Around the League: 2011 NBA Draft Lottery

While the NBA Title contenders battle to cement their legacies in basketball history every spring, the teams that don’t qualify for the playoffs hang their future hopes on the NBA Draft Lottery and subsequent Draft. The “annual rite of renewal” ranks among the most exciting events for struggling franchises and their fans, the number one pick being the ultimate beacon of hope. Some years the first overall pick lands its beneficiary a total game changer such as Magic Johnson, LeBron James or Derrick Rose. Other years a draft class can go a dozen deep, for example in 1996 when Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, Ray Allen, Steve Nash, Jermaine O’Neal and Kobe Bryant (who was picked 13th overall) entered the league. And many other top candidates who may never evolve into the face of a franchise will certainly be difference-makers for teams that are rebuilding from scratch or continuing to build on a young foundation.

Though the number one pick doesn’t come with any guarantees, it does represent a new beginning and a big step along the road to recovery. After finishing the 2009-10 season with the best regular season record in the league (61-21), the Cavaliers nose-dived to a 19-63 result (worst in the East) after losing their 2003 number one pick LeBron James to the Miami Heat. However a new door opened in poetic fashion for Dan Gilbert and the Cavs at the NBA’s 27th Draft Lottery on Tuesday. The Cavs took home the No. 1 and No. 4 picks in the upcoming draft along with the much-needed belief that a new era is at hand.

As is often the case, luck beat the odds in this year’s lottery. The Cavs captured the winning combination with a pick they acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers that had a 2.8 percent chance of winning. Folklore will no doubt credit Gilbert’s 14-year-old son Nick, who stood at the podium as the Cavaliers’ representative during the televised ceremony, for having a lucky hand in the fortunate outcome. I feel so great for Dan Gilbert and his family, the Cleveland Cavaliers organization and the city of Cleveland. This win is terrific for morale, and it gives fans a chance to reaffirm their support for the Cavaliers and the commitment that Dan Gilbert has made to this city.

The Cavs now have a tremendous opportunity to take two of the top draft candidates. Or if they feel it’s in their best interest they can cash in these picks and fill out their roster with three or four other players depending on their needs. Normally if there’s a great big man coming out such as Shaquille O’Neil, Tim Duncan or Blake Griffin he’ll be the top choice. If there’s not a dominant big, then the tendency nowadays is to try and get a great point guard – someone who can run the show and direct traffic. If Baron Davis stays healthy he probably has a few good years remaining in his NBA career. So the Cavaliers may consider capturing a young point guard like Kyrie Irving from Duke while Davis is there to mentor him. But the Cavs also need some other positions filled out. So depending on how they rate the talent in this year’s draft pool they could go in a few different directions.

Whichever direction they decide to go, Cleveland has to feel optimistic about the future of the franchise as they approach the 2011 NBA Draft, which will be held in Newark, N.J. at Prudential Center on Thursday, June 23, 2011.

Czar’s Playoff Preview: Thunder vs. Mavs Western Conference Finals

The well-rested, third-seed Dallas Mavericks will host the battle-tested fourth-seed Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 of the 2011 Western Conference Finals. Coach Rick Carlisle’s veteran-laden Mavs squad has been off for nine days since shocking the 2X defending NBA Champ Los Angeles Lakers and most of the hoops universe by sweeping Phil, Kobe and company 4-0 in the semis. On the other hand, Coach Scott Brooks’ young Thunder had to battle through seven exhausting, high-intensity games including a historic 3-OT Game 4 victory in order to fend off an athletic, physical and relentless Memphis team in round 2.

This series represents a recent rarity in that neither the 4-banner San Antonio Spurs nor the 17-banner Lakers will be playing to represent the West in the NBA Finals. But each of this year’s title-hungry Western Conference finalists has its share of stars: 2nd Team All-League PG Russell Westbrook and 2X NBA Scoring champ, 1st Team All-League Kevin Durant light up the scoreboard nightly for OKC, while Dallas is led by 2nd Team All-League, 13th-year F Dirk Nowitzki, 10-time All-Star, 17th-year PG Jason Kidd, 11th-year combo-guard Jason Terry and 11th-year, 4-time All-Star combo-forward Sean Marion.

One major factor in this series is whether Dallas will be able to get themselves back into the in-game rhythm that enabled them to beat the Lakers in four straight with outstanding ball movement and 3-point marksmanship. And the Mavericks, who solidly defended against LA, must keep the young, up-and-down-the-94-feet-of-hardwood Thunder from scoring in transition. That will start with their offensive execution and whether or not they are able to make shots and create a tempo to their liking and tactical advantage.

Oklahoma City’s defense can be very impressive and smothering at times with their shot-blocking and active hands. They finished the 2011 regular season ranked second in the NBA in blocks and fifth overall in steals. The Thunder faced a very tough defensive team in Memphis with perimeter athletes galore and proved that they could execute their offense in the most hostile of environments. Their offense should be fine; it’s the Thunder’s team defense that will have to be sharp and tenacious to negate the Mavs’ varied offense led by the almost un-guardable shot-maker Nowitzki. Oklahoma City also must recover their mental focus and physical presence after such an intense battle to succeed in their first 2011 postseason series without home-court advantage.

These two teams played three times during the year with Dallas winning twice in Oklahoma and the Thunder beating the Mavs in Texas. So strangely, the road team prevailed each time. It’s been 131 calendar days since these talented foes last directly competed on January 6th. In the interim, Dallas’ starting SF Caron Butler’s season ended with a ruptured right patellar tendon, and the Thunder acquired C Kendrik Perkins from the Boston Celtics for F Jeff Green and C Nenad Krstic. So both sides will be sporting new, practiced and refined sets since they last played.

This series has a multitude of the NBA’s best players and will highlight the contrasting styles of a young, athletic, energy-fueled Thunder team against a savvy, veteran been-there-almost-done-that (see 2006 NBA Finals) Mavericks group. Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals tips off in Big D at 9PM ET on ESPN.

Czar Asks You

The fate of 12 NBA teams will be determined in the Draft Lottery. Which team deserves to win the number one pick in the 2011 NBA Draft Lottery?

Czar’s Playoff Preview: Heat vs. Bulls Eastern Conference Finals

The two teams with the best records in the East have held their ground in the postseason. Last year’s MVP King James and newly crowned MVP Derrick Rose will go head to head when the Miami Heat battle the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals for a shot at the ultimate title. The hugely anticipated series is loaded with superstars who are excited to compete at this level and eager to pack the highlight reels.

The Bulls will be making their first appearance in the conference finals since 1998, when Michael Jordan led his team to their third straight title. Now All-Star PG Derrick Rose, who’s so hard to contain off the dribble, will try to lead the Bulls to the first championship of the post-Jordan era. Although Chicago won all three regular season games against Miami, the Heat are playing their best ball of season. Rose will certainly need all his teammates to step up and deliver in order for the Bulls to get past the Heat. Perhaps the best news for Chicago is that Carlos Boozer, who suffered a toe injury in the first round, appeared to be returning to form in the last few games against Atlanta. Chicago labored through the early playoff rounds against less talented teams, so they need to get off to a quick start in this series and capitalize on their home court advantage.

The Heat has been the team everyone loves to scrutinize and beat ever since LeBron James announced that he would be heading down to Miami to make history. So far in the postseason the title-hungry Heat have put their money where their mouth is. They’ve been playing outstanding ball and will be riding a tidal wave of confidence after disposing of last year’s Eastern Conference Champion Boston Celtics in the Semis. The Heat will try to steal one of the opening games along with the home court advantage before returning to Miami for Games 3 and 4. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have been simply fantastic in the playoffs. Chris Bosh has been a very solid third performer for the Heat as well. And the sharp shooting of James Jones coming off the bench has been vital to their success.

These are two of the best defensive teams in the league so both sides will have to earn their win-worthy buckets. Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals tips off at 8:00 PM ET on TNT.

Czar’s Playoff Preview: Thunder vs. Grizzlies Game 6

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