LeBron and Who?

In the Cleveland Cavaliers’ blowout loss in game one of the Eastern Conference Finals, they played all 13 players on their active roster. Some of these guys only got in because of the nature of the game, it was 25 point blowout in Boston’s favor. Still, the majority of the Cavs’ roster were ineffective against Boston’s stout defense. It begs to question: who should be in the Cavs’ rotation going forward?

The Obvious: LeBron James and Kevin Love

These guys are no brainers. LeBron should see the court as much as he wants, and Love is undoubtedly the second best player on the team. Right now, Love is starting at center and LeBron at power forward, but going forward it might make sense for both of them to slide down a position and play more minutes at the 4 and 3, respectively.

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Other Should-Be Starters: George Hill, Kyle Korver, and Tristan Thompson

Hill needs to start at the point because who else are the Cavaliers going to play? Jordan Clarkson? Hill can be a shooting threat and is definitely the Cavaliers’ best defender at point guard. The decision to start Korver over JR Smith comes down to consistency. Korver has shot better these playoffs than Smith. To be most effective, LeBron needs knock down shooters around him. As for the decision to move Thompson from the bench to the starting lineup, playing the two bigs (Thompson and Love) could force Boston to counter with two bigs (Horford and Baynes) which would be to Cleveland’s advantage.

Bench Contributors: JR Smith, Jordan Clarkson, Jeff Green, and Larry Nance Jr.

JR Smith and Jordan Clarkson are instant offense off the bench. Both of those two have the potential to be sparkplugs for the Cavaliers’ offense. Clarkson will need to shoot well to see meaningful minutes. As for Jeff Green, he has a higher free throw rate than anyone else that should be getting minutes for the Cavaliers. Oddly enough, Green also has third highest win share total on the Cavs’ roster, behind LeBron and Love. That’s enough reason for him to get some run off the bench. Finally, there is Nance. Nance has been disappointing these playoffs, but he has the athleticism and size to match up well with Boston’s lineups. Maybe Nance will remind the Cavaliers why they traded for him in the first place.

Making Sense of the Wild, Wild, West

With 17 games left in their regular season, the Minnesota Timberwolves find themselves in third place in the brutal Western Conference. The Wolves are just three games ahead of the Nuggets who currently hold the eighth seed, and a whopping 11.5 game behind the Warriors for the second seed. Positions three through 10 are incredibly close. Right now, the Utah Jazz who find themselves in 10th are only five games back from the three seed. The end of the regular season is in sight, so who will claim playoff spots three-eight?

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Oklahoma City Thunder: The Thunder haven’t been very impressive this year. With Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony, you’d expect this team to be better. Still, I can’t imagine the Thunder falling out of the player, Westbrook and George are just too good. The Thunder just signed Corey Brewer, who should fill some of the injured Andre Roberson’s role. The Thunder are very thin, but because of their star players, they make the playoffs.

Portland Trail Blazers: In the last ten games, Damian Lillard has averaged just under 32 points per game. The Blazers have won five straight, and are clicking at the right time. The Blazers don’t have the easiest schedule left, they play 14 games against teams solidly in the playoff race. It won’t be easy, but I expect Damian Lillard, the most underrated player in the NBA, to carry the Blazers to the playoffs.

San Antonio Spurs: Things haven’t going well for the Spurs recently. The team went 2-7 in February, and there have been reports that Kwahi Leonard is frustrated with the organization. The good news for the Spurs is that it seems like Leonard might be nearing a return. The fact that the Spurs have played as well as they have (minus the month of February), without Leonard playing is pretty impressive. The Spurs need to start winning games now, and I have faith that the most reliable team in all of sports will make the playoffs once again.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Jimmy Butler might miss the rest of the regular season, but the Wolves still find a way to make the playoffs. The Wolves have played the most games in the NBA, and own the tiebreaker over several teams in the playoff race. On top of that, they have a three game cushion on the number eight seed. They have a brutal stretch in front of them, their next six games are against playoff teams, and the game after that they play the Clippers who are just outside the playoffs. After that though, the schedule lightens up and the Wolves will play a lot of tanking teams. Wolves end their playoff drought despite Butler’s injury.

New Orleans Pelicans: Anthony Davis is playing out of his mind, he’s averaging 34 points over the last 10 games. A month ago, I would have predicted the Pelicans to miss the playoffs, but how can you pick against them right now? Davis is putting up MVP-like numbers, and willing the Pelicans to victory on a nightly basis. The Pelicans are probably the least talented team of the teams in the Western Conference playoff race, but they still make the playoffs.

Utah Jazz: The Jazz have some ground to make up, but have won 12 of 14. Rookie Donovan Mitchell is making his case for Rookie of the Year, and Joe Ingels, Ricky Rubio, and Rudy Gobert are all playing great basketball. The Jazz only play three playoff teams in the next 11 games, and if they can go 10-1 or 9-2, they’ll be looking really good. Coach Quin Snyder has a serious case for Coach of the Year with how the team is playing after losing their best player in Gordon Hayward in the offseason.

With the Thunder, Blazers, Spurs, Wolves, Pelicans, and Jazz making the playoffs, that means the Clippers and Nuggets miss the cut. The Western Conference is as wild as ever, and as the season winds down, there should be meaningful basketball being played every night. Let’s enjoy the wild and unpredictable ride.

Minnesota Must Move Past Minneapolis Miracle

“It’s just now sinking in for real.” That’s a tweet sent by Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon on Tuesday, referring to the insanity that was the last play of the Vikings-Saints NFC divisional game on Sunday. Stefon Digg’s miraculous game winning touchdown catch sent Vikings fans into a frenzy, and with good reason. There was a shared sentiment, “things like this don’t happen to us.” But it happened. And the Vikings are playing in the NFC championship for a chance to break their 41 year drought between Super Bowl appearances. It’s time for the Vikings to move past the Minneapolis Miracle and handle their business this weekend.

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The Vikings enjoyed last weekend’s game against the Saints at home. US Bank Stadium shielded fans and players alike from the bitter cold, and the hometown crowd roared when the Eagles’ offense took the field. This Sunday, the Vikings will be outdoors in Philadelphia. While many wrote off the Eagles after Carson Wentz’s season ending injury in week 14, the Eagles have won three of four games without him. The Eagles are averaging 17 points per game in the four game since Wentz went down, but in the week 17 game, many starters played limited minutes. Throwing that game out, the Eagles have been averaging 22 points per game, which would have been good for 13th best in the regular season.  Not bad.

Nick Foles and the rest of the Eagles’ offense has found success and efficiency using the run-pass option. During a run-pass option, Foles has the opportunity to hand the ball off to a running back, or keep the ball and throw a pass. The majority of the time, Foles hands the ball off, but in the second half against Atlanta he completed all five passes he threw running the run-pass option. This is a dynamic the Vikings haven’t seen much of this season, and it will be interesting to see how they handle it. That said, the Vikings are the best defense in the NFL, and coach Mike Zimmer will be scheming a way to stop Foles and the run-pass option.

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles

On the other side of the ball, the Eagles have an excellent defense. The Eagles have the top defense against the run in the NFL, and they’re fourth best in terms of points allowed, fourth in yards allowed, sixth in offensive plays against, and fourth in takeaways. The defensive line is nasty, led by Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham. The Eagles have yet to allow a running touchdown at home this season. That’s absolutely crazy. RBs Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon are going to have a tough go of it for the Vikings.

Though the Eagles’ defense against the run is fearsome, opponents can throw on them. Adam Thielen and Diggs have faced tougher matchups in the secondary this season than this group. In the Eagles’ last game against the Falcons, the Falcons, who lead the league in dropped passes, dropped some critical balls. The Vikings’ receiving duo of Thielen and Diggs finished fourth and first respectively in catching contested balls. If Case Keenum has time, the Vikings should be able to move the ball by passing

The Vikings go into Sunday’s game the favorites. This is a game that they should win. The Vikings have the best defense in the NFL, a gutsy QB in Case Keenum, two very good receiving weapons in Thielen and Diggs, and one of the best coaches in the NFL. Last week, the Vikings needed a miracle to win. Now, they have to put that play behind them, and earn a chance to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium.

The Case for the Underdog One Seed

It’s been over a month since Eagles’ QB and then MVP front runner Carson Wentz went down with a torn ACL. The injury took him out for the season, and drastically changed the landscape of the NFL. At the time, the Eagles were 11-2, and favorites to win the NFC. Since Wentz went down, the Eagles have struggled to go 2-1 against the Giants, Raiders, and Cowboys. With Nick Foles under center, expectations for the Eagles plummeted. Heading into the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs, the Eagles are the first one seed to ever be underdogs playing against the sixth seed. Vegas favors the Atlanta Falcons by three points, and it seems like no one believes in the Eagles.

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Despite the unprecedented nature of the number one seed being underdogs against the sixth seed, the Eagles still have some things working in their favor. The Eagles went 7-1 at home this season, tied for the best home record in the NFL this season. Eagles fans are legendarily crazy, there’s no doubt that they will be wild for this game. The Eagles outscored their opponents at home by a whopping 150 points this season. The Eagles are definitely comfortable at home, and some may be writing off their home field advantage.

The weather on Saturday also seems to favor the Eagles. Around kickoff, it is projected that the temperature will be around 32 degrees. For a team that is a dome team and doesn’t play outside in the cold often, that could impact the Falcons.

But aside from the weather and home field advantage, the Eagles have one more huge advantage over the Falcons: their defense. The Eagles defense has been good all season, they’re fourth best in terms of points allowed, fourth in yards allowed, sixth in offensive plays against, and fourth in takeaways. This defense should not be underestimated. The defensive line is especially good, led by the mighty Fletcher Cox.

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The Falcons have a lot of offensive weapons, but they finished 15th in the NFL in points per game. Julio Jones is one of the best receivers in the league, but he only has one touchdown catch on the road all year. Matt Ryan is the reigning MVP, but he hasn’t lived up to that award this season.

Saturday is going to be a tough game for the Eagles to win. Nick Foles and the rest of the offense is going to have to move the ball some, and Foles hasn’t exactly inspired confidence with his play so far. That said, the Eagles still have a fierce defense, and the home field advantage could make a big difference. The Eagles are the first one seed to ever be underdogs against the sixth seed, but don’t write them off yet.