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No Respect: NBA All Star Snubs and Other Stories

With today being the day that All-Star starters are announced, I couldn’t think of a better time to announce my first annual All-Snub team. “What’s the All-Snub team,” you ask? Seeing as how I just made that term up about 38 seconds ago, I’ll tell you. Since today is the day they announce the starting fives of each team for the All-Star Game, which is being held at the star-studded Staples Center in Los Angeles this year, I feel like I should give it up for the guys who never get any respect. Now, I’m not saying these guys deserve to be All-Stars, but they deserve to have their names in the conversation at the very least.

How about Kevin Martin for example? While guard is a stacked position in the West, what with Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Kobe Bryant at the position, Martin often gets over looked. Averaging the lowest minutes per game (31.3) since his sophomore season, Martin is putting up exceptional shooting numbers. He’s currently fourth in three pointers made, and first in free throws made. All this while averaging 23.5 points should not be overlooked.  What’s more shocking is that Vince Carter, at the last balloting update on January 13th, was ahead of him in votes. While he may not be having a good enough season to make the team, he should NOT be behind Vince Carter in voting. Continue Reading

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Poll: What’s Wrong With the Lakers?

In what will become a Tuesday staple here on Saving the Skyhook, we will pick a topic and then let you give your opinion on it. Simple enough, right?

The hottest topic in the league right now is undoubtedly the struggles of the defending champions, the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s been a while since we’ve seen the Lakers lose three home games by at least 16 points…..in a four game span. But that’s exactly what has happened in three of L.A.’s last four games, with Milwaukee, Miami, and Memphis (perhaps it’s just an “M” thing) all leaving the Staples Center with double-digit victories. On the bright side, the Lakers get the Pistons at home tonight, whose struggles I’ve talked about here recently. Continue Reading

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Lakers Poised for Threepeat

The Los Angeles Lakers deserved their series win and their 16th title against the Boston Celtics. They played hard, overcoming an ominous 3-2 deficit, and eked out revenge with their east-coast rivals.

I don’t think the Lakers are done with their winning ways, though. As much as it pains me to say it, the Lakers seem ready to acquire a second threepeat in the span of a decade. Here’s why:

  1. They aren’t losing any talent. Kobe’s locked up for three years, Pau Gasol’s still around, Ron Artest is still around, and Andrew Bynum will still be around if he’s not dealt for someone even better (e.g., Chris Bosh). They will have the talent for several years to compete for a championship, and I don’t see how another year of regression for any of these players will bring in a decline in performance.
  2. They didn’t even play their best this year. This season was an interesting one for the Lakers, and even though they finished first, they could have done a lot better. They were merely above average on the road, and it seems like they’re going to improve away from the Staples Center next year. In addtion, they didn’t have Gasol for the whole regular season, and he appears to have drastically improved over the course of the playoffs, so he should be an even stronger post threat in 2010-2011.
  3. There will be a dilution of talent in the league next year. With all these top free agents available this summer, many of the competing teams this year are going to lose key cogs in their rosters or succumb to other pressures. In the West, Phoenix is likely to be without Amar’e Stoudemire. The Spurs will be another year older. The Mavericks may not not Dirk Nowitzki, and Jason Kidd’s effectiveness is waning. Elsewhere, LeBron might join a project team like the Knicks or Nets, Dwyane Wade might be stuck with no one in Miami, and it is doubtful Boston will be able to replicate this year’s effort, especially if Ray Allen dips in free agency.

While it would be nice to see a different team on top next year, the Lakers have to figure as being the favorites going in. They have too much talent and too much a thirst for winning to be considered any less. But if Phil Jackson decides to retire, that could be problematic.

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Lottery shocks, as usual; Suns fall badly to Lakers

Well, chalk up another shortcoming for the New Jersey Nets this year.

After a season of woeful play resulting in a 12-70 record, the Nets had the best chance at securing the NBA Draft’s top pick going into the lottery Tuesday night — they had a 25 percent shot.

Nevertheless, they will be limited to picking third next month. The second pick will go to the Philadelphia 76ers, and the No. 1 pick will go to the Washington Wizards.

Though a completely random process, the lottery sometimes seems a little unfair. Instead of going to the team that struggled under the guise of a totally disinterested owner, the first pick will, instead, fall into the hands of the Wizards, who are already paying a point guard on the roster $126 million over five years.

But those are the breaks, I guess. Maybe Derrick Favors or whomever the Nets choose will wind up being drastically better. Can’t I dream?

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The Phoenix Suns made me look pretty bad last night after posting my sincere admiration for Steve Nash.

They turned the ball over at an embarrassing rate, couldn’t find the range, and played defense like, well, the Suns of old. The Lakers took everything they wanted from their opponents in Game 1, and Kobe Bryant contributed a true playoff performance.

All that said (and I hate to ride the officials), there was certainly some questionable officiating over the course of the game. Kobe got his calls — that’s a given. But down low, on the perimeter, basically anywhere, the whistles were blowing in favor of the Purple and Gold.

Attribute it to home-court officiating at the Staples Center in part, but there was a larger factor. All year, the Lakers constantly berate and batter the referees after every call against them (regardless of validity) in one of the most unsportsmanlike trends in all of sports.

But it has its benefits.

When you continually pressure the officials after their decisions, they begin to doubt themselves, and you begin to establish some credibility for your case.

That the Lakers cashed in on their accumulated credibility was evident Monday night. And the dubious calls were so well-timed, in fact, that it played a significant role in Phoenix’s falling to a 20-point deficit.

Hopefully, as the series progresses, the officials work it out and stop coddling L.A.

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Playoff Preview: Part 1

As the playoffs begin this Saturday, April 17, I’ll be doing two series previews a day to have them all covered by the time the games start. To begin, I’ll look at the 1-vs.-8 West matchup and 2-vs.-7 East matchup today, as those are the only ones completely solidified in both conferences. Without further ado …

Eastern Conference: No. 2 Orlando Magic vs. No. 7 Charlotte Bobcats

The Bobcats do have a chance to tie with the Bucks for overall record tonight, but Milwaukee holds the tiebreaker, so Charlotte will be relegated to the seventh slot.

The Magic are playing fantastic ball, and they hold the league’s best post-break record at 22-5. They also hold the series advantage for the season over the Bobcats 3-1. Dwight Howard’s averages are slightly down against Charlotte at 16.5 points and 10.3 rebounds, but Larry Brown coaches one of the few centers who can hope to contain Superman in Tyson Chandler.

The Bobcats have been playing good ball this season, too, and they are an astounding 31-9 in their home floor. Their success can be attributed in large part to Gerald Wallace, who has been an integral contributor on the offensive and defensive end. Moreover, Stephen Jackson is providing the veteran leadership this team needs and is scoring to boot: At 20.7 points per game, he is 15th overall in the league.

After it’s all said and done, though, I have to imagine Orlando pulls this one out. They’ll play four games on their home court, where they best even the Bobcats at 33-7. Moreover, their stacked starting lineup and depth of rotation should be too much for Charlotte, which lacks enough bodies up front to contend with Howard, Rashard Lewis, Marcin Gortat, Brandon Bass, and Ryan Anderson.

Charlotte takes two of three at home, but Orlando wins the series 4-2 in six games.

Western Conference: No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 8 Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder surprised everyone by making the playoffs for the first time since the franchise relocated from Seattle. The postseason appearance would not have been possible without the emergence of Kevin Durant as an NBA star, Russell Westbrook’s marked improvement, and the quality leadership of coach Scott Brooks. That said, they have one hell of an opponent in the first round.

The Lakers, widely considered the favorites for the title at the beginning of the season, have struggled in the second half. Owing to injuries to center Andrew Bynum and forward Luke Walton, the rotation has been stripped thin, and they haven’t played up to standard. The defending champions are a mediocre (at least by their expectations) 15-11 since all-star weekend, and it has many starting to worry, especially after Oklahoma City put a hurting on the Lakers 91-76 March 26.

Nevertheless, The Thunder will have to play nearly flawless ball to oust Kobe and Co. from the postseason. Los Angeles will have home-court advantage in the first round, and they have been appreciably more dominant at the Staples Center. If Andrew Bynum is back for the entire series, it will be over in 5. Oklahoma City lacks the front-court talent to best Bynum and Pau Gasol, so they should have a field day in the paint.

That said, Bryant should have a tough time scoring on the Thunder as a result of his injuries and the matchups he’ll have. There will be almost no time during the series he won’t draw an assignment from Thabo Sefolosha or Durant, both of whom have the length and athleticism to bother No. 24. Furthermore, Westbrook’s ability to best Derek Fisher is well-documented, so that’s another circumstance in the underdog’s favor. If Bynum misses part or all of the series, it may very well go to seven games. Regardless, the Lakers move on.

Oklahoma City takes two of three at home, but Los Angeles wins the series 4-2 in six games.

Look back tomorrow for two more playoff previews.

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Lakers extend Kobe’s contract: good move for No. 24?

I hate to keep tooting the Lakers’ horn (seeing as I hate them and all), but the most significant NBA story today is, by far, the announcement from Mitch Kupchak that they have come to an agreement to sign star player Kobe Bryant to a three-year contract extension. Kobe previously had an early-termination option for this year, which gave him the right to hit free agency come July 1 with the other big boys. Instead, Kobe — barring a blockbuster trade — will be playing his home games in the Staples Center through the 2013-2014 season.

Obviously, L.A. fans are thrilled by the news. They get to hold on to the player that propelled them to three titles to begin the decade and a fourth one to close it. He has never played anywhere except L.A., so obviously he’s a fan favorite.

This deal is just as good for the team. The last year of the extension coincides with those of Ron Artest and Pau Gasol’s contracts. So when Kobe’s 35 and will have inevitably suffered some losses to his on-court performance, the Lakers will have the opportunity to wildly slash payroll and make a play for the next big thing in four years.

However, was this really a great idea on Kobe’s part? Sure, he assures a mammoth paycheck for an additional three seasons. But what happens when the aging star has to renegotiate a deal then? It’s highly plausible he’ll have significant health issues to deal with at that time — particularly with his legs and knees, which have logged an absurd number of minutes in Bryant’s 15-or-so years in the league. Teams may be very hesitant to give him the big bucks if it no longer appears he can head a team like he has for so long.

If Kobe had waited until his deal expired, he could’ve started fresh. He only would have been 31 or 32 and very well could have stayed with the Lakers if he wanted to, but he would have had the option to go elsewhere, too. How is this better? There’s a big difference between Kobe’s physical condition now and what it will be in four years. With a new contract, he could have negotiated a more long-term deal (say six or even seven years) that would have assured his pay day for an additional two, three, or four years beyond what the extension assures.

Nevertheless, now he has his peace of mind. He doesn’t have to worry about the media frenzy in the offseason, and he can just focus on a championship. But Kobe may have just cut a few years off his storied career by signing that extension today.

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Game of the Day: April 2

Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Lakers — 10:30 PM eastern, telecast on ESPN

After their unfortunate road trip, the Lakers return  home to hopefully get back to their winning ways. Unfortunately, joining them at the Staples Center will be Deron Williams, one of those quick guards who have a field day against Derek Fisher and the gang.

Add the fact that the Jazz are playing some amazing basketball and have tied Dallas for the No. 2 seed in the West, and this fixes to be a fantastic contest.

This will be the final game of the teams’ season series, and the Lakers won all three of the previous matchups by an average of about 16 points.

That said, Andrew Bynum played in those games, and he exposes a weakness in Utah’s lineup — a lack of a tall post defender. With Bynum out because of injury, they’ll still have to deal with Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, but it’s just not the same animal.

Nevertheless, I like the Lakers to win. They’ll be too anxious to break out of the funk they experienced on the road and to prove that they the Western Conference is still their stomping grounds in front of the anxious home crowd. Accordingly, expect Kobe to do more than his usual share of the scoring to assure they come away with the win.

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Hating on the Lakers: Do they deserve it?

The Lakers are struggling a bit of late. But does that mean they deserve to be counted out?

As a Yankee fan, I’m certainly accustomed to having everyone around me hate my team because of its immense success. In that regard, the Lakers stand out as the NBA’s Yankees. Competitive every year, they win because they have assembled a roster with no intention of staying anywhere near the salary cap. And believe me: Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Sasha Vujacic are among my least favorite players in the entire league.

Right now, having lost three games on the road in the past week to the Hawks, Hornets, and Thunder, the Lakers are under intense scrutiny. Many analysts are starting to doubt whether it’s a championship-caliber team anymore. The team that was the slam-dunk favorite from the Western conference (and to win the title) at the beginning of the season is now, according to the media, incredibly vulnerable.

Despite my disdain for the bearers of purple and gold, I’d like to quell some of the suggestions that the Lakers don’t have what it takes to make the NBA finals anymore.

It’s true — the Lakers are not as good on the road as they are within the friendly confines of the Staples Center. In fact, they are 32-5 in Los Angeles and only 22-16 away from home. That’s been clear for most of the year. However, so much emphasis is being placed on specifically the most recent road-trip defeats, and it shouldn’t be all that important. After all, those three losses are their only ones in their last ten contests.

The Lakers’ schedule was frontloaded with home games, so as they won again and again at the beginning of the season (playing many more games at home) people started to take notice — their immaculate play in November and December must indicate that they’re destined to repeat, right? The Lakers are definitely good, but they got overhyped because of all their home games. Now that they lose a few on the road, it’s such a stark difference from what fans saw earlier that it’s shocking and causes panic. But they should be expected to lose more games during the toughest parts of their schedule.

It draws a parallel for me to the BCS and college football. A top team loses a game in the early part of the season, and no one really worries all that much about it; more importantly, its ranking isn’t affected all that dramatically. Lose a game at the end of the season, though, and the ranking pundits castigate the team much more brutally. That’s what the Lakers are experiencing here.

I understand that it may appear to be setting up a trend for them to be losing on the road, but consider the specifics of this most recent road trip for the Lakers. Two of the three teams they lost to will be in the playoffs and will probably advance past the first round. The third is New Orleans with Chris Paul back. Let me tell you: the Hornets would have a much more impressive record if Paul had been healthy all year (even though Darren Collison is filling in better than he could have been expected to). And the Lakers have a well-known weakness to quick point guards like Paul whether they’re playing in Los Angeles, in New Orleans, in Cleveland, or on Mars. It’s not all that surprising Paul tore them up.

Moreover, they’re missing Andrew Bynum and Luke Walton. Let me be completely blunt: with Bynum out with injuries, Lamar Odom is forced to start in Pau Gasol’s place who slides to the center to fill in with Bynum — they lose a negligible amount of production from the starting five. However, take Odom off the Lakers’ bench and it is probably the worst set of reserves in the entire NBA. Jordan Farmar? OK. But the rest of them belong in the D-League if you ask me.

With respect to the playoffs, both those guys should be back and healthy. Furthermore, if the Lakers hold on to the top spot in the conference (which seems highly likely) they’ll have home-court advantage for every round prior to the NBA Finals. They won’t necessarily have to win on the road. And if you think they’ll get swept as the guests by any of the teams they face anyway, you’re mistaken.

So have faith, Lakers fans. And continue to hate, non-Lakers fans. They’re absolutely not throwing in the cards yet. A few losses on the road won’t discourage them, so they shouldn’t discourage anyone else.

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