SPORTS NEWS

WIAA playoffs: Second round ain’t easy

By RICK SOLEM

It’s just the second round, but there doesn’t appear to be any free pass for Logan High School’s football team.

Top-seeded Logan’s opponent in the WIAA Division 3 playoffs at 7 p.m. tonight at Swanson Field looks tough.

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NBA: Eastern Conference preview

By RICK SOLEM

15. Philadelphia 76ers
The problem with the Sixers’ strategy is setting in a losing mentality. With Hollis Thompson and Henry Sims in the starting lineup, this team is a joke. If the NBA can veto a New Orleans-L.A. Lakers trade, then it should step in here. Hopefully losing doesn’t kill Michael Carter Williams or Nerlens Noel’s psyche. K.J. McDaniels could also emerge as an NBA bench player … starting on this team.
 
14. Indiana Pacers
Paul George is out for the season, Lance Stephenson signed with Charlotte for less guaranteed money as an F.U. to Indiana. David West – already injured - most likely gets traded, and Roy Hibbert probably does, too. They have nobody at shooting guard to start the year, or point guard, and C.J. Miles is the starting small forward. It’s ugly. They could compete with Philly for the worst record.
 
13. Boston Celtics
Here’s another team that doesn’t want to win, but the roster as it is, isn’t terrible. Minus Kelly Olynyk at C, everyone here is a solid player. If they’re here. The problem, nobody is great, which is why they’ll lose and want to lose. Rajon Rondo is likely traded, which is sad for Boston (video below) and probably Jeff Green. Avery Bradley and his new $32 million needs to turn the corner.
 
 
12. Orlando Magic
They’re slowly turning themselves into solid team, but kind of like Minnesota in the West, they don’t know if they’re coming or going. They trade Arron Affalo in the offseason, an obvious ‘tank’ move, but then sign Ben Gordon and Channing Frye? OK, Gordon helps them lose, but Frye for four years and $32 million is lot for a 31-year-old 3-point shooting center that doesn’t fit the roster. Elfrid Payton is a great pick at PG and combined with rookie Aaron Gordon these two could shine in a few years. Tobias Harris is slowly becoming a disappointment and in a contract year.  
 
11. New York Knicks
How this team is predicted to hover around .500 this season is baffling. They’re worse than last year. Jason Smith and Samuel Dalembert start in the front court with Amare Stoudemire coming off the bench. Jose Calderon replaces the atrocious Raymond Felton last year. He’s an upgrade, but not by much. Iman Shumpert and J.R. ‘selfish’ Smith (read this garbage) are the SGs. This team is a joke led by the most overrated player in the league, Carmelo Anthony.
 
10. Milwaukee Bucks
This is the most promising team in the NBA, but still years away from winning. Plus, the Bucks may actually have too many good players, if that is even possible for a team that won 15 games last season. But it’s true. What the Bucks need to do is figure out who they want to develop and go with it. If Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to play PG, then do it. That gives Kris Middleton more minutes and maybe he re-signs in the offseason, but it also sends Brandon Knight, another free-agent, out the door. Larry Sanders should be back this season and flourish - when not in foul trouble – but where Ersan Ilyasova and John Henson fit in with Jabari Parker playing PF at just 235 pounds, is another question. Parker can’t defend PFs, but, in turn, they won’t be able to keep up with him. Or that is the hope.
 
 
 
9. Miami Heat 
They signed Josh McRoberts to replace LeBron James and that’s all you need to know. Chris Bosh doesn’t care James is gone, he’s going to carry this team, like he did Toronto five years ago, apparnetly. Problem is, that was five years ago. Bosh is 30, doesn’t rebound, doesn’t have a PG to get him the ball in pick and rolls and doesn’t post up. He’s the softest PF in the league. But he’ll put up some stats, because Dwayne Wade won’t play the entire year, like he says he wants, and newcomer Luol Deng always gets injured. It could be ugly, but this is the East.
 
8. Brooklyn Nets
This may be the most injury-prone team. The starters: Kevin Garnett (38 years old), Joe Johnson (33), Andrei Kirlenko (33), Deron Williams (30, but may as well be 52) and Brook Lopez (26, but is already injured). The frontcourt can withstand some injuries with Mason Plumlee and Mirza Teletovic, while Jarrett Jack (31) backs up D-Will, but that’s where the bench ends. They’ve put a lot of stock into five players that don’t stay healthy.
 
7. Toronto Raptors
Kyle Lowry is coming off his best season, which was , of course, a contract season. He’s paid now, so he’ll likely drop off. Jonas Valanciunas is developing into a great C. Their PFs – Amir Johnson, Patrick Patterson - are junkyard dogs. DeMar DeRozan is solid in the backcourt, but can’t shoot. He’s unselfish, however, and that’s always a good thing. James Johnson could be a sneaky good signing for them. Between Terrence Ross and newly-signed Louis Williams, one has to pan out … maybe?
 
6. Charlotte Hornets 
Getting Lance Stephenson was a godsend. He allows PG Kemba Walker to do what he does best: shoot. Stephenson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist make for a deadly combination on defense. Al Jefferson gave Miami a run for its money in the playoffs, despite being injured, last season. Everything will run through him. They don’t have enough shooters around him, however. Marvin Williams at PF isn’t awful in that regard. Cody Zeller needs to turn the corner this season or he’s another bust drafted by Michel Jordan.
 
 
5. Atlanta Hawks
Al Horford is back, Paul Milsap led this team to the playoffs alone last year. Those two combined, with Kyle Korver bombing away and Demarre Carroll doing all the little things will be deadly. And getting all that going, Jeff Teague, an up-and-coming PG that can drive, shoot and distribute. The starting five are solid, the bench is somewhat thin, however. Pero Antic is some muscle at C and Thabo Sefolosha maybe just needed a change of scenery from OKC.
 
4 Detroit Pistons
New GM/coach Stan Van Gundy may be the best move this offseason next to LeBron James. Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith need a coach that will help them learn shot selection. That’s all that’s needed for those two to be all-stars. OK, Jennings will never be an all-star, let's be real. Andre Drummond is one of the best young centers in the league and Van Gundy could take him and Detroit to the next level. They’re light at small forward – signing Caron Butler wasn’t the answer – and shooting guard, until Jodie Meeks comes back. His injury could be good, in letting sophomore Kentavious Caldwell-Pope develop. It all revolves around Van Gundy, though, and that’s a good thing.
 
3. Washington Wizards
The off-season signings, like Paul Pierce, were smart. This team needs Bradley Beal to come back to make a push to the conference finals, though. Combined with John Wall, they make up the best backcourt in the East. John Wall could be the best PG this season. His offense continues to improve and nobody is better on defense. If sophomore Otto Porter Jr. makes a leap, the conference finals may just be a stepping stone.

2. Cleveland Caveliers
They have no center, no rim protector. Anderson Varejao is a great fit for what Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving will be chucking at the basket (combined 44% FGs last season). And he can shoot well enough from 15 to give LeBron James room in the lane to drive or post up. But, Varejao will be injured. And Tristan Thompson isn't the answer when he goes down. And Brendan Haywood certainly isn't. Shawn Marion is a great fit for this team, but after that, they're thin. Irving, also, hasn't been the most healthy in his career. Nobody likes Dion Waiters, except James, and that's all you need to know. The key is how Irving plays PG - selfish or a distributor.

1. Chicago Bulls
This team won 48 games while trying to tank last year. They lost Rose 10 games in, traded Deng soon after and it backfired to a degree. They got better, thanks to Joakim Noah playing point-center. Rose is back, Pau Gasol was added, along with rookie Doug McDermott, who hasn’t shown anything yet. Jimmy Butler should have a breakout campaign (in a contract year). They can afford to lose Gasol or Noah – who are prone to injury – with Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic backing them up. They’ve proved they can lose Rose and win. Now they have to prove they can win with Rose, who needs the ball in his hands – which takes it out of Noah’s and Gasol’s hands. If they’re smart, that doesn’t happen. Rose can play the slasher without the ball.

 
 
 
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NBA: Western Conference preview

By RICK SOLEM

15. L.A. Lakers
There’s Kobe Bryant and nobody else. Not even Nick Young is ready for the start of the season, and “Swaggy P,” is arguably their second-best player. That’s how bad this roster is. Jordan Hill at center? Carlos Boozer. Everyone seems to be putting L.A. in the playoff hunt, but I don’t know why. Bryant, if healthy, will be fine. But even he can’t carry this roster of misfit toys.

14. Sacramento Kings
Rudy Gay and Demarcus Cousins are riding high after winning a gold medal. But after those two, this roster is horrible. They let Isiah Thomas walk for journeyman Darren Collison. Ramon Sessions backs him up. Sophomore Ben McLemore didn’t pan out last season, so they bail on him for another first-round pick at SG, Nik Staukas? And he didn’t impress in preseason, either. What is Sacramento doing?

13. Utah Jazz
This team is a year away from being solid. Even now, the roster isn’t awful. Derrick Favors will make a leap this season. Gordon Hayward is solid at SF. Enes Kanter, despite given the green light to shoot 3s this year, is formidable at C. PG Trey Burke should improve, as should SG Alec Burks. Rookie Dante Exum already looks like a bust, however.

12. Minnesota Timberwolves
They don’t know if they’re coming or going. They lost a Top-5 player in the NBA but filled out the roster. Instead, they should have dumped the rest of their vets (SG Kevin Martin and C Nikola Pekovic) to get the young players in the lineup. They missed that opportunity with Cleveland. Instead, they traded Miami’s first-round pick for Thaddeus Young, which keeps Anthony Bennett from seeing minutes – though perhaps Young shows him a thing or two. And Pekovic keeps Gorgui Dieng off the court. Dieng, over his final 18 games, averaged 12 points, 11.3 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 1.1 steals and 1.5 assists. Regardless, Ricky Rubio will distribute and Andrew Wiggins should have some sweet dunks – and hopefully not so many 3-point attempts.

11. Phoenix Suns
The surprise team in the NBA last year won’t be this season. They signed Thomas from Sacramento, which is insurance for when Eric Bledsoe – also re-signed – and Goran Dragic go down. The Morris-twins are vastly overrated. Miles Plumlee is OK at center, filling in for 3-point shooting Channing Frye (gone to Orlando). This roster, however, isn’t making the playoffs in the West.

10. Denver Nuggets
Kenneth Faried was impressive this summer, but that wasn’t against NBA players. He still will be solid, but an undersized PF. The C position is decent with Timofey Mozfgov and solidified if JaVale McGee is healthy. They sewed the wound at SG with Arron Afflalo, who will fit in nicely with PG Ty Lawson and, if Danilo Gallinari is back to his old self, this team could make a push for the playoffs.

9. Memphis Grizzlies
It’s the same thing every year, the Marc Gasol-Zach Randolph show. Mike Conley sets everything up for those two bigs, but this year, there’s nothing else. Tony Allen, Courtney Lee and Vince Carter are the backcourt compliments for a team that needs outside shooting. They don’t have it. This is the year, Memphis falls.

8. Portland Trailblazers
Seven years in the league, LaMarcus Aldridge finally had his coming out party in helping his team beat Houston in the first round of the playoffs (thanking teammate Damian Lillard to some extent).

He had 89 points in the first two games of that series and averaged 29.8. He put up points in the five-game series against San Antonio, but shot just 42 percent. I think Portland lost some of its team mojo after Aldridge’s two games to open the playoffs. If Portland plays team ball, they’ll be solid, but if Aldridge is shooting baseline fade-aways from 15 feet out, while everyone watches, they won’t even make the playoffs.

7. Dallas Mavericks
This was the only team to challenge San Antonio in the playoffs last year – going to a seventh game. And it’s been in the postseason every year but once since 2000.

No reason to count them out now. Dirk Nowitzki is still one of the best PFs ever. They added Chandler Parsons, Tyson Chandler and the two-headed monster at PG, Jameer Nelson/Raymond Felton. Losing Vince Carter and Shawn Marion hurts in the experience department, but its hard to see those two maintaining production so late in their careers. It’s hard to see that from most of this roster, too. Al-Farouq Amino may be a great sneaky add to solidify depth at SF and doing the dirty work.

6. New Orleans Pelicans
They’re all healthy. Now if they could only realize the best player in the NBA could be on its roster. C Anthony Davis may be a year or two away from up-ending LeBron James (and Kevin Durant) as the league’s best but he has it in him. The MVP could be his right now, however. Right now, if Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans realize to win, it’s about him, not their shots. Davis averaged the most shots a game last season (15), but the wanna-be-big three each put up 13 a game. If the team plays unselfishly, they’ll be the surprise of the NBA.

5. Oklahoma City Thunder
Without Kevin Durant in the lineup the last two seasons, Oklahoma City is … 1-1 (a win over the lowly Celtics last year and a loss to the Bucks two seasons ago). Durant’s fractured foot will be re-evaluated in late November. Until then, it’s the Russell Westbrook show. OKC was 24-9 last season without Westbrook. Without Durant, Westbrook may shoot 50 times a game. Sound ridiculous? Look at the roster. Serge Ibaka is a nice compliment to the Big 2. After that, holy hell. Reggie Jackson is up and coming, but doesn’t do anything really well. Steven Adams? Andre Roberson? Kendrick Perkins still plays in the NBA, and he’s still on OKC. Sebastian Telfair is on this roster for crying out loud. Even the "big" off-season acquisition of Anthony Morrow is injured. Westbrook is going to shoot 50 times at a 34-percent clip and OKC is going to be sub-.500 when Durant finally does come back.

4. Houston Rockets
This team got better by losing Chandler Parsons, if that’s possible. His replacement, Trevor Ariza, isn’t a better basketball player by any means, but he fits well. He plays better defense and is a deadly spot up shooter – exactly what Houston needs. Not because Dwight Howard commands a double-team with his awful post game, but because James Harden will drive and kick to open 3-point shooters. It’s also rumored Harden may play defense this season, but he could also save that for the playoffs. It’s hard to put this team fourth, but the teams below them (above here) either don’t have the firepower, experience, defense or superstar to make a move.

3. L.A. Clippers
Chris Paul has yet to get this team to the Western Finals. The last two seasons, he hasn’t missed playoff games, but he’s been hobbled. This team makes a deep run if Paul is 100 percent. Blake Griffin could be the MVP this season the way he’s become a distributor as much as a flashy dunker. DeAndre Jordan and Griffin work so well offensively, too. They are still thin. Matt Barnes isn’t a starting SF, but he is on the Clips. Jamal Crawford gets a lot of hype coming in and chucking with the second unit, but he shot 42 percent last year. That’s not good. Paul, Griffin and Jordan are that good, however. The rest of the roster just needs not screw it up.

2. Golden State Warriors
It was probably a mistake to not trade Klay Thompson and David Lee for Kevin Love, but, then again, why mess with what works? Basketball is a team sport and there’s something to be said about keeping a team together. Every player does something great for this team. Thompson and Steph Curry compliment each other so well on offense and defense. Andre Iguodala takes on the load as a ballhandler, defender, distributor when those two do not. David Lee and Andrew Bogut do the same on the inside. Lee, the scorer rebounder, and Bogut doing the dirty work and distributing at center. The problem: health. Lee has missed playoff games the last two seasons. Bogut is always in the trainers’ room. And G.S. was 10-8 without Iggy last year. A healthy G.S. will be one of the best “teams” in the NBA.

1. San Antonio Spurs
Nothing has changed here, except Patty Mills will miss 3-4 months. Coach Gregg Popovich knows how to experiment with lineups and maintain minutes to keep his team of veterans healthy. Everything should fall into place. The older players are still wise and the younger ones get wiser on a team that plays so well together. This, however, may be the year SanAn sacrifices the best record in the NBA (its had it the last two seasons) for rest heading into the playoffs, though it's hard to sacrifice anything in the West.

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