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March Madness, the Western Conference Playoff Race, and Streak Busting–Fastbreaks 4/2 Edition

Every week a group of writers from the Bad Man Bureau will discuss several topics regarding both the NBA and basketball at large with quick, paragraph-long responses. This week, we’re making our picks for the national champion and the eighth seed in the Western Conference.  We’ll also be talking about the injury to Patrick Beverley and the Philadelphia 76ers finally winning a game.  The panel for this edition of the Fastbreaks column are Andrew, Jordan, Ishmael, and Aaron.

 

Patrick Beverley suffered a minor meniscus tear recently. (Photo by Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports)

Question 1: Given Patrick Beverley’s reputation in his short career, how should we react to his injury?

Andrew G: Patrick Beverley’s game seems to be that of a pick-up game but with more athleticism.  He plays the game physically and with a desire to win at all costs.  To some people, this labels him a “dirty player”, but there is something pleasant about seeing a guy who does play a similar style to what you see in gyms around the country; he’s handsy, has a tendency to barrel his way around on offense if he’s not taking a shot he thinks he can make, and a rough and tough defender attempting to do whatever it takes to keep you from making a shot each time down the floor.

All that being said, he can take it a bit too far on occasion and seems to make no apologies that his junkyard dog style of play is borderline dangerous.  Despite that, it’s still a disappointing blow to the Rockets’s fortunes in the playoffs (despite the report that he is going to return) and might be a danger to Beverley’s future financial well-being.  Patrick is a free agent after this season, and a meniscus injury–even if it doesn’t require immediate surgery–could deflate the market for his services.

Jordan: Many fans would pin Beverly’s injury on karma for his aggressive and sometimes vicious play style in the past, and it’s a good storyline. However, meniscus injuries are nothing to joke about. Dwyane Wade has recovered nicely recently, and Derrick Rose is on the path to returning (again) after similar injuries. Despite his growing poor reputation of being a dirty player, Beverly’s injury should not be “celebrated” by anyone, as it could potentially end/harm his career. As for the impact it will have on the Rockets, he served as a good contrast to James Harden‘s nonexistent defense and certainly hurts the team’s short-term chances. However, if he fully recovers, he will be back to intensely competing in time to help them in the postseason.

Ishmael: Karma doesn’t exist so let’s throw those reactions out the window first and foremost. But Beverly’s meniscus tears, if not tended properly, could be career threatening in the long run. We’ve seen it happen with Dwyane Wade recently so it just depends on how he rehabs and it does frighten me a bit that he intends to play because it could result in a worse injury.

Similar to Rose and Westbrook, Beverly’s primary issue isn’t his injury per se, it’s his style of play mixed with his recovery. He’s not the type of player that will take it easy his first few games back. He’s going to play all-out defense for 94 ft. for the 20-30 minutes he’s on the court. Hopefully he doesn’t rush back too soon –Although the Rockets do desperately need his perimeter defense and attitude to hide James Harden and Jeremy Lin’s lack of defensive impact…or effort– because he is one of the most exciting and intense players to watch on defense.

Aaron:  Meniscus injuries are no joking matter, as has been made evident by injuries to players such as Derrick Rose (R.I.P.) and Russell Westbrook (irony?), each of whom have missed considerable amount of time due to similar knee injuries. Even though Patrick Beverley doesn’t play at the same ‘above the rim’ level as those two players, his injury should still be handled very seriously in regards to a potential return. Beverley is an absolutely fierce competitor – as his play style dictates- and the problem here is that Beverley’s aggressiveness is a very valuable asset for the playoff-bound Houston Rockets. His defensive abilities and all around hustle are skills that they will desperately need for the 2014 playoffs if the Rockets wish to compete; especially with other teams in the West having very explosive offensive point guards such as Westbrook, Tony ParkerChris Paul,Stephen CurryDamian Lillard, and potentially Goran Dragic (more on that topic later). It is looking like Beverley won’t need surgery and will be back for the playoffs, but watching the Rockets and how Beverley subsequently does or doesn’t change his game will become a very interesting playoff sub-plot. What really matters the most is that the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder rematch that we all deserve happens, and it won’t be complete if Beverley isn’t there to guard his pal Russell Westbrook at complete health for 6 or 7 games.

 

The panel is divided on who might win the National Championship, but at least one member is going with the Wildcats. (Photo by Thomas J. Russo/USA Today Sports)

Question 2: Who is your pick for National Champion and why?

Andrew G: Kentucky is starting to have that feel of a Team of Destiny right now, being the first team in the tournament’s history to beat three of last year’s Final Four teams (Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan).  It’s as if the youngsters are finally starting to get it together… and at the best possible time at that.  Maybe I’ve bought into the hype, but I’m thinking they’ll make the championship game over Wisconsin at this point.  However, I still have to go with the Florida Gators as the national champion.  They’re on an impressive winning streak.  They’ve been the most solid team all year long, and they know how to beat Kentucky with multiple wins over them this year already.

Jordan: I hate so much about this Final Four. Florida beat my Jayhawks earlier in the year, and then defeated the ultimate Cinderella in Dayton. I despise everything related to Kentucky, John Calipari, and the Harrison brothers. Wisconsin is just one of those teams that seems like they’re the villains in a Disney movie. UConn is thus my team to root for this weekend. While I believe Florida and Kentucky are the best two teams left, I wholeheartedly believe that Kevin Ollie‘s squad is playing on another level and can make a run at the title. Shabazz Napier is doing his best Kemba Walker impersonation, and may just be the best player left at the moment (best-not most talented.) A solid supporting cast of DeAndre Daniels and Ryan Boatright will help pave the way for a national title for the Huskies, in Ollie’s second year as head coach.

Ishmael: Kentucky. I love this Florida team, Wisconsin I just don’t see it and UConn screams narratives out of every crevice, but something has happened with this Kentucky team. Andrew Harrison has finally started to play like the top point guard he was believed to be averaging 5.25 assists per game in the tournament, his brother Aaron and James Young have finally begun to knock down their shots and to top it off Alex Poythress has to make an appearance this season. Randle has been the glue that’s kept this team together and finally his teammates have caught up to him late in the season.

When they beat Wichita State the way they did, I knew this team was different. They needed a win like that. For a team to match this young squad shot for shot and put them on the brink of elimination was a moment of truth. If this was the middle of the season, they easily lose that game after Cleanthony Early’s barrage of shots. I don’t want to flood this with the narratives Kentucky winning would draw so I’ll simply say, this team is ready.

Aaron:  It’s the Gators, which has been my tournament pick from square one. They have arguably the most talented team, the track record (all four tournament victories by double digits), the desire (seniors who don’t want their careers to end), and most importantly the proper coaching and motivation provided by head coach Billy Donovan. The most intriguing aspect of this pick is that their Final Four matchup comes against one of the only teams to defeat the Gators during the regular season, the Shabazz Napie – whoops I mean the Connecticut Huskies. Then to follow this game, the Gators will be forced to face either the only other team to beat them during the regular season (Wisconsin), or the school where their head coach was an assistant to Rick Pitino for 5 years and is chalk full of talented freshmen (Kentucky). Even though these may not be the prettiest of match-ups and will most definitely be plastered all over ESPN if the Gators win, Florida has learned a lot since their losses at the beginning of the season and will make the proper adjustments if necessary. Florida has been absolutely cruising through this tourney like the Flash on some cocaine induced bender and will continue to do so. My final projection is Florida over Kentucky 77-70 in an absolute shootout that improves the draft stock of Kentucky players yet raises debates about teams full of one-and-done talent versus teams with more experienced players.

 

Question 3:  Who should be more embarrassed, the Philadelphia 76ers for tying the all-time losing streak or the Detroit Pistons for being the team the 76ers beat to break the streak?

Andrew G: It is embarrassing that the Philadelphia 76ers lost that many games in a row, but with the roster they have, it certainly wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that they’d have gone on a long losing streak.  Twenty-six straight games is ridiculous though, but the team has (for some of the losses) competed fairly well but just fell short in the end.  One thing that always seems to get overlooked in the whole tanking debate is that players don’t want to lose.  There’s no real incentive for the actual athletes to tank; they’re making money to win games.

So I have to go with the Detroit Pistons here.  Comparing the two rosters, there is no way Detroit should have lost this game.  And definitely no way they should have fallen behind by as much as 32 to a team where players were making statements similar to “We don’t know how to win anymore” during the losing streak.  The Pistons do have their own tanking to worry about in that their pick could potentially go to the Charlotte Bobcats, but the players on this team have once again given up.  There must be something in the water at The Palace because this roster was rebuilt, but you’re still seeing some of the hallmarks of those Richard Hamilton/Tayshaun Prince-led teams once the downfall began.  It’s disappointing, and the Pistons should be embarrassed not just for this one loss but for their collective effort these last few weeks.

Jordan: The Detroit Pistons should be thoroughly embarrassed for the presence of Josh Smith, but the 76ers should be equally shamed for such a pitiful streak and roster. While I’m not against “tanking” in the sense of giving young players with potential big minutes, Brett Brown’s team is taking this to a whole different level. Looking at the Sixers’ roster, Michael Carter-Williams and Thad Young are the only two players to stand out. Otherwise, I’m looking at a team that features a guy I recognize for having a big game against KU in college a few years ago, but that’s it (Casper Ware), some guy with the name Jarvis, and Brandon Davies, the man you may remember for being kicked out of BYU for having premarital sex. How does this even happen? Did the team bus crash down and the D-League team had to come play? Look, I get it. The 76ers weren’t going anywhere with their core last year, and Nerlens Noel will help out next year, and they’ll likely get one of Wiggins, Parker, or Embiid, and yada yada yada. This team is just so terribly noncompetitive that they are bad for the name of professional basketball, and will be remembered for that even if they win the championship in 3 years.

Ishmael: The 76ers are starting half of the Washington Generals’ bench unit. I’m convinced Brett Brown doesn’t know half of the player’s first names because he won’t need to come off-season…so no Philadelphia shouldn’t feel bad about losing a lot with the Delaware 87ers.

The Pistons should feel disgusted.

Not even about this game because the entire season has been an absolute disaster courtesy of the genius that is Joe Dumars. Hiring Mo Cheeks to coach a pseaudo-win-now team that only makes NBA 2K players happy and make sports statisticians have spontaneous aneurisms. Detroit is a train wreck that somehow found a way to outdo their Ben Gordon/Charlie Villanueva championship duo of a few years back with the Hall of Fame acquisitions of Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith (Who just missed another 20 foot jump shot by the way). Then you shoehorn them together with an already stellar young frontcourt duo of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond all while electing to have Rodney Stuckey of all players still act like he’s the best player on the court.

This team’s a train wreck and should be ashamed that they got waxed by a team that starts (…STARTS) a front court of Hollis Thompson and Henry Sims.

Aaron: The correct answer for me at first was my Detroit Piss-ons, but after further thinking it has to be the god awful excuse for a roster that is the Philadelphia 76ers. Did the Pistons allow a D-League roster plus Michael Carter-Williams and Thaddeus Young to beat them by 25 points? Sure, but it takes a special kind of terrible to even be put in the position to break the all-time losing streak in the first place. This team has been an embarrassment all year long and will continue to be a great example of how tanking just isn’t always worth the detriment to the fans if the 76ers fail to land a top 3 franchise-changing pick in this year’s draft. Besides, Detroit losing is just a casualty of them doing their best to bottom out in their own regard and maintain their top 8 protected pick in this June’s draft. Even though the 76ers did prevent themselves from creating a whole new standard of sucking that only Alexis Texas can rival, they should be embarrassed for their level of play this season and the stench that has been brought to the franchise and their fans as a result. I understand their team is fully committed to tanking and some fans may be alright with this, but they will forever go down as the team that tied the all-time losing streak and that is not okay.

 

The Slash Brothers have been fantastic in leading the Phoenix Suns to an unexpectedly successful season, but our panel isn’t sure they’ll be in the playoffs. (Photo by Bart Young/Getty Images)

Question 4:  Which team will be left out of the Western Conference playoffs: the Dallas Mavericks, the Memphis Grizzlies, or the Phoenix Suns ?

Andrew G: The Phoenix Suns have no tiebreakers over the Memphis Grizzlies or the Dallas Mavericks, so I’m going to have to go with them.  That’s pretty much the entire reason too.  I’m not at all sold on the idea that this group will suddenly realize they don’t belong and fall apart down the home stretch (as some analysts keep pointing out with any “young” team); they may be young, but they have a number of players who have been in the playoffs already.  The Suns also have a potentially brutal schedule with six games against playoff contenders (including Dallas and Memphis as well as one against Portland, who’s clinging to the fifth seed) and five away from home.  By contrast, the Grizzlies play only four playoff-contending teams in the same stretch and have only four away games as well. The Mavericks might be in a bit of a tough spot too with four games left to play against playoff contenders and five on the road, but many of those road games are against the worst of the West.

Jordan: The Suns will miss the playoffs out of this group. It’s a shame, as the tandem of Goran Dragic and a healthy Eric Bledsoe could make some noise come playoff time. They’re schedule is incredibly tough, as they play many top teams as the season goes on. They have a good young core, and are an up-and-comer, but are simply not prepared to make the push that the other teams can. Memphis is a very sound team, lacking much excitement. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are an underrated duo, and will help them get in. Dallas has Dirk Nowitzki, who seems to always be able to lead the Mavs places at the end of the season. In what was previously thought to be a tank job of a season by the Suns, they have stepped up and played well but will fall short of the playoffs.

Ishmael: Phoenix has the hardest road playing the Los Angeles Clippers, Portland, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and then their fellow 8th seed plebeians. But I’m going to say Dallas simply because their next four straight games are on the road and then they go home to only face the San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix and then back on the road in the last game against Memphis. Dirk will be Dirk, but can his teammates continue to step up the way they have been? Can they do it on the road?

Memphis I think has their defensive staple so they will be able to scrap their way in with their “Grit N Grind” style of play. Eric Bledsoe continues to mesh with Phoenix although their travesty of a defense in the recent months has been troubling. Golden State collapsing still isn’t out of the question, but as of right now, Dallas is the team to be left out of the West. Can we move them to the East? Dirk and Monta deserve a shot.

Aaron: As of my response to this question, all three of these teams are tied at a record of 44-30 with each one playing the other two in two out of their final three games. This is going to be a very tight one folks, but unfortunately Phoenix is going to be the team to just barely miss the playoffs. The Suns have in my opinion the toughest remaining schedule including games against the Clippers, Trail Blazers, Thunder, Spurs (who will still be competitive even if Gregg Popovich is resting stars) and as mentioned earlier, the other two teams that they’re fighting for positioning. Even though Eric Bledsoe is back, it won’t be enough and the Suns will ultimately fall short. However, this has been an amazing season for the Suns and is most definitely a sign of the bright future for the entire franchise. They have the assets and cap flexibility to take it a step further in the coming seasons, but for now I look forward to seeing Dirk Nowitzki back in the playoffs and the small chance that the Memphis Grizzlies can make another deep playoff run.

 

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