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McCready Malarkey, Volume 7

Welcome to a very special edition of 'McCready Malarkey', a RealGM exclusive.  In this issue I'll be taking a look at each of the Eastern Conference playoff match-ups, and I'll also be debuting part one of a 99 part series!

Boston v/s Atlanta

The Celtics have nearly every advantage here, except for athleticism.  

At the point position, the Rajon Rondo/Mike Bibby match-up should be interesting.  Bibby is the superior player, but he's getting up there in years and staying in front of Rondo defensively is a challenge even to the most fleet-of-foot.  Bibs made his reputation years ago in the playoffs with Sacramento, but he'll have to turn back the clock and play even BETTER than he did then for this team to have a chance against the Celtics.

Josh Smith; I'm sure he'll bring as much effort as he can, but I expect him to be overwhelmed by the pressure at certain points too.  I expect some spectacular defensive plays but also for him to rush his offense and struggle, especially against Paul Pierce.  Pierce has been a defensive stopper in the past and can be a defensive factor when motivated.  There's no better motivator than playoff basketball.

One area where Atlanta might give the Celtics trouble is the shooting guard position.  Joe Johnson is one of the few Hawks with playoff experience, and he'll be expected to lead this Hawks' club.  Ray Allen is still Shuttlesworth the money, but he's giving up a few years and might have trouble dealing with the talented Johnson.

Washington's dominance of the Celtics this year proved that the team can be troubled by stellar athleticism, which the Hawks have in spades.  However, I really doubt that Kevin Garnett will allow his team to play with anything except the utmost intensity.  Rookie Al Horford couldn't have asked for a bigger challenge in his post-season debut.

Celtics in five

The Detroit Pistons vs The Philadelphia 76ers

Another example of youthful exuberance against veteran experience.  

The sole veteran presence on the 76ers is Andre Miller.  He and Chauncey Billups should be an interesting match-up.  They're probably the two most physically dominant lead guards in the East.  Both love to post-up smaller guards but will be unable to do so in this match-up.  Billups is more of a scorer, and Miller is more of a playmaker.  Miller will have to win this one for the 76ers to stay alive.

One position where the 76ers might have a clear advantage is the small forward position.  Andre Igoudala turned down a handsome contract this offseason in an attempt to prove he is worth the full mid-level exception.  This is his chance to do so.  He's been turnover prone this season against Detroit's stellar defense and with the intensity that only comes with the playoffs, it wouldn't surprise me to see that trend continue.  Defensively, I wouldn't be surprised if they stick him on Richard Hamilton as Tayshawn Prince isn't as much of a scoring threat.

If it wasn't for the emergence of Rodney Stuckey and the continued improvement of Jason Maxiell, I'd give the 76ers more of a shot.  As is, their physical advantage is diminished by Detroit's vastly superior bench.

Detroit in 5

The Orlando Magic vs The Toronto Raptors

Two young teams each led by one of the two best young big men in the league collide in a match-up that could go either way.

Beginning when Chris Bosh went down with an injury, Rasho Nesterovic, of all people, has become maybe the second best player on this Raptors' team.  He's showcased sublime talents with the Slovenian national team for years, and in the last few weeks those talents have finally been on display in the NBA.  There have been occasions where he has looked good guarding Dwight Howard but don't be surprised if Superman treats him like a poor man's Lois Lane all series.

Regardless, this doesn't look like a good series for the Magic.  Chris Bosh and Dwight Howard almost negate one another, so I'll look at the rest of the rest of the lineup.  The Raptors tend to have success against teams with questionable point guard play, and there are few teams in this year's playoffs with a shakier point situation than Orlando.  TJ Ford and Jose Calderon are  definite upgrades over Jameer Nelson and Carlos Arroyo.  While Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis can really shoot the basketball, the Raptors are among the best shooting teams in the league.  Meanwhile, the Raptors tend to struggle against physical teams, and outside of Howard, I wouldn't call anyone on this team too physical.

I've bashed them a lot lately, but I like this matchup.

Raptors in 6

The Cleveland Cavaliers vs the Washington Wizards

This is the hardest match-up to call as this series could go either way.  Cleveland is a team that wins on size and that LeBron James fellow, despite its flawed backcourt.  Washington is a team that wins on athleticism and those Big Three despite a flawed frontcourt.

An amendment to that, though.  Washington's Big Three this year has been more of a "Big One and a Half" most of the season (catchy, eh?).  Injuries have hit the three of them hard.  Caron Butler didn't play sixty games this season, and Gilbert Arenas couldn't even play fifteen.  

The third wheel of that tricycle Antawn Jamison has typically been a durable player throughout and is the leader of this team despite what any Adidas ad might tell you.  He played out of his mind last year against the Cavs in the playoffs, but he'll have to contend with being guarded by Ben Wallace this time around.

THE player this series is riding on is obviously LeBron James.  It doesn't seem to matter how seemingly over-hyped he gets, he always manages to surpass it.  Playing with only one other decent offensive option in Zydrunas Ilgauskas, every team in the league makes it their primary objective to stop James, and what does he do?  Averages over thirty points per game while shooting nearly fifty percent from the field.  Caron Butler's health becomes even more crucial for the Wizards as his defensive excellence is the only thing that might slow down James.  No one else on their roster can come close to stopping him.

This is the third year in a row that these two teams are meeting up in the playoffs, and they're starting to develop an interesting rivalry.  

Cavs in 7

And as a bonus... part ONE of a 99 Part Series...

99 Reasons why LeBron James is better than Wayne Gretzky!

Reason Number 1...   LeBron James doesn't have a Barbie

Don't let this guy near your kids

Any Questions, Comments, Reasons why LeBron is better than Gretzky, or A Friendly Hello? Email Matt McCready at mattmccready@gmail.com

McCready Malarkey, Volume 6

Welcome to a brand spanking new edition of McCready Malarkey.  In this issue we?ll be taking a look at Andre Miller?s resurgence this year and why TJ Ford is receiving some jeers in Hogtown.

Is Andre Miller the best point guard in the Eastern Conference?

When the deal first went down, I thought the 76ers were ripped off when they traded away Allen Iverson.

Andre Miller is proving me dead wrong.

Miller himself was expected to do big things from the moment he entered the league.  Selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers eighth overall, Miller had a very impressive rookie season when he was named to the All-Rookie first team.  His improvement continued in his second year as he led the Eastern Conference in assists per game and by his third, the entire league.  Everything was pointing towards Andre 7000 being one of the league's best points for the next decade.  Then things started to go bad. LA Clipper bad.

Yep, Miller got traded to a place where all good things NBA (Tim Thomas' comeback and Elton Brand's knee being two more recent examples) go to die, Clipperland.  The Clips hailed him as a savior to their point guard problem, but the season was a complete disaster.  His shot abandoned him as his FG% dropped to a shade over forty percent.  And, it wasn't just his game that was being tarnished but his reputation as a teammate, as well.  The Clipper environment was poisonous at that point. Namely, all the players hated each other.  Despite a roster that had Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, Miller, and Lamar Odom, the team only won 27 games.

The Denver Nuggets called with a contract offer that the Clips refused to match, and Miller's game returned although by then the novelty had worn off.  He was no longer viewed as one of the leagues' up-and-coming stars but rather as a former malcontent putting up decent, not great, numbers on a team clearly led by Carmelo Anthony.  Despite the team's turnaround with him as the lead point, the media had forgotten about Andre Miller.

It seemed like the front office forgot about him too when he was traded along with a few picks for Allen Iverson.  It was a risky move for the 76ers as Miller couldn't co-exist with a young rebuilding team in LA, what would be different in Philadelphia?

The difference is that Miller has matured as a person and a player; he truly is the leader for this 76er team.  He has good size at 6-2 and the bulk to bully his way into the lane past smaller point guards.  His passing skills are superb, and his decision-making is crucial for this young and athletic team.

Meanwhile, Iverson's Denver squad seems a bit disappointing considering the team's talent.  Both Iverson and Anthony's defining characteristics on the court are their abilities to take over a game offensively.  While it's a huge advantage to have two players capable of doing that, their skills are still a bit redundant.

Unlike Iverson, Miller has a team in front of him that compliments his skills perfectly.

Samuel Dalembert's improvement this year is a big story.  His rebounding and block numbers are both up from last year while he has also cut back on his fouls.  Maybe it was playing for the Canadian National team?  While playing internationally, it seemed like Big Sam realized what kind of effect a true big man can have on a team.

Thad Young and Reggie Evans are two solid options to have at the power forward spot.  Evans is a energy player with a bit of a dirty streak in him.  He's relentless on the boards and will pull down some of the most impressive rebound per 48 minute numbers in the league.  However, his game is completely devoid of skill.  Rookie Thad Young, on the other hand, is nearly the opposite player. He's young and athletic and has legitimate range on his jumper.

Andre Igoudala is one of those players whose skills could integrate into any team in the league.  His athleticism is spellbinding; he creates for teammates; and his defensive skills are among the best in the league at his position.  His turnovers are high, but that's because he's miscast as a team's primary scoring option.  He's not a number one guy but would be an amazing number two.

All of these players have a role that compliments Miller's game nicely.  I still think Billups is still the best point guard in the Eastern Conference with Andre at a close second.  Of course, Jose Calderon supporters would have something to say about that bronze medal...

Let's all hate TJ Ford!

As anyone who has read my articles on a regular basis has probably figured out I watch some professional wrestling.  The thing that interests me more than anything else about the sport/profession/soap opera/choreographed dance fight is the crowd reactions.  Two men going out to pretending to fight in front of a crowd, each vying to get strong, yet different, public reactions.  I've had a long fascination with how and why crowds react the way they do. It's contagious, as only a few hundred cheering in a crowd of thousands can whip the entire crowd into a frenzy.  Most of the time I understand a crowd's reaction to sporting events, having observed it my entire life.  However, something recently really confused me in Toronto.

So your plucky young point guard is enjoying his finest season and in the middle of a 26 point, 8 assist gem when a rookie commits a flagrantly dumb foul that has him taken off the court and contemplating retirement.

His replacement in the starting lineup is enjoying such a fine season that there's talk of him joining the All-Star team, but regardless the young man trains his ass off and returns in only a few months.

His return from injury is a bit rough; he doesn't enjoy coming off the bench.  Within ten games of his returning, the crowd begins to show their disapproval of the young man by booing him. So what are the reasons that Toronto are booing and cheering Ford?

Reasons to cheer

1. His playing style: He's an enthusiastic player with great handles and passing skills while also being among the top five quickest players in the league. He also plays hard at both ends of the court.

2. His look: He's a small player and everyone loves an underdog.

3. He's committed: Re-signed with the team, showing commitment and admiration for the city. He also returned from a potentially career threatening injury to return for the team's playoff run.

4. Good guy: He's well liked by his teammates and media. Does a lot of community work.

5. Plays with a swagger.

Reasons to boo

1. Decision making: Can forget about teammates sometimes and shoot the ball too often.

2. Attitude: Appears to sulk on the bench.

3. Roster construction: Having two quality starting point guards might seem redundant.

4. Plays with a swagger.

To understand why someone is being booed, one must look at the source.  Toronto Raptor fans have a major insecurity problem about their team and their opinions stemming from the days when NBA players would shun the franchise by choosing not to resign with the team (Tracy McGrady) or refusing to report when traded to the team (Kenny Anderson).  Ironically enough, the only player from that era who accepted market value to play for the team is the franchise's equivalent to Mummra.

Vince Carter the Ever Living

Basketball circles used to regard Toronto as hockey first and ignorant of the basic elements of basketball.  Maybe to prove to themselves that times have changed, they are some of the most demonstrative fans in the league. Demonstrative in a good positive sense, but they're also, maybe, the most vindictive crowd in the league.  Since the days of Vince Carter and ACL injuries, this fanbase seems obsessed that their players play through their injuries.  The two swingmen players who played hurt enough to satisfy the masses were Morris Peterson and Alvin Williams.  All they had to do was to either become the league's ironman player for most consecutive games played (Morris Peterson) or completely destroy every joint in his lower body so that his career is literally chopped off at the legs (Alvin Williams).  This behavior should give Chris Bosh much to think about when he can test the free agent waters in 2010. With the lack of commitment and loyalty the fans show to their players, why should he show any loyalty and commitment back when he's only one injury away from being booed out of the arena?

When it comes to knowledgeable fans in Toronto, the times have changed.  The Raptors have been in existence since Jurassic Park was popular.  Toronto IS a good basketball city, and once these fans can truly believe that, they'll hopefully get over themselves.  Not that Toronto is the only city guilty of excessive booing; remember when Cleveland fans booed LeBron James, of all people, a couple years ago?

Real basketball fans know that the best way to support the home team is to, you know, typically cheer for them and boo the opposing team.  In the game against Detroit, it's not like the fans began booing after an extended period of terrible play, they booed after a missed (but open) three point shot.  That's not demonstrating basketball smarts, that's demonstrating pettiness.

It only takes a few hundred to get thousands into a frenzy, and it seems like the booing of Ford has really subsided in the last few games.  TJ Ford has been a starter his entire life at every level; it's understandable that he would struggle to adjust to a role off the bench.  In fact, it was Jose Calderon's idea that he return to the bench because he's very productive in that role.  For those reasons, I'm imploring Raptor fans to not boo TJ Ford just to cheer for Jose Calderon.

Any Questions, Comments or A Friendly Hello? Email Matt McCready at mattmccready@gmail.com

McCready Malarkey, Volume 5

Welcome to the long awaited 5th Anniversary of 'McCready Malarkey'!  In this collectible issue we take a look at the Kobe/LeBron MVP debate and the fall from grace of Shawn Marion.  

Kobe V/S LeBron

That seems to be the popular debate on who should be the season MVP (although I'm sure Kevin Garnett and Chris Paul aficionados would like a say, as well).  The debate between these two is the most interesting of the bunch because their games are the most similar.  Garnett affects the game from a post perspective while Paul affects the team by running the offense and disrupting the opposing teams from their point of attack.

Kobe and LeBron occupy the sexier positions, the swingmen (that last sentence brought to you by Larry Flint).  They are the ones whose main priority is scoring the basketball and defending the opposing team's best perimeter scoring.  Mainly, they're constantly in the spotlight doing flashy things.

Let's take a look at the two statistically...

Points: LeBron 30.9 Kobe 28.2
Rebounds: LeBron 8.1 Kobe 6.1
Assists: LeBron 7.5 Kobe 5.3
Field Goal Percentage: LeBron 48.6% Kobe 46.6%
Free Throw Percentage: Kobe 84.4% LeBron 71.6%
Blocks: LeBron 1.1 Kobe 0.5
Steals: TIED!!!!!!!!!!!!~!

Needless to say, LeBron has the statistical edge.  Many point to the fact that Kobe's team has a superior record and that justifies his MVP selection (of course, those same people would probably question last year's selection based on this criteria: Dirk Nowitzki But, assuming everyone was healthy, how do those teams' rosters stack up head-to-head?  It's not really a fair comparison as Cleveland's roster is completely revamped, and the Lakers added Pau Gasol while also losing Andrew Bynum to a potentially season ending injury.

CENTER: Andrew Bynum v/s Zydrunas Ilgauskas

I love Big Z; I named his hookshot the terminally unpopular 'IZ Drip' years back because of the determination he showed coming back from seemingly career-ending foot injuries.  

But those injuries still play a role in Big Z's production as his minutes are always limited.  He's logging the biggest minutes per game in the last three years this season at only thirty minutes per game.  He's an average passing big with range, and he can hit his free throws.  He's one of the league's biggest players at 7-3 and 265 pounds; he can block shots, and he rebounds exceptionally well for the minutes he plays.

Andrew Bynum would've been a prime candidate for the league's most improved player award had he not suffered that left knee injury.  He doesn't have the range that Ilgauskas has, but he's a more powerful and explosive player.  He was leading the league in field goal percentage at 63.6% before he got injured mainly because nearly all his shots were thunderous, unstoppable dunks.  He's improved tremendously on the boards and can now grab them with the same efficiency as Ilgauskas, and he blocks more shots.  That makes him my choice as the superior player if only by a slim margin.

Winner via split decision: Andrew Bynum

POWER FORWARD: Pau Gasol v/s Ben Wallace

The Pau Gasol trade must have been the most frustrating transaction to 29 teams this season, including Memphis.  Pau Gasol is a player.    

For Memphis, the franchise and the fans, to place blame on him for the laughingstock that the Grizzlies are is pathetic.  He's the best thing that's ever happened to that franchise.  Period.  He's a player who has led his native country of Spain above all his European brethren in international competition (with one most recent loss against Andrei Kirilenko's incredible one-man-show with Russia).  In his seven years in Memphis, the best player he teamed was Shane Battier.  No offense to Shane Battier, but that's terrible.

In his prime, Wallace was the greatest defensive force in the league.  However, he's aged.  But he's an undersized player that relied on his athleticism to perform more than his skills, which has really made his overall performance suffer as he ages.  One also has to wonder if the defensively underrated Rasheed Wallace's presence wasn't a factor in Wallace's defensive onslaught of the early 0s.

Wallace still has a role in the league, but Gasol is an All-Star.

Winner via first round knockout: Pau Gasol

Swingman Showdown: Lamar Odom v/s Devin Brown

Not much of a battle here at all.  Devin Brown is a serviceable player but really shouldn't be a starter.  He's mainly a scorer who can't even do that efficiently.  Odom, on the other hand, is one of the more underappreciated players in the league.  He's especially effective against teams that like to go small.  His athleticism allows him to stay with the play in fast break attacks while his size can make him a big time factor on the boards against smaller lineups.

Winner via big boot and legdrop: Lamar Odom

Point Guard Rumble: Derek Fisher v/s Delonte West

Kudos to the Utah Jazz organization for letting Derek Fisher opt out of his contract to be closer to his ailing daughter.  Unfortunately for them, the Lakers are benefiting greatly from the Jazz's generosity.  Fisher is enjoying perhaps his finest year at age 33.  He's not spectacular but gets the job done.  He's not a stupendous playmaker, but he doesn't have to be in a triangle offense that features the players above.  He's a steady shot and a solid veteran presence in the locker room that championship teams need.

Delonte West is a point guard with combo guard tendencies.  He's an active player who can play active defense and get on the boards.  His shot selection is questionable, but he isn't turnover-prone.  The best word to describe him at this point would be 'mediocre', but playing with James could turn things around for him; plus, he's young enough that he could develop into a solid starting guard.

Winner via sly veteran maneuver: Derek Fisher

The Lakers are one of the favorites to win the Championship this year while there isn't much to expect out of Cleveland.  Other than frontcourt depth, Kobe has a better roster in every possible way.  The guards playing with James are laughable, and this team would have trouble beating Seattle most nights without him.  LeBron is continuing his evolution into the most dominant player of this generation; his numbers this season trump all but the best seasons put together by Michael Jordan.  The argument that Bryant is due a MVP is moot.  By that logic, Jerry Sloan should have five Coach of the Year awards by now instead of an empty trophy cabinet.  Jerry West, considered by many to be a top ten player of all time and the man whose image graces the league's logo, came in second place for league voting FOUR times without ever winning.  

Between the two I would pick LeBron as the MVP, but my overall pick is still Kevin Garnett. Ray Allen's year has not been spectacular, and Garnett has turned that TERRIBLE team into a championship contender, but that's another article...

Kobe Bryant, hero to all, saving an old woman from a burning building

How dumb is Shawn Marion?

Shawn Marion finally got the wish he's been asking for years when he was traded away from the Phoenix Suns.

The combination of playing with one of the league's best playmakers in Steve Nash and in Mike D'Antoni's system, where any open shot is a good shot, makes Phoenix one of the league's most desired destinations for any player.  

Just not for Marion.  

Despite having skills that translate perfectly to the system that they run and being the team's highest paid player, Marion always felt slighted.  He always felt like the team's underappreciated third wheel because team officials realized that the games of Steve Nash and Amare Stoudamire were the franchise's most marketable talents while Marion's hustle play and defense were not.  Team events or promotions scheduled around Nash or Amare would irk him.  D'Antoni would always have to be conscious of giving Marion his due in any post-game interview and direct questions about Amare or Nash in Marion's favor, if only to attempt to avoid Marion's consistent sulking behind the scenes.

Now with Miami he's firmly entrenched as the second banana in Miami, and he also got the ego boost of being traded nearly one-for-one for arguably the best player in NBA history: Shaquille O'Neal.  His ego is finally satisfied but at what cost?  With the ability to opt out of his contract this year, Marion has potentially cost himself millions of dollars in playing with the Heat by exposing the flaws in his game.

One of the biggest concerns of the Phoenix Suns' coaching staff about Shawn Marion's game was his inability to create his own shot.  Without Steve Nash finding and creating open looks from three and igniting the fast break with breathtaking full-court passes, Marion's scoring numbers have suffered. Without Steve, he's had to create more on his own, and his turnovers have more than doubled, not to mention his shooting percentage has fallen from over fifty percent to forty six.  Statistically, his rebounds are the only area that have really improved, which isn't surprising since the team's second leading rebounder is Udonis Haslem as opposed to Phoenix where it was Stoudamire.  

Phoenix, on the other hand, knew what they were getting in Shaq.  Unlike Marion, Shaq's gregarious personality is actually a positive in the locker room.  And while Shaq cannot be a factor in every game like Marion could, he can be the difference in going against the bigger teams in the league while Amare can still dominate the smaller ones.  This is evident by the team's two most recent wins against the slower San Antonio Spurs led by the Big Fundamental and the Golden State Warriors, arguably the smallest, quickest lineup in the association.  

There's no doubt that Marion is a talented player and maybe the greatest third wheel in the league, but he's shot himself in the foot financially.  He's a player that the best teams in the league would want to pay top dollar for.  Unfortunately for Marion, those teams are all over the cap.  The Heat was a terrible franchise before the Matrix arrived, and they haven?t changed.  The team is 2 - 15 since his arrival.  It's now been proven that he's not a player who can single-handedly win games for terrible teams.  One of those franchise type players. Unfortunately, at sixteen and a half million dollars a year, he's getting paid the amount of money to do so.  No team that would want him have the cap space necessary to pay him anything close to what he's making now, and the terrible teams that could pay him that kind of money now know that he will not change the outlook of their franchises.  

Marion was always concerned that playing in the shadow of the two-time MVP and the Man-Child would make him look like nothing more than a complimentary player and not a star.  How ironic that those two were the shield keeping everyone from knowing the truth.

Any Questions, Comments or A Friendly Hello?  Email Matt McCready at mattmccready@gmail.com

McCready Malarkey, Volume 4

In this issue we take a look at the possibility of trading this year's obvious MVP, the top 10 best big man reserves in the NBA and we also have time for LETTERS!

McCready Malarkey, Volume 3

In this issue we take a look at Atlanta?s acquisition of Mike Bibby, John JP Hollinger, and the young players of the Golden State Warriors?

McCready Malarkey, Volume 2

In this 'issue' we take a look at Mike Miller, his status with the Grizzlies and possible trade scenarios. Also, we'll take a look at Gilbert Arenas' blogging remarks about Jose Calderon.

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