Winning On The Road: A Christmas Gift That Can Make Or Break The Knicks!

The (8-7) Knicks return home to Madison Square Garden tonight where so far in this early season, seem to play their best ball. On the other hand, the Los Angeles Clippers (5-10) come reeling in losing 8 in a row. If there’s a game the Knicks need to win, its tonight and here’s why.

As you may have been noticing, the Knicks have been playing an abundance amount of home games to start the season. Out of the Knicks first 15 games, they have played already 10 at home where they have gone 7-3. Starting tonight, 11 out of the next 18 games will also be at MSG. When the December 25th home game against the Philadelphia 76ers concludes, they will have played a stretch of 21 home games in their first 33 games………….And this Knick fans might hurt them if they can not take the same intensity they show at home, on the road.

In this early season their struggles, besides one win in Cleveland, have come when they have to play away from the Garden. They have looked like a completely different team posting a 1-4 record. Yes it might still only be a small sample size, but in these games they have lost, they have shown to lack that tenacity to win. Some players have come out saying that the home crowd gives them an extra boost of energy to keep pushing. Well I say, the Knicks need to find it in themselves to get that will power to win on the road or an upcoming stretch will be a “Recipe for Disaster!”

After the Christmas Day game, the NBA and the Grammy’s have gifted the Knicks a stretch run that includes 16 road games in a 20 game span. The Grammy Awards, who are returning to New York for their 60th anniversary show, will take place at Madison Square Garden on January 28. With that being said, the Grammy committee will need the venue for two weeks prior to the event, which is why there has been an unbalance in the Knicks schedule with all the home games.

Now the Knicks will have 7 road games in which hopefully are enough games for them to get it together. Another thing, they have not been away from Madison Square Garden for more than one game so far this season. In fact this upcoming weekend will be the first time they play two road games in a row, when they go up against the Atlanta Hawks and the Houston Rockets, in back to back games Friday and Saturday.

But before all that, there is a home game tonight and a home game Wednesday night!

The players love being at home. The fans are enjoying this gritty Knicks team. There is a buzz around New York City. Which makes picking up a win in tonight’s game and any upcoming home games important. And hopefully by the time Christmas Day comes, the Knicks will have notched a few more wins on the road. Because to go into this stretch not having confidence to win on the road, and then to make matters worst having to play 16 of 20 away, this can make or break their season.

The New York Knicks are definitely on the come up. Will they make the playoffs this season? Who knows. At home they look great. On the road, not so much. By the end of January, I believe we and the rest of the NBA will definitely know where this Knicks team, led by Kristaps Porzingis, ranks among the Eastern Conference.

When this time rolls around, with more than 50% of their games being completed, will the Knicks be in the top 8 defending a playoff spot? Or will they be on the outside looking in? One thing’s for sure, the Knicks must learn how to win on the road to stay relevant.

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3 Centers and Joakim Noah .. What should the Knicks Do?

The Knicks have a problem on their hands, but it’s a problem Jeff Hornacek doesn’t seem to mind having. Joakim Noah, who just finished serving a 20 game suspension, is now on the bench along side his teammates…..but in his street clothes. With an abundance of centers on the Knicks roster and how well they have been playing, Hornacek basically said there is no room to play him right now. Hornacek and the organization couldn’t be any more right with this decision.

So now what about that atrocious Joakim Noah contract? A player in street clothes making about $18 million a year with 3 years left is just going to sit and not suit up? Well, maybe the Knicks organization is considering looking at the stretch provision. You might ask what is that? In the NBA, the stretch provision allows the organization to waive a player and stretch his remaining salary and cap hit over a number of years equal to the years remaining on his contract plus one. So by doing this with Noah, he would receive about $7.5 million per season for the next 5 years. This also gives the Knicks about $11 million in extra cap space for next year and $12 million for the year after that.

Right now with Noah’s contract, the Knicks have no cap space. Waiving him outright or finding a compatible trade suitor will not help the Knicks because that money would still be on the books. But by this “stretch” provision that the NBA provides, this in my opinion is best long term for the Knicks. It also gives them the opportunity to pursue a big free agent next summer when Lebron James and Paul George look to headline the free agent class.

Again only my opinion but this is what I feel the Knicks should do. The Knicks also have time in which to come up with a plan since they won’t have to make a decision til September 1, 2018 based on the stretch rule. Right now Noah will be looked to serve as a mentor to the Knicks young centers during practice until they ask him to dress. On a positive, the team did vote him this year the defensive captain so you can tell he is well liked by his teammates.

Also with Noah gone, the Knicks have themselves above .500 with Kristaps Porzingis at the helm of this new look team. It’s so rough with the abundance of centers, and the team playing so well, that Hornacek doesn’t look to get the fan favorite 2nd year center Willy Hernangomez into the in-game rotation. At this time Enes Kanter (acquired in the Carmelo Anthony trade) and Kyle O’Quinn (Brooklyn Native) have provided everything the Knicks need from the center position.

How should we feel with Game 1 of 82 in the books for the Celtics?

Opening Night for the NBA ended up being a roller coaster of a night during the Celtics loss to the Cavaliers, 102-99.

The big story leading up to last nights game was Kyrie Irving leading the new and improved Boston Celtics into his former home arena, just weeks after being traded.

The storyline for the game changed just about 5 minutes into the game when Gordon Hayward went down with a gruesome fractured ankle. An injury that caused players, coaches, fans, and all of social media to instantly be in a frenzy at the sight of Gordon Hayward’s foot once he went down. I don’t want to go too in-depth on the specifics of it because of just how gruesome it was to watch, but for those who haven’t seen it, I recommend caution as it is not a sight for some eyes.

All right now lets get talking about the rest of the game…

After being down for most of the first have of the game, the Celtics were able to go on a strong run, overcoming an 18 point deficit to regain the lead with 2:04 left in the 3rd Quarter. However, the Cavs were able to take the lead back behind a strong 13 point 4th Quarter performance by LeBron James.

Kyrie came in to “The Q” for the first time as a member of the Boston Celtics. Kyrie, in 39 minutes of play,  went 8-17 (4-9 from 3) scoring 22 points, 10 assists, and 4 rebounds.

Overall, a good debut for Kyrie. He was able to get a lot of scoring opportunities, show off his range shooting just south of 50% from 3, and we were able to watch him get the ball to his new teammates as he put up 10 assists. Although he wasn’t able to complete the comeback, missing a last second shot to tie the game, an overall strong game for Kyrie.

Jayson Tatum looked great in his NBA Debut. He ended the game with 14 points on 5 of 11 shooting, with 10 rebounds and 3 assists. He is the first Celtics rookie to reach a double-double in his NBA Debut since Larry Bird did it in 1979.

Losing Hayward will definitely affect the Celtics’ season. He was a big piece added to this roster in the offseason who was going to be at least the number 2 scoring option for this Celtics team, and the loss of Hayward could definitely hurt their chances. But rest assured, this Celtics team is not finished. Kyrie Irving showed glimpses of his ability to be a leader for this Boston team. Al Horford has been able to step up in the past and will continue to be a leader for this team. Jaylon Brown showed his offensive potential last night putting up 25 points, and Jayson Tatum showed his superstar potential early last night and from the looks of it, I think Tatum has a very bright future in the NBA. So yes, loosing Gordon Hayward for most, if not the entire, season could hurt the Celtics, BUT the Celtics have a strong team built with a powerhouse roster mixed with superstars, veterans, and young guys with high ceilings, this Celtics team will work out the kinks, become more united, and have a dominating season.

Next Game: Tonight vs Bucks, first home game of the season.

Twitter- @Jdoughy1722

Washington Wizards Season Preview

Last season, the Washington Wizards really put the NBA world on notice of what they are capable of and are going to build off it. After a tough second round lost to the Boston Celtics in game 7, the Wizards look to improve on what plagued them that series and improve overall.

The Wizards made a few additions to the roster this off-season to improve their bench. Washington has struggled in recent years trying to find a point guard to backup John Wall, but they may have found an answer in Tim Frazier. Frazier is a savvy offensive point, but also can run an offense efficiently off the bench. Sharp shooter Jodie Meeks decided to join Washington as well. He has suffered from a few injures over the last few seasons, but looked in great shape during the preseason. His shooting ability, to go along with Wall’s passing, may just produce the best season he has had in the NBA thus far, hoping he stays healthy. The addition of Mike Scott means so much more now as the team still waits for Markieff Morris to return from injury. He’s a decent stretch 4 option and can provide the same production similar to Keef, but off the bench. He’s a grinder.

This past off-season had a lot of shifting going on in the league. A few more super teams to go along with the few that already were in place and players landing on new teams. With all that being said, the Wizards STILL boast one of the best starting 5’s in the NBA. Many still elevate a few teams above the Wizards, but I’m here to say continuity matters. The Wizards core guys have played together for a while now and might have best chemistry of a team in the league outside of Golden State. That statement isn’t putting Wizards on that level, but the Wizards are similar to the fact that their core was built through the draft just like Golden State and they all grew together.

My only worry for Wizards is production from the bigs. As tough as Marcin Gortat is, he leaves A LOT of plays on the court and sometimes tends to get a little lazy defensively. Ian Mahinmi has toned down a lot this summer and looks to be healthy and ready to be productive off the bench. Jason Smith needs to get more love after his season last year. He was one of the best shooting bigs during the regular season last year and always was productive when his number was called upon. He may actually start in the front court with Gortat on opening night.

With all that being said, the Wizards are ready. With Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter as the core guys, and Porter and Beal finally honing their games, the sky is the limit. Wall is coming off his best season as a pro and this past off-season was dedicated to him fully training and getting better. Last off-season he was recovering from two knee surgeries and focused on rehab. This is the 50-win season the team and fans have been waiting for. Wizards go 50-32 and make the trip to the ECF. When it all boils down, it’ll be hard to to stop Wall, Beal, and Porter together. That trio is here and ready to turn heads as their own big 3.

Milwaukee Bucks Season Preview

The Milwaukee Bucks are a young team looking to build on 2016-17’s somewhat successful season in which they posted a 42-40 record. This was a 9 game improvement from the year, which was good enough  for the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference and a golden ticket to the playoffs. However, they were ousted in the first round by the formidable Toronto Raptors in 6 games.

Due to salary cap constraints and a nearly full roster new, GM Jon Horst decided to largely go with the status quo on the court heading into the new season.

NEW ADDITIONS

Gerald Green (FA from Boston)

Gerald Green signed a 1 year deal worth $2.3 million. The Bucks will be looking at Green to come off the bench and supply some perimeter shooting as he was an effective 3 point shooter clocking in at 35% from beyond the 3 point line last season for the Celtics.

DJ Wilson (1st round pick, 17th overall out of Michigan)

Not a lot is expected out of the 6’10” former Wolverine in his first season with the Bucks as all five starting spots are incumbents from last year. Instead, Milwaukee will be looking to D.J. Wilson for his versatility off the bench and his ability to play multiple positions, while he adds some much needed depth. The 21 year old power forward may be lacking the college resume of a top 5 pick, but he flashed enough elite scoring potential in college to be worthy of his first round status.

Sterling Brown (2nd round, 46th overall out of SMU)

Could the Bucks have struck gold in the second round two years in a row? Former Mustang Sterling Brown, could very well be that diamond in the rough who may even eventually be the steal of the draft. Brown displayed all the traits in college that look to translate well in the professional game. In college the 6’5″ shooting guard was an excellent defender as well as being a capable scorer. Brown is the type of player that can do a little bit of everything for you. What team doesn’t need that?

KEY LOSSES

Michael Beasley
Spencer Hawes

PROJECTED DEPTH CHART

Starting Lineup

C  – Thon Maker
PF- Giannis Antetokounmpo
SF- Khris Middleton
SG- Tony Snell
PG- Malcolm Brogdon

Top 5 off the Bench

C – Greg Monroe
PF- D.J. Wilson
SF- Mirza Teletovic
SG- Gerald Green/Sterling Brown
PG- Matthew Dellavedova

* PF Jabari Parker suffered an ACL tear and is expected back in February

STRENGTHS

With a young nucleus, the Bucks are a team trending in the right direction. Having two NBA award winners, Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon and Most Improved player Giannis Antetokounmpo, will help lead a squad with all five starters returning from last season. Brogdon, the surprise rookie of the year, was the first ever winner of the award post lottery draft to be selected in the second round. Giannis Antetokounmpo, or better know as the “Greek Freak”, really came into his own last year. He incredibly led the team in points (22.9), rebounds (8.8), assists (5.4), steals (1.6), and blocks (1.9). There has even been whispers of MVP talks for this upcoming season. Overall, the Bucks are a team based on speed and athleticism, with tremendous upside.

WEAKNESSES

The biggest pitfalls facing Milwaukee this season is experience, or lack thereof. With an average starting age of under 24, the Bucks haven’t been through all the wars that veterans know all too well about. The team doesn’t have that leader with rings on his finger to show these young “bucks” what it takes to win, especially in the post season. Another issue facing the team is health. One of Milwaukee’s best player Jabari Parker had his second ACL surgery on the same knee in 3 years, the team is hoping he can bounce back similarly to how he did after the first surgery, he’s expected to return near the All-Star break.

PREDICTION

45-37

Look for the Bucks to improve on last year and possibly challenge for a top 4 seed and home court in the first round. They could even surpass the Raptors for 3rd best team in a weak Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, they are still a ways away from challenging the Cavs. That is as long as LeBron is still in town.

*Thanks to Ryan Lafountaine for his help with research on this article

4 SZNS: Eastern Conference Win Totals

Give the 4 SZNS Pod a follow on SoundCloud to stay up to date on all of the 4 SZNS episodes!

In this episode:

“The 4 SZNS Podcast’s Ryan Magdziarz & Zak Noble let the world know their Eastern Conference win totals for the upcoming season.

2:20-Bulls (15)

6:00- Hawks (14)

9:00- Nets (13)

13:20- Pacers (12)

17:30- Orlando (11)

21:34- Knicks (10)

24:33- Zak’s Pistons & Ryan’s Hornets (9)

30:05- PLAYOFFS: Zak’s Sixers & Ryan’s Pistons (8)

34:50- Zak’s Hornets & Ryan’s Heat (7)

39:26- Ryan’s Sixers

44:44- Bucks (5)

51:42- Wizards (4)

55:40- Fred VanVleet’s Raptors (3)

1:00:01- Celtics (2)

1:06:45- Cavs (1)”

 

Orlando Magic Season Preview

Image result for aaron gordon dunking in game

Coming off of a 29-53 campaign, the Orlando Magic look to rebound and compete in an extremely weak Eastern Conference. In addition to several new players, Orlando added Raptors executive Jeff Weltman to run the basketball operations department and poached John Hammond from the Bucks to become their new GM. This team is still several years from any sort of championship contention, but don’t count anyone out in a weak Eastern Conference.

Key Additions/Losses

During the offseason, the Magic gained a lot more than they lost. Although C.J. Watson, Jeff Green and Jodie Meeks provided decent numbers off the bench, they by no means made or broke the team. The additions significantly outweigh the losses for Orlando. The Magic completely reloaded their bench, signing Arron Afflalo and Marreese Speights, who will provide a veteran presence in the locker room and play a pivotal role in the success of the bench. In addition to Afflalo and Speights, the Magic picked up backup PG Shelvin Mack from the Jazz and SG Jonathon Simmons from the Spurs. In Mack, the Magic get a young point guard with potential upside. If Mack can perform with increased minutes, he may see more time than veteran backup PG D.J. Augustin. Jonathon Simmons was a solid role player for San Antonio, averaging just over 6 points a game for the Spurs. His defense is up there with the elite in the NBA, and with added minutes, the Magic may have gotten a steal in Simmons.

Perhaps the biggest acquisitions the Magic made were through the draft, taking forward Jonathan Isaac from Florida State and SG Wesley Iwundu from Kansas State. Iwundu will see time at both SG and SF this year, but expect the Magic to give him time to develop. His stellar perimeter defense paired with incredible athleticism give him a high upside, but his shooting must improve in order for him to be a threat. At 6 foot 7 with a 7 foot wingspan, it’s easy to see there is potential in this kid. At Kansas State, Iwundu did not shoot the ball from deep very often, attempting just over 2 shots from deep a game, but when he did he shot at about 36%. If Iwundu can develop a legitimate jump shot, he has the potential to be a solid NBA player, especially if he can play the shooting guard position at his size.

It’s hard not to get excited about Jonathan Isaac out of Florida State. On the defensive side alone, Issac can literally do anything and everything. He can hassle a guard and has the foot speed to keep up with them, while at the same time has the size to lock up either forward position. If Issac can fill out his now 205 pound frame, he will have the ability to guard all five positions, and the upside with that is incredible. On the offensive end, Issac has the ability to score, but does still need some work. He shot 31% from deep in his only season at Florida State, but his dribbling skills and ability to finish will help him immensly as he figures out his shot. All in all, Jonathan Issac has the tools to be an NBA All-Star. Now it’s time to find out how exactly he gets there.

Depth Chart

The starting lineup for the Magic will most likely feature Elfrid Payton at PG, Evan Fournier at SG, Terrence Ross at SF, Aaron Gordon at PF and Nikola Vucevic at C. This is a lineup that has potential, but in order for the Magic to make a push for the playoffs all these parts have to click. At point guard, Elfrid Payton is a superior passer with the ability to get a triple-double every night given his rebounding abilities. Shooting has never been his strong suit, but Payton does have the ability to get in the lane and finish. On the wings, SG Evan Fournier looks to stretch the defense with his ability to hit from deep, averaging over 17 points a game last year. After acquiring him in a trade to Toronto for Serge Ibaka, SF Terrence Ross was a bright spot for the Magic, scoring a career high 13 points a game while in his new role as a starter. Ross has the ability to bang down a three, while at the same time being able to drive past you and throw down a highlight-reel dunk.

Perhaps the biggest question lies in PF Aaron Gordon, now entering his 4th NBA season. If Gordon wants to establish himself as more than a dunker, he has to establish the threat of hitting a midrange jumper and even be able to knock down a three. For a comparison, look at Blake Griffin, who developed a jump shot after being known primarily as a dunker. Gordon has had the patience from the Magic front office so far in his career, but look for him to take that next step towards being a leader in the locker room. At center lies perhaps the best player on the Magic in 7 footer Nikola Vucevic. Scoring hasn’t been a problem for Vucevic, as he can pour in a 20 point performance and add 15 rebounds on any given night. The problem lies in his ability to defend elite level defenders. His slow foot speed is often his kryptonite, leading to his name being just outside the big name centers. Vucevic will be essential to the success of the Magic.

On the bench, aforementioned guys like Arron Afflalo, Marreese Speights, Shelvin Mack, Jonathon Simmons, Wesley Iwundu and Jonathan Isaac pair with players that have been there before like D.J. Augustin, Bismack Biyombo and Mario Hezonja to create a bench that mixes both veteran and youth presences. The Magic’s bench depth and scoring abilities off the bench have improved immensely, giving them an extra edge.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The strengths and weaknesses for the Magic are pretty simple. Last season, the Magic scored the 4th least points per game while also ranking dead last in the Eastern Conference in three point percentage. The weakness of the Magic offense can be improved with new faces, especially guys like Simmons and Afflalo off the bench. The development of Mario Hezonja, so far a disappointment, could play a key role in bench scoring. The Magic defense wasn’t great last year, but Head Coach Frank Vogel expects big improvements on that side of the ball. Adding size and strength on defense in guys like Jonathan Issac, Wesley Iwundu and Jonathon Simmons should see vast improvements on the defensive end. Nikola Vucevic, however, does leave some room for exposure at the back end. Expect Orlando to be in a lot of low scoring games.

Projected Record

Going through and picking 82 games for the Magic was difficult, but I see them finishing with around a 35-47 record. This is a 6 game improvement for Orlando, and I do think this team has gotten better. 35 wins should put them right at the edge of contending for the 8 seed in the Eastern Conference, as crazy as that sounds. This season isn’t about making the playoffs as much for Orlando as it is developing their young pieces and using veteran leadership to help out along the way. Finding an identity on offense will be difficult, but if the Magic can do it, don’t count them out of a run at the postseason. However, this lack of offensive production could be problematic for Orlando.

(Photo credit: Denver Post)