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  One Half Of The Finals Set...

May 26, 2011, 10:05 AM

If it weren't for the fact that the NBA post-season is going on right now I might not know that we're actually a week away from JUNE and not a week away from October. The cold and the rain of the last couple of days have been brutal. Can summer start already!?

The temperatures on the floor have been red-hot though as the Heat (no pun intended) have been dominant in the fourth quarters and/or OT of Games 2, 3 and 4 and they've got the Bulls on the brink in Game 5 tonight.

Meanwhile, the Mavericks made quick work of the Thunder after another OKC meltdown last night. The veteran Mavs get some time to rest now, as they wait for their NBA Finals opponent.

As I did earlier in the week, it's time to weigh in again with more Random Thoughts from around the NBA and the Playoffs specifically.

1. Eric Maynor: Know your role. YOU don't wave off Kevin Durant.

2. Speaking of the Thunder ... they will learn from this. Every good (great) team in history has had to learn how to lose before they knew how to win. OKC is very good, but they're not quite ready for prime time. Not yet. But they'll learn from an impressive, long run this year and the battle they had against the Lakers last season. This will only make Durant and Co. even better for years to come.

3. If you're a hardcore hoops fan, you've got to check out a game in Oklahoma City. You may not think of Sooner country as a prime vacation spot, but the arena is one of the loudest and most passionate in the league and there are few markets that treat their players like the Thunder supporters do. Heck, they even showed up in droves to welcome home their crew following last night's Game 5 loss: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMskDJhVFjo&feature=youtu.be

4. I always have one point that isn't necessarily related to basketball and this is it ...

Allow me to give you a quick pitch. I'm golfing in the 6th annual "100 Holes of Golf" tournament on Tuesday, May 31st. I'm helping raise money for the Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Association of Ontario. If you'd like to pledge/donate to my marathon on the links, you can donate here (just be sure to select my name from the drop-down menu). Thanks!

5. I'm sure I'm not the only one, but as good as the Bulls are I just don't think they have enough left in the tank to beat the Heat in three straight games. Whether the series ends tonight or not, I don't know. But I think Miami can pencil in their names to the Finals.

6. While I don't believe that Andrea Bargnani was 'joking' about his comments regarding a warmer climate, Toronto, and his role with the Raptors overall, I think many people believe the old saying "many a truth is told in jest" could apply here. In addition to the statement/apology his issued yesterday, I think the former first overall pick has a lot of work to do to repair his relationship and/or image with a good chunk of the Raps' fan base.

7. It's hard to argue with the success the Lakers have had in recent years and over the course of NBA history, but I just don't know about their latest hiring. I think Mike Brown is a fine coach; a very good coach. I'm just not convinced that the process went down as it should. Jerry Buss may cut the cheques, but he hired Mitch Kupchak to make his basketball decisions. So why wasn't the GM allowed to hire the coach? With Rick Adelman, Jerry Sloan, Jeff Van Gundy and even Brian Shaw (the most inexperienced, but the choice that Kobe Bryant was pushing) available, I'm surprised that Brown got the gig. Kupchak told Dan Patrick that Brown's hiring was unanimous, but was he really going to speak out against his owner?

8. Can we get rid of -- or at least 'cut down' -- the in-game music that is played during NBA tilts?My understanding is that the game-ops folks can't blast the tunes during the opposing teams' offensive possessions. But they have the freedom to do whatever they want when the HOME team is looking to score. I'd think the noise would be a distraction either way.

9. If you haven't thought about him since he went down with his scary spinal injury in late March, take the time now to read this story and send some positive vibes to Marquis Daniels. Sounds like he's doing well and trying to get his life (career?) back on track.

10. If you're interested in attending the NBA Draft on June 23 (road trip to NJ/NYC?), tickets are now on sale. Tix start at $15 (US) each and they're available at ticketmaster.com or the Prudential Center Box Office.

Thanks folks!

If I don't check-in tomorrow, I'll be back again next week.

Enjoy the Bulls and Heat tonight.

Have a good one

E. Smith Raptors Radio Analyst

E. Smith
Raptors Radio Analyst
twitter.com/eric__smith
 





  Latest Thoughts From The NBA Playoffs

May 24, 2011, 10:05 AM

I hope everyone had a safe and enjoyable long weekend.

Why not get back into the work week (sorry) with some Random Thoughts from around the NBA and the 2010-11 Playoffs!

1. Dirk Nowitzki may not be the best player in the world for long, but he is right now. He's got the title. It's not LeBron James and it's certainly not Kobe Bryant. And after last night, it's not Kevin Durant. Nowitzki is on the mountain by himself, for now.

2. The best nickname that is out there right now (coined by Charles Barkley I think) for Nowitzki: The White Mamba. But in all seriousness, Shane Battier tweeted on Monday night that Dirk is the best European player to ever suit up in the NBA and I wholeheartedly agree with him. Petrovic and Sabonis were outstanding and Ginobili and Gasol may lead the way in today's generation but none are as good as Nowitzki.

3. Joakim Noah may have been 'provoked' but at the end of the day, he still deserves every single penny from his $50,000 fine.

4. If I were starting a team right now (ya know, via expansion draft or something) I'd do everything I could to get a guy like Nick Collison on my club. The dude grinds; never quits.

5. Don't let point #1 take anything away from LBJ though. His play in the post-season overall –- but especially against Chicago –- has been beyond impressive. Not only is the self-proclaimed King getting his looks on the offensive end and filling up the stat sheet overall, but his defence is making a huge difference too. He has been reading the eyes of the Bulls time and time again, forcing a ton of turnovers and getting the Heat (or himself, solo) out in transition in a hurry.

6. Would the real Carlos Boozer please stand up?

7. Totally unrelated to the playoffs ... I thought LeBron did a great job on Saturday Night Live -- when he hosted a couple of years ago. But the most entertained I've been while watching that show in recent memory came this past weekend when Justin Timberlake hosted. I'm not the world's biggest “JT” fan (not by a long shot) but the dude is just as impressive on the acting stage as he is behind a microphone, singing. And if you want me to tie this into basketball, Timberlake is a regular at Lakers games at Staples Center but spent some time in T.O a number of years ago as well –- in Raaptors gear –- hanging out with some local schoolkids and guys like Vince Carter, Donyell Marshall, Rafer Alston and more.

8. How good must Leo Rautins be feeling right now as he sits back and watches Joel Anthony get more and more playoff (and maybe championship) experience? The Canadian big man has gained a ton learning opportunities over the year ... being a part of the “Big 3” hype machine. And though Joel may not get a chance to play this summer (like a lot of NBA'ers hoping to suite up for their respective countries), the future is looking bright from Canada and the front line in South Beach.

9. I always talk about young teams having to learn how to lose before they learn how to win. I believe a team needs to take its lumps before they're truly ready to take that next step and join the elite teams in the league. Well, my theory looked pretty solid again last night with the massive collapse of the Oklahoma City. The Thunder looked young and inexperienced in crunch time and they simply didn't have the maturity or know-how to make the key plays in the waning moments of regulation or in overtime. I'm sure they'll be back on this level for years to come though –- battling among the best of the best in the West.

10. I feel like I need to get a t-shirt done –- featuring the beards of James Harden, Baron Davis, Jorge Garbajosa, Vlade Divac, and ... ME!

Thanks folks. Have a good one. I'll check back later this week!

E. Smith Raptors Radio Analyst

E. Smith
Raptors Radio Analyst
twitter.com/eric__smith
 





  The Raptors Draft History

May 17, 2011, 9:28 AM

Hardcore Raptor fans will know that T.O. has actually won the NBA’s Draft Lottery TWICE in franchise history. But the club has made the number one pick only once.

Due to what I would call a “questionable” rule (one that didn’t exist for future expansion or relocated teams), Toronto saw the lottery balls bounce their way in 1996 but they could not select first due to their expansion agreement with the league. Instead, the Raps were forced back to the No. 2 slot.

Had the Raptors held on to that No. 1 pick, would they have stayed with Marcus Camby as their selection, or could fans in Toronto have been looking at Allen Iverson in a purple uniform? Damon Stoudamire was already manning the point north of the border, but a chance at the Georgetown star may have been too hard to pass up for the Big Smoke’s brass.

It’s all a moot point now.

Thus, with ’96 out of the way … the only year we have to talk about – when it comes to Toronto selecting No. 1 – is 2006.

The Raptors had just finished with a disappointing 27-55 record and they held-down the 5TH spot in the lottery. But with a newly-minted GM, Bryan Colangelo, in place … Lady Luck spun her magic and T.O. won the lottery and selected F/C, Andrea Bargnani.

Toronto has held a Top 5 pick five times in franchise history (1996, 1998, 1999, 2003, and 2006) and a Top 3 pick only twice (1996 and 2006). Barring a major catastrophe (as far as the Raptors front office is concerned), the 2011 pick should broaden one of those two categories. The Raps have a 15.6% chance of landing the No. 1 pick – with only Minnesota and Cleveland holding greater odds – and the club can far no further than sixth in the Draft.

No matter where the Raptors land, you’ll be hearing names like Kyrie Irving, Derrick Williams, Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter, etc. floating around before the June 23 draft in New Jersey. But to get you primed and ready for that date, I thought we’d look back at Toronto’s DRAFT HISTORY:

1995
Damon Stoudamire, Arizona (7th)
Jimmy King, Michigan (35th)

1996 Marcus Camby, Massachusetts (2nd)

1997 Tracy McGrady, Mt. Zion Christian Academy (9th)

1998 Antawn Jamison, North Carolina (4th)* Tyson Wheeler, Rhode Island (47th)

*Jamison was traded on draft night to Golden State for the draft rights to Vince Carter (5th pick) and cash.

1999
Jonathan Bender, Picayune HS (5th)
Aleksander Radojevic, Barton County CC (12th)

2000
Morris Peterson, Michigan State (21st)
DeeAndre Hulett, Las Vegas Silver Bandits, IBL (46th)

2001
Michael Bradley, Villanova (17th)

2002
Kareem Rush, Missouri (20th)*
*Rush was traded on draft night with Tracy Murray to the Los Angeles Lakers for Lindsey Hunter and the draft rights to Chris Jefferies.

2003
Chris Bosh, Georgia Tech (4th)
Matt Bonner, Florida (45th)*
Remon Van de Hare, Spain (52nd)
*Bonner was acquired on draft night from the Chicago Bulls for a future second round draft pick.

2004 Rafael Araujo, Brigham Young (8th)
Albert Miralles, Italy (39th)*
Pape Sow, Cal-State Fullerton (47th)*
*Sow and a future second-round draft pick was acquired on draft night from the Miami Heat for the draft rights to Albert Miralles and a future second-round draft pick.

2005
Charlie Villanueva, Connecticut (7th)
Joey Graham, Oklahoma State (16th)
Roko Ukic, Croatia (41st)
Uros Slokar, Slovenia (58th)

2006
Andrea Bargnani, Benetton Treviso (1st)
P.J. Tucker, Texas (35th)

2007
Giorgos Printezis, Greece (58th)*
*Printezis was acquired on draft night from the San Antonio Spurs for a future second-round draft pick.

2008
Roy Hibbert, Georgetown (17th)*
*Hibbert was traded with T.J. Ford, Rasho Nesterovic and Maceo Baston to the Indiana Pacers for Jermaine O’Neal and the draft rights to Nathan Jawai.

2009
DeMar DeRozan, Southern California (9th)

2010
Ed Davis, North Carolina (13th)
Solomon Alabi, Florida State (50th)*
*Alabi was acquired on draft night from the Dallas Mavericks for a 2013 conditional second-round draft pick and cash considerations.

The NBA Draft Lottery goes tonight – from New Jersey – at 8:30 p.m. Eastern on TSN2.

Have a good one folks.
 

E. Smith
Raptors Radio Analyst
twitter.com/eric__smith
 





  News of the National Basketball League of Canada Is Music To My Ears...

May 13, 2011, 11:55 AM

Though the Raptors do all they can to try and build the game of basketball on a local, provincial, and national level ... I believe it's hard to service the needs of everyone all of the time. Thus, the more basketball that is out there, the better. The more the game is available to young and old alike, the more the game grows and the passion and interest for the sport swells too.

The NBL is starting on some solid ground as well, with established franchises in Halifax, Saint John, and Quebec serving as the foundation for the start-up league. That should make a huge difference; the infrastructure is already in place and these 3 teams have proven to be solid businesses - let alone franchises - during their previous stints in other ventures like the Premier Basketball League (which they all pulled out of in April after an officiating controversy and a general displeasure with the management and direction of the PBL).

The challenge will now be trying to mimic the success of the Rainmen, Mill Rats, and Kebs in cities (that have already expressed interest; that are already prepared to put-up the funds for the NBL) like Barrie, London, Moncton and more. I'm confident (well, optimistic might be the better word) that things are headed in the right direction.

I do have to question whether or not the league will be able to get everything done by October (when they hope to begin play) because there are still a ton of things to be done (3-5 more teams joining the league is the primary concern ... but what about a Draft? Logos, uniforms, training camp, schedules, building leases, co-ordinating dates with arenas, and so on ...) and I'm not entirely convinced that going up against the NBA and the NHL is the right approach. I figured a spring/summer league might have a greater chance at success than a fall/winter one. But folks (like me) have to realize that the NBL is not competing against the NBA and the Raptors. It's providing an alternative to those that don't live close enough to take in games at the ACC and it's providing a home for Canadian players and ballers from around the world that are still trying to play the sport they love and maybe achieve loftier goals one day.

Further to the point above, to avoid competing with the NBA and the Raptors specifically ... I think it's imperative that the NBL does its best to limit the number of games that are scheduled on the same night as a Raps' game. Reason-being ... you may get your in-house attendees either way ... but what sort of audience will you have at home? I'm assuming the NBL will try its best to cut a deal with some sort of TV station -- whether it be Sportsnet, Sportsnet ONE, TSN, TSN 2, The Score, NBA TV Canada, or even local community cable channels like Rogers, Shaw, etc. And if that's the case, the NBL could be shooting itself in the foot going up against the Raptors in the fight for viewers.

Other than that, I see very little to be critical of when it comes to the NBL. Folks like Andre Levingston and Ian McCarthy should be credited and applauded for attempting to bring Canadian this professional league; for trying to finally put Canada on the map when it comes to hoops. This country, prior to the NBL's announcement yesterday, was the only Top-30 nation to not have its own pro league.

From kids in their driveways ... to high schoolers and ballers in the CIS and CCAA ... the growth of the game and the hope of the dream just got bigger and, potentially, more attainable.

E. Smith
Raptors Radio Analyst
twitter.com/eric__smith
 





  Quick Thoughts On A Quiet Night Around The NBA

May 5, 2011, 1:14 PM

In honour of Cinco De Mayo, I thought I'd look at five issues/questions/trends for each match-up in the NBA Playoffs.

LA LAKERS vs DALLAS

1. Pau Gasol needs to show up. He was M.I.A. in the first round against New Orleans and he's been even worse against the Mavs.

2. Steve Blake has to provide defence and energy in LA's second unit. If he's jacking up (and missing) 3-balls and turning the ball over a ton, the Lakers are better-off riding Derek Fisher for longer stretches.

3. Andrew Bynum should have kept his "trust issues" comment to himself. He should have been man enough to speak to his teammates first, not air things out in the media.

4. Charles Barkley is looking like a genius right now. He said Dallas would win this series and they're up 2-0. He also said Dirk Nowitzki is the best player in the series (not Kobe Bryant). I disagreed with Charles on both statements -- especially Disco vs Kobe -- but Nowitzki looks unstoppable right now.

5. The league was right in suspending Ron Artest (one game) for his late-game hit on JJ Barea. That was totally uncalled for.

CHICAGO vs ATLANTA

1. Josh Smith has to go back to being the high-flying, slashing J-Smooth and not the guy who falls in love with the perimeter and his jumper.

2. Jeff Teague is proving his critics (like me) wrong and that not only bodes well for the Hawks right now, but for Teague's long-term future in the league (and the potential of a big contract) as well.

3. Derrick Rose's acceptance speech at his MVP press conference (where he thanked his Mom especially) was outstanding. It was touching. He's humble ... almost to a fault (keeps him grounded and respectful as a man but may cost him in endorsements 'cause he seems so 'shy' or uncomfortable around the cameras (if he even cares about that stuff).

4. Every time I watch Chicago play I can't help but think of how close they came to missing the post-season last year (to Toronto) and how far they've come in such a short time. Kudos to the Windy City.

5. Two players that could make or break this series for their respective teams: Joe Johnson and Carlos Boozer. Boozer, especially, has been inconsistent in the playoffs overall (scoring-wise).

MIAMI vs BOSTON

1. I don't know what the NBA schedule-makers are thinking by having an 'off night' in the Association this evening. Boston and Miami should be playing Game 3, period.

2. The rest should favour the Celtics though ... 'cause it will give Shaquille O'Neal another couple of days to rest up and (maybe/finally) take to the floor for the first time in the post-season on Saturday.

3. Troy Murphy needs to be playing more. I don't get it. He's a proven scorer (and rebounder) from his Golden State and Indiana days. He'd be good versus Miami when the Heat go 'small' as well.

4. If Udonis Haslem is healthy, I'm making him wait until the Heat lose a game. I'd hate to upset any kind of chemistry or flow right now by trying to integrate a guy back into the lineup after this long.

5. He didn't always show it in Toronto, but Chris Bosh has outperformed Kevin Garnett so far. There's no denying that.

OKLAHOMA CITY vs MEMPHIS

1. Marc Gasol may be the better Gasol right now. He's outplaying his brother Pau and that once-infamous trade isn't looking so lopsided anymore.

2. Russell Westbrook is a fabulous player but he needs to be a better decision-maker.

3. Imagine, if you will, the clock going back 10 years ... we'd be watching an intense border battle of the Northwest: Seattle vs Vancouver!

4. I have nothing against Serge Ibaka, but I like the toughness Nick Collison brings against Zach Randolph and/or Gasol. Ibaka's length, athleticism, and shotblocking prowess may be better as a change-of-pace off the bench for OKC.

5. Grizzlies fans should rejoice every night that Josh McRoberts stayed in Indiana and OJ Mayo remained with Memphis.

Remember, the NBA playoffs are quiet tonight; no games to watch. So be sure to tune into Sportsnet Radio, the FAN 590 for "HOOPS" at 9 p.m. ET. I'll be chatting with Matt Bonner (San Antonio Spurs), Scoop Jackson (ESPN), Jack Armstrong and Matt Devlin.

Have a good one!

E. Smith
Raptors Radio Analyst
twitter.com/eric__smith


 


  Playoff Edition Of The Tweet Spot

May 4, 2011, 1:14 PM

I hope many of you stayed up to watch that battle between the Lakers and Mavericks last night. That may have set the tone for a classic series … with both sides matching each other’s runs and the top players –- Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant –- going punch for punch (especially in the fourth quarter).

Dallas’ “upset” over LA was the third “surprise” we’ve seen in four games, with Atlanta beating Chicago and the Grizzlies topping the Thunder.

But don’t think the Heat is resting right now thinking they’ll have an easy time with the Celtics. Though Miami got the big Game 1 win, there are still questions about the point position and the depth overall (in spite of James Jones’ Game 1 performance) and you know Paul Pierce will be playing with renewed fire tonight.

Let’s talk more about the playoffs, the Raptors, and the NBA overall in another edition of THE TWEET SPOT:

@b0ngh1tt3r - I don’t have a question but I did dream that Raptors won the draft lottery.

@Eric__Smith – I’m sure many hope your dream comes true. Toronto has a 15.6% chance of landing that top pick.

@brianlopez2009 - What happens to Sonny Weems? Does he stay?

@Eric__Smith – I hate speculating. But it might be tough given the addition/emergence of James Johnson & other potential off-season signings/moves.

@Jabber_Wocky – Given how effective Z-Bo is on the glass, who are your Top 5 "under-the-rim" (guys w/ no elevation) rebounders right now?

@Eric__Smith – In no particular order … Z-Bo is there. Boozer too. Love doesn’t really elevate. Maybe Jefferson and Lee

@JustinCNS - Should the Raps take a chance on Oden, or should they look at someone like Deandre Jordan?

@Eric__Smith – Again, I don’t like speculation. It creates bogus rumours. But the Raps have a need for a big so I’m sure they’ll look hard at Oden, Jordan, Gasol & more.

@Lewickipedia - Last year you said it was LeBron and Kobe and then a 2nd tier of players, etc. How do you break it down now with Rose as MVP?

@Eric__Smith – Rose had an unreal year (as did the Bulls). He IS the MVP. Kobe is aging. Ditto for Dirk. LeBron’s still all-world & YOUR guy – Durant – is riiight there.

@dcue - Do you think about Splitter's upside? He got some decent exposure during 1st round. You think he's in SA’s long-term plans?

@Eric__Smith – We still haven’t seen his full potential & package in the NBA. Too early to give up on though – especially given Duncan’s age & overall decline

@Ronny006 - After surprising the Bulls in game one can the Hawks ride that momentum and possibly win the series?

@Eric__Smith – Absolutely. They’re athletic and have decent depth. And with the injury to Rose, the PG ‘issue’ (?) with Teague (not Hinrich) is lessened a bit.

Finally, though we’ve been looking a lot at the Round 2 series (understandably), enjoy this look back to Round ONE with Kenny, Charles, and the guys from TNT, haha.

----------

I’ll be co-hosting the NBA Playoffs Today (NBA TV Canada) with Sherman Hamilton this week. Be sure to check us out!

Plus, tune in to Sportsnet Radio, the FAN 590 for the “HOOPS” show this Thursday at 9pm Eastern (www.fan590.com).

Thanks folks, Have a good one

E. Smith
Raptors Radio Analyst
twitter.com/eric__smith