Cleat Geeks

Goin’ to Work: Opening Night Takeaways For The Detroit Pistons

The Detroit Pistons managed to win their fourth straight home opener on Wednesday night, narrowly outlasting the Brooklyn Nets in a 103-100 slugfest at Little Caesars Arena.

We saw some of the good and we saw some of bad.

Good: Blake Griffin

When healthy, the Pistons knew what they were getting when they dealt for Griffin last February. And it was on full display as he shouldered a brunt of the load for the Pistons, putting up 26 points (8-17 from the field), eight rebounds, and six assists while registering a +9 rating. He was unafraid to take the ball to the basket and found himself on the free throw line 11 times. Griffin’s awareness of the floor was also on display with his passing and vision of the floor.

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The Pistons offense was always going to rely heavily on Griffin going into this season. They now see that, with him, it is in hands that are more than capable.

Bad: Reggie Jackson

Don’t let the 19 points fool you. Jackson did not look great on opening night.

There were multiple instances of Jackson holding onto the ball for too long, thus melting the shot clock away and forcing himself into a highly contested, poor shot. And he’s got the 7-20 from the field line to prove it. And nine of those shots came from beyond the three-point arc, where he made only two of them. Many of these came in the fourth quarter when he clearly did not have his rhythm from outside and created more possessions for the Nets to get back into the game. If he can learn to quell the “hero ball” mentality, the Pistons and Jackson would be a much happier marriage.

Good: The bigs

Andre Drummond did what he does best, cleaning up 20 rebounds (including nine on the offensive glass) and recording 24 points, including his first three-pointer of the new campaign. This is the kind of production the Pistons will need from their all-star center.

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As well, the Pistons received a solid showing from backup center Zaza Pachulia, who finished the night with six points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals, and a block. In addition, he brought defensive toughness and grit that has been missing from Detroit for some time. If he can keep that toughness in check, in the light of his track record, he could be a valuable asset going forward.

Bad: Defense

Most troubling was the lack of defense.

Most notably there was weakness defending in the paint, where the Nets scored 66 of their 100 points. Of Caris LeVert’s 27 points, 20 came from shots made inside of the key. Likewise, Spencer Dinwiddie’s 20 points from the field all came from the paint, while Davis and Joe Harris added a combined 18 more. The Pistons have the bodies in Drummond, Griffin, and Pachulia to defend the rim.

But a large part also comes from the lack of defense on the perimeter that allowed so many baskets on the drive. This was due, in part, to the absences of typical starters Stanley Johnson and Reggie Bullock. But the lack of defensive depth is a slight concern that coach Dwane Casey would do well to address as he can.

At the end of the day, a win is a win. And the Pistons are off on the right foot as they look to make their return to the playoffs.

 

 

Will The Chicago Bulls Make A Large Leap This Season?

I evaluated historical data, roster and performance last season in actual wins and made my over/under pick for the Chicago Bulls in 2018-19.

The Bulls’ rebuild got off to a promising start, winning 27 games, more than anyone expected. Rookie forward Lauri Markannen flashed some star potential, shooting guard Zach LaVine got his feet wet after recovering from ACL surgery and point guard Kris Dunn surged when healthy.

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Signing Chicago native Jabari Parker, the No. 2 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft can be risky because he’s torn the ACL in his left knee twice but the Bulls hope he can return to his 2016-17 form, when he averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and shot 49 percent from the field, all before suffering the second ACL tear.

Now that the Bulls added Parker and first round pick Wendell Carter Jr. they’re planning to move forward just one year of trying to be bad. The Bulls have some pieces in place and it’s time to turn them loose and see what happens. The biggest question marks are defense on the wings, whether Parker can play full-time small forward and the overall chemistry but if this team is still trying to win games late in the season, it will be progress.

The front office went all-in for at least one more year of a young and intriguing roster that has immense offensive potential but too many obvious defensive deficiencies. This decision will shape the season but there’s a lot to like.

Jazz Sports set the season win total for the Bulls at 28.5. Playoff contention in the Eastern Conference is not out of the question and it could be a fun year in Chicago so my pick is Bulls Over 28.5 wins at -140 NBA odds. Chicago won 27 games last season while tanking, with Dunn and LaVine injured for long stretches and without Parker and Carter Jr., so winning at least 29 games will be no problem.

Bulls Officially Win The Jimmy Butler Trade

Last season Jimmy Butler averaged 22.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists in 59 regular season games and the Timberwolves were 37-22 with him in the lineup and 10-13 without him but chemistry issues with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins and Butler’s desire to sign a lucrative extension prompted him to seek a meeting with head coach and team president Tom Thibodeau and although Butler is very close with him, he just requested a trade from Minnesota and has given them a very short list of teams he would be willing to consider a long-term extension with if he’s traded there.

Butler can opt out of his current contract after this season and become a free agent and it’s been reported that he will consider re-signing with the Knicks, Clippers or Nets.

The Timberwolves made Butler the centerpiece of their rebuild after trading Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen to the Bulls for him in the NBA Draft on June 22, 2017 but the team barely made the playoffs and fell short of expectations. Now Butler is on his way out after just one season in Minnesota, so the Timberwolves basically gave up Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen for 59 games of Jimmy Butler.

As for the Bulls, head coach Fred Hoiberg declared training camp, which starts on September 25, to be an “open competition” for starting jobs, though a lineup of Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Jabari Parker, Lauri Markkanen and either Robin Lopez or Wendell Carter Jr. is a given, barring injury, so it’s hard to argue that the Bulls won this trade.

The media and Bulls fans still talk about it, I wasn’t happy about the Butler trade, I really wanted him to win an NBA Championship in Chicago but LaVine, Dunn and Markkanen won me over with their play and the team is heading in the right direction.

Ray Allen sees great potential in Jabari Parker

The Chicago Bulls signed talented forward Jabari Parker to a two-year, $40 million contract on July 14 and the move has plenty of excitement and buzz around it because of Parker’s potential to become a key part of a surging Bulls team.

There were questions about Parker’s health because he already dealt with two torn left ACLs in his first four seasons in the league but at the beginning of the summer he worked out with Ray Allen, who was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame, for four days and according to Gery Woelfel, journalist and editor for Woelfelspressbox.com, Allen praised Parker.

“He’s a very good, humble, down-to-earth guy,” Allen said. “As a player, he reminds me of Paul Pierce but bigger. His potential is so great.”

Parker has been a capable scorer, averaging 15.3 points on 49.0 percent shooting in 183 career games but his injury struggles raised concerns about his long-term future. Allen comparing him to Paul Pierce speaks volumes about Parker’s potential, as Pierce was one of the best players in the league during his 19-year career. Pierce won an NBA Championship, an NBA Finals MVP award, made several All-Star games and he owns Celtics records in 3-point field goals (1,823), free-throws (6,434) and steals (1,583).

The Bulls will meet the media on September 24 and have their first practice the following day. The team has the option on the second year of Jabari Parker’s deal so next season is crucial for him. Ray Allen complimenting him and working with him on his shooting form can really help his development.

NBA.com’s Matthew Blum believes that playing alongside 2018 All-Rookie First Team selection Lauri Markkanen will help Parker shine.

With Markkanen stretching out to the perimeter, Parker has room to operate in the midrange — an area of the floor he’s comfortable in but was often clogged in Milwaukee. If Parker can increase his efficiency around the rim, he and Markkanen should complement each other very well and develop a promising inside/out scoring tandem.

Markkanen and Parker are part of the young Bulls core along with Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and 2018 first-round pick Wendell Carter Jr. Look for the Bulls to go far this season as long as all of them are healthy and gel together.

Do The Cav’s Need To Get Another Star By Sunday? If So…..Who?

Do the Cleveland Cavaliers have a chance to keep LeBron James? That is up for debate until free agency starts on July 1. The Lakers seem to be the favorites to land King James and it looks as if the Cavaliers would have to make a major off-season move to keep their star.

Per Ken Berger of Bleacher Report, the Cavaliers are looking at a deal that would bring Hornets guard Kemba Walker. A league source took it a step further when it comes to the Cavaliers keeping James and the source said, “is the only way LeBron stays.” However, Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak has said that he wants Walker to be a “focal point” of the team in the future.

The issue the Cavaliers have is that besides drafting Collin Sexton with their first pick, there are not many other assets that would attract the Hornets to give up Walker. James’s deadline whether to opt in or out of his last year of his contract is Friday, which could signal his plans by then.

Walker, 28, is slated to be a free agent at the end of next season, unless the Hornets sign him to a contract extension. However, the Hornets are not in a great place to sign Walker to an extension as the team is on the verge of exceeding the 2018-19 luxury tax threshold, even with Walker being owed $12 million. In short, the team has little choice but to let his contract expire before deciding his future next summer. From that point forward, Walker can sign with the team for five more years, or four elsewhere. If he decides the latter, Kupchak gets nothing in exchange.

It is hard to figure out what Walker wants to do, but I’m not sure he will win as long as he is with the Hornets. Furthermore, he has a better chance to win in a place such as Cleveland. He is one of the most talented point guards in the NBA, but does not get much notoriety because of where he plays. His scoring game has improved in the last couple seasons, scoring over 20 points a game and averaging over five assists a game. If Walker does not end up in Cleveland, the chances of the Cavaliers keeping King James are just about next to zero. In addition to his improving scoring game, his ability to dazzle the crowd with his sick moves are so exciting to watch. He has the moves of a street-ball player and if he had been known better, he would be sought by more teams.

The Hornets should trade Walker because they are going nowhere in the near future and the team they have assembled is not talented enough to make headwinds in the eastern conference. Whether I think he will be traded, I would assess the odds at less than 50%. The Hornets are adamant that they will have to get 100% of what they want in return for trading their superstar. Anything is possible, stay tuned.

James’ Decision To Opt Out

Don’t think that since James decided to opt out, that means that Cleveland is no longer an option for his services. Had James opted in on Friday, the Cavaliers’ brass would have considered that a bad sign, as they believed that his biggest motivation to do so would be in order to accommodate a trade to another team that didn’t have the cap space to sign him outright, such as the Houston Rockets.

By declining his option, James positioned himself to be able to choose where he’ll play next and Cleveland, his basketball home for 11 of the past 15 seasons, remains a strong possibility. Remember, the Cavs, can offer him a five-year, $209 million contract. James can also sign a short-term deal with Cleveland, something he has done each year since returning in 2014.

Cross-Court Cavs: Even Week

Last week, after a week of continuous struggle, the Cavs somewhat got back on track this week, splitting the games throughout. The surge for the postseason is still on, as the Cavs look to hang on to a high seed going in.

The first game of the week was a huge confidence builder for the team, as the struggling Detroit Pistons came to town, and LeBron took over. Larry Nance Jr. also poured in a career high 22 points to go along with 15 rebounds to help secure an easy 112-90 win.

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Photo by; Bleacher Report

The Nuggets saw more of the same on Wednesday out in Denver, and LeBron continued to work his magic, scoring 39 points in 40 minutes to lead the way. The early surge in the first half by the King was all the Cavs needed to take down the young Nuggets, 113-108.

The next two games of the week proved to be struggles against both LA teams. The Clippers on Friday threw a balanced attack at the King, and no one else for the Cavs decided to step up in his place, and so the Clips decided to take advantage, with Tobias Harris dropping 23 to lead the way for the hometown team in a 116-102 win. The Lakers clearly took notes on the previous Cavs match-up, as LeBron struggled, but 36 points from Julius Randle proved to be huge along with Isaiah Thomas’ 20 against his former team. The Lakers ended up winning big, 127-113, and furthering the hype around the predicted LeBron’s decision potentially this summer to go to LA.

This week had its back and forths, but there was much good to look upon. The team is improving, the chemistry seems to be moving closer, and the East as a whole is struggling. The Cavs are in a good spot for the playoffs, but clearly would like to be higher, as the chase for the #1 seed continues.

Gold Rush: Inconsistent City

The Nuggets Once Again Showed Major Consistency Problems Over This Last Stretch

 

The Recap:

Dallas 118 – Denver 107

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Oh boy….how does this even happen. Denver was fresh off a major win in Cleveland and seeming to have found their groove, then they lose to the Mavericks. Denver’s Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray were noticeably off their game. Jokic only scored 4 points and Murray 6. Wilson Chandler and Will Barton lead the team in scoring with 21 and 16 points respectively. Dallas’ main weapon though, was Guard Yogi Ferrell. He scored 24, but the killer was he made 5 out of 6 3-point shots. For complete player stats, click here

Right from the start, you could tell this wasn’t going to be the easy win that it should have been. Denver fell behind early and after the first, they were down 29-25. The second quarter went much better and Denver took as much as a 10 point lead. Late in the second though, the Nuggets let up and in the final seconds, Dallas Closed in. Denver went in to halftime with a 62-58 lead. The 3rd quarter is where things really fell apart. About half way through the 3rd, Denver’s shooting and defense went cold and Dallas preceded to pummel Denver.

Many fans took to Twitter to voice their frustration, but this one post just about sums it up:

Cleveland 113 – Denver 108

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Wednesday night, Denver dropped another game, this time to the Cavs. Denver fell behind early and often. They were down by as much as 19. Halfway through the 4th, Denver took a 2 point lead:

The lead was brief though and Cleveland soon caught up, and ultimately took the lead back for good. LeBron James sank 3 clutch shots to stop the Denver rally. The true highlight of the night for Denver was Nikola Jokic, who found his A game with 36 points 6 assists and 13 re-bounds. The thing that truly killed the Nuggets wasn’t the Cavs, or LeBron James. It was committing over 20 turnovers. For complete player stats, click here

With this loss, Denver now falls out of the playoff picture again. They fall to 35-30.

What This Means And The Road Ahead:

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Denver keeps digging themselves into a bigger hole. With only 18 games left, every game is now precious. The Clippers are in charge of that 8th spot for now (they hold the season tie-breaker over Denver). The Nuggets really can’t afford losses like the last two. The Nuggets still very much control their own destiny, but the more games they drop, the less they control.

Denver’s next game is Friday March 9th at the Pepsi Center vs the Lakers.  Tip-off is at 7:00 mountain time.

#MileHighBasketball

 

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Gold Rush: Back On Track.

After Back-To-Back Losses At Home, The Nuggets Have Made Up That Lost Ground.

In the last edition of Gold Rush, I reported how Denver seemed to have lost that fire they were playing with. They had just come off 2 straight home losses and were out of the playoff picture. They also had to head out on the road and make a stop in Cleveland. Things have really turned around since then.

The Recap:

 

Nuggets 108 – Grizzlies 102

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On Friday night the Nuggets traveled to Memphis to play the Grizzlies. Despite their record, Memphis put up an amazing fight. Denver held the lead for most of the game but Memphis seemed to always be in striking distance. Denver’s Will Barton and Gary Harris lit up the court, scoring 24 and 26 points respectively. Mason Plumlee scored three great reverse dunks and scored 9 points. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray each scored 9 also. For complete player stats, click HERE.

The Nuggets almost blew another big lead, as they had a 15 point lead with 10 minutes to go. 23 turnovers didn’t help either. Denver’s rebounding was not on point and they only made 27.3% of 3-point shots. Even though they left Memphis with a win, fans were all nervous about their next stop….

Nuggets 126 – Cavaliers 117

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Yeah you read that right. The Nuggets went to “The Land” and proceeded to steal a huge road win. Once again, Gary Harris and Will Barton lead Denver in scoring with 32 and 23 points respectively. Jamal Murray had 16 and Paul Millsap scored 11. Nikola Jokic scored 9 points again. For complete player stats, click HERE.

This is some serious déjà vu

Denver not only beat Cleveland, they out scored them in all 4 quarters. Despite LeBron James scoring a triple-double (25 pts – 15 asst – 10 reb) Denver out did them in every way.  Denver was more accurate in FG percentage (54.7% to 52.3%), 3-point shooting (54.3% to 37.5%) and free throw shooting (86.7% to 76.2%). Denver never fell behind after the first quarter. The Cavs pulled within 2 points near the end but Denver smothered them with 3-pointers.

Richard Jefferson returned to Cleveland for the first time since being traded in October, and felt strange entering the visitor’s locker room at Quicken Loans Arena. He was beloved by his Cavs teammates for his attitude and selflessness. He scored 4 points and exchanged a few laughs with his old teammate LeBron James at half-time.

 

Injury Report:

Tyler Lydon is still out with that knee injury. He is not expected to return until late May.

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The Road Ahead:

Well, with back-to-back road wins in the bag, the Nuggets are sitting in 8th place at 35-28. The West is still super competitive and only 4 games separate 3rd and 10th place. Denver can’t afford to lose many more games. The playoffs are still in the sights for Denver and they could reach as high as the 4th seed if things break their way. The fire is there, they just need to bring it out more consistently.

The Nuggets finish this road trip on Tuesday night in Dallas. Tip-off is at 6:30 p.m. mountain time. Then on Wednesday the return home for a rematch with the Cavs. Tip-off is at 8:30 p.m.

 

#MileHighBasketball 

 

 Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this article, please consider liking and sharing it on Twitter, and following us at @GeeksportJosh and @cleatgeeks

 

 

Cross-Court Cavs: Busy Week

Just as the title says, this week was jam packed for the Cavs. 4 games in 6 days is a lot for a traveling NBA franchise, and the fatigue clearly set in on the squad. As the new players look to continue to get adjusted to the chemistry of the team, it is clear that improvements are still needed, judging by this week.

The first game of the week came on the road against the Oklahoma City Thunder. This was a tough battle for both sides, and it would clearly show us how much we can expect from this new look Cavs roster. The game was back and forth most of the time, but Jordan Clarkson stepped up in the end, along with a couple key veteran plays from JR Smith and LeBron James that helped to seal a 120-112 victory to start off the week strong.

After a flight back home, and right into another nationally televised game against the Wizards, the Cavs really needed a kick of energy, but it was nowhere to be found. The Wizards came in shooting hot, and that flame didn’t burn out at all. A mix of 5 different players in double digits had the Cavs struggling all over the defensive end, as the Wizards soared to a 110-103 win.

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The Cavs bounced back on Friday in Memphis, as LeBron James took over. He posted yet another triple-double, and completely took charge from beginning to end.  A rebuilding Memphis squad was scrambling all over to slow down the Cavs, but the key alternative plays to LeBron’s madness helped the Cavs secure a 112-89 win.

The final game of the week, the third nationally televised game of the week, came at home against the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs, still without Kawhi Leonard, came to play, and the Cavs didn’t look ready at all.  LeBron’s 33 points looked foolish compared to the 20 point performances from Danny Green and LaMarcus Aldridge. The Spurs, with their legendary coaching staff, were clearly able to find the weaknesses in the Cavs swirling roster, as they blew by the hosts for a 110-94 win to take back to Texas with them.

This week showed us a little bit of everything from the Cavs, from dominant wins to another LeBron triple-double to an embarrassing loss.  This time, one week removed from the All-Star break, is a good time to see where the team is at, and clearly changes are need going forward as we look to make another deep playoff run.

Cross-Court Cavs: Trade Deadline Brings New Faces, New Outlook

With the struggles continuing for the Cavs, and a big week approaching, the NBA trade deadline brought a whole roster switch up for the Cavs. The team made moves all over the league to acquire new young talent to pair along with the Cavs veteran roster. This week proved to be a great rebound week overall, with the new acquisitions topping it all off.

Game 1 of the week took place in Orlando for a match-up with a young Magic squad. The run and gun type game the Magic play was really on display, as veteran Jonathan Simmons led the charge despite LeBron putting up a double-double.

Wednesday brought the Cavs back home for a nationally televised battle with the Minnesota Timberwolves. As expected by most, a back and forth battle ensued. Jimmy Butler and LeBron went at it all game long, with both squad’s supporting casts pitching in along the way. After realizing regulation wasn’t enough, LeBron took matters into his own hands and sinked the game winning fadeaway jumper over Butler to seal a much needed win for the Cavs.

Then came the trade deadline the next day. The Cavs waited a little while until around crunch time to make some moves, and once they got going, it seemed endless. The Cavs most notably shipped away PG Isaiah Thomas and SF Jae Crowder, who the most recently acquired, and in return developed a nice young core in Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. from the Lakers, Rodney Hood from the Jazz, and George Hill from the Kings.

Image result for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.

The newbies were all ineligble to play Friday when the Cavs traveled to Atlanta, but they picked up some practice time to help accommodate themselves to the team. Instead, bench players for the Cavs got minutes, and former Hawk Kyle Korver decided to take over, dropping in 30 points to lead his new squad over the old with a 123-107 victory.

The final game of the week, and arguably the most important one, came on Sunday. The Cavs took on the Boston Celtics, who are currently atop the Eastern Conference, and all the new players for the Cavs would play. And boy did they show up. All 4 of them finished in double digits for points, as they all blew open the scoreboard in the second half once LeBron was finished dominating the first. The outburst help propel the Cavs to an easy blowout victory, 121-99, showing great signs going forward for the team.

As one of the most busy weeks of the season came to a close for the Cavs, the team can say they did well. GM Koby Altman did his part in bringing in the new players, and the rest of the organization clearly played their role exceptionally well. The future is bright, especially after this Sunday’s win against the Celtics, as we all have much to look forward to.

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