to get revenge on Kobe and the Lakers after their 4-0 thrashing of the Nets in 2002?

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