Fratello’s Fantasy Pick

Indiana Pacers v Cleveland CavaliersRough and rugged, fourth-year guard Lance Stephenson emerged last season as one of the Indiana Pacers’ key players.

The 23-year-old Brooklyn native started 72 games for coach Frank Vogel last year as the Pacers went all the way to Game 7 of the ECF against eventual champs Miami.

Stephenson aka Born Ready was an early bloomer. The Lincoln High alum won NYC basketball championships in each of his four years of high school and is New York State’s all-time leading scorer.

After playing one season of collegiate ball at Cincinnati, he was selected 40th overall by Indiana in the 2010 NBA Draft. 6’5” Stephenson played in only 54 games for the Pacers over his first two seasons. Last year in 29.2 mpg, he averaged 8.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg and 2.9 apg.

In the Pacers’ first ten games so far this season, Stephenson is averaging 33.8 mpg (2nd on the team behind Paul George), 13.7 ppg (2nd on the team), 5.2 rpg, and he leads the team with 5 apg. He has scored in double figures in 9 of the 10 contests and on November 11th recorded his first career triple-double.

Stephenson has season-highs so far of 22 points, 12 dimes, 11 boards and 41 minutes of floor time. He is capable of guarding the other team’s best perimeter player and is not afraid of the big shot or making plays in crunch time. Stephenson has been under an intense national spotlight since the 8th grade and has dealt with the constant attention and scrutiny that accompanies a NYC scholastic basketball legend.

Stephenson plays on an extremely balanced, talented Pacers team and seems to have secured his spot in the first five. He can give any Fantasy GM an above average stat line every night. So add Lance Stephenson to your Fantasy roster ASAP. He is just beginning to scratch the surface of showing the premier player he’ll become.

Czar’s Season Update

WEB-Czar's Update-Outlook-13NOV2013

Czar’s Season Preview

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Czar’s Playoff Preview


Copyright 2013 NBAE - Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty ImagesNothing beats the pressure-packed excitement of a Game 7. Tonight the Indiana Pacers will try to knock off the defending champion Miami Heat in the last chapter of the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals and transform this page turner of a series into one for the ages.

The surprisingly well-matched opponents have been alternating wins since Game 1. Top seed Miami finished with the best regular season record, 16½ games ahead of the Pacers. They were better than Indiana at just about everything, except rebounding and blocking.

But in the ECF the Heat have encountered a hungry team that’s not afraid of the reigning champs or league MVP LeBron James. The Pacers stepped into the ring with an apparent belief in their ability to beat the Heat at home, and they’ve been building confidence with each win since.

On Saturday the Pacers toppled King James & Co. in a decisive 91-77 Game 6 win. Now the Pacers can taste the franchise’s first-ever finals appearance.

Roy Hibbert and David West have been the difference for Indiana. Though many have identified Miami’s small size as a chink in their armor, few teams have been able to exploit this vulnerability. But Coach Vogel has decided to stick with his bigs when the Heat have gone small with LeBron or Battier at the 4 spot. Hibbert and West have successfully defended the paint and punished the Heat at the offensive end of the court.

The Heat’s perimeter game has evaporated of late, so they must come up with one of their better shooting performances tonight. And LeBron will need his struggling teammates to step up. Though banged up, the Heat’s home court advantage should give them a significant advantage as home teams are 16-2 in Game 7′s played in the conference finals or finals since 1984.

Will Miami return to the NBA finals for the third straight season, or will it be a long, hot summer of speculation about the Big 3’s future? Marv Albert, Steve Kerr , Reggie Miller and Craig Sager will bring you TNT’s final broadcast of the 2012-13 season when Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals tips off at 8:30 PM ET. Can’t wait!

Miami Heat v Indiana Pacers  - Game Six

Czar’s Playoff Preview


Miami Heat v Indiana Pacers  - Game FourThe back-and-forth ECF return to Miami tonight for a pivotal Game 5. Tied at 2-2 this series is proving to be the most competitive and exciting of the 2013 postseason. Both sides are loaded with talent, veteran poise and clutch performers.

The only non-competitive 48 thus far was Sunday’s Game 3 in Indy, where the Heat outscored the Pacers in every quarter, shot 55% and committed only 5 turnovers. This was the Heat team that rolled through the regular season and was anointed the prohibitive favorite to repeat. They were scary good that night and had some thinking the series’ momentum had shifted unalterably.

However, coach Frank Vogel’s guys flipped the script in Game 4 on Tuesday, winning 99-92 behind C Roy Hibbert’s 23 points and 12 rebounds. All five Pacer starters scored in double figures, and they shot 50% as a team. Most importantly they outrebounded Miami 49 to 30 and outscored them 50 to 32 in the paint.

Miami had the lead at 86-83 before Indy went on a 16-6 run to close out the game. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined to shoot only 6 for 21, and LeBron James fouled out for only the fifth time in his NBA career.

Miami Heat v Indiana Pacers  - Game FourAll of the Big 3 are banged up. LeBron tweaked his ankle in Game 4 and may not be 100% tonight, so Bosh will need to bring his A-game, as will some of the bench guys who have struggled.

After Game 4 there was grumbling and mumbling among some of the Heat players and fans about the officiating, but give Indiana credit for showing great resiliency and making believers out of many who didn’t think they stood a chance against the reigning champs.

In last year’s Eastern Conference Semis, Miami and Indiana were in this exact same position – knotted up at 2-2 with Game 5 back in south Florida. The Heat administered a true beat down, 115-83, and went on to win the series in six. The 32-point loss was the worst in Pacers postseason history.

Tonight’s Game 5 will be a tighter affair than last year’s. The Pacers aren’t afraid of the Heat’s homecourt advantage. They took Miami to OT before losing a nip and tuck Game 1, and then showed their character and heart by coming back strong and taking Game 2 in South Beach. Indiana is confident that they can win on the road.

Ultimately the team that focuses on their game plan, executes at a very high level and demonstrates poise under pressure will come out on top. Tune in to TNT at 8:30 PM ET to see if the brunt force of Hibbert and PF David West own the inside, or if Miami’s Big 3 do what they have done so many times over the past three seasons and grab the all important Game 5 W.