1. Will Portland make the Playoffs? If so, what is different from last year?
Brandon: The Portland Trail Blazers will make the Playoffs. They’re a team who had a very solid starting five last year but couldn’t make a run to relevency as their bench was atrocious. Now with Thomas Robinson, Robin Lopez, Mo Williams and Dorell Wright, the Blazers have some legitimate depth. With stars like Lamarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, this Portland team has a squad capable of making a very serious run at the playoffs in the tough Western Conference. Plus, their 6-2 start speaks to the team they can be.
James: Yes, and let me throw out a couple of stats first: Portland has gone from 24th in total rebounding last year to 12th so far this season, as well as jumping from 15th to 3rd in offensive efficiency, and also shooting 42% from downtown while holding opponents to 28% from the same range. These are all improvements in areas that hurt this team last year, and I believe that, combined with the addition of a real bench, makes this team a real contender for a playoff spot even in a tough division.
2) Will John Henson keep the starting job once Ilyasova returns?
Brandon: John Henson has played admirably so far, averaging 11.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG and 1.7 BPG in place of Ersan Ilyasova, who’s out with an ankle injury. Ersan remains day-to-day, and when he returns, he likely won’t be immediately thrust into the starting 5. But the player who inked a 5 year, $40 million deal isn’t likely to come off the bench. Expect Henson, who I see as someone with great potential, to move to a sixth man role.
James: Not if he doesn’t start rebounding better. John Henson has never been a scorer; his biggest contribution has always been the defensive and rebounding aspects of his game, but he is only averaging five a game so far. I actually counted 7 guards currently averaging more rebounds than the 6’10’’ John Henson. That being said, he does have the second highest field goal percentage in the NBA and is averaging over one block per game. Henson will have to rebound better to become an upgrade over a more offensively skilled player such as Ilyasova.
3) Who do you think is more likely to join the Lottery Mafia family next April: the Memphis Grizzlies or the New York Knicks?
Brandon: The New York Knicks are not headed to the Playoffs this year. Even with the Eastern Conference being weaker than the West, these Knicks are one of the most overrated teams in the NBA. Don’t get me wrong, Carmelo Anthony can score the basketball, but this team has too many holes. Because of an injured center who can’t play offense, a starting center who can’t play defense, and Chris Smith, a glorified adult-league recreational player, there isn’t any way, barring a Carmelo Anthony takeover, that the Knicks make the Playoffs.
James: I think this one is easy – the New York Knicks. They aren’t even playing well this year with the players they have, and many aren’t guaranteed to stay. Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Andrea Bargnani all have early termination clauses for next year. In addition, they only have J.R. Smith, Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, and Tim Hardaway under contract beyond 2014-15. If this team can’t turn things around by the end of this season, Melo is likely gone, and with him, the team’s attempts at relevance, which would likely lead the front office to rebuilding mode, and thus a berth into our Lottery Mafia family.
4) The Kings were supposed to be pushing for the playoffs this year. What do they need to improve to start winning games?
Brandon: The Sacramento Kings could be good, if not for the fact that they can’t score the basketball. Aside from Demarcus Cousins, who’s had a great start to this campaign, the team’s offense has been abysmal. They are 24th overall in the league in PPG at 94.4, and the team’s 10th-ranked defense in points allowed can’t quite do enough to make up for the anemic offense. Better basketball from Marcus Thornton, first-round pick Ben McLemore and Patrick Patterson, combined with the same kind of output from the up and down Cousins could help the Kings out in a big way. Don’t look for a playoff push quite yet as the team doesn’t quite have enough to survive in the West.
James: They thought they were pushing for the playoffs, but many doubted them for a good reason. Talent on the same team is not a talented team. This team lacks cohesion and complimentary players so much that it can be painful to watch. Nobody, outside of Demarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas, is producing anything meaningful. This team needs to move a lot of parts and needs to commit to rebuilding. The team is staying, so make it matter Sacramento.
By Brandon Garland and James McNeill