Miami Heat proving that there is life after LeBron

Dwyane Wade has kept things ticking over for Miami in the post-LeBron era, but how long will it last?

Dwyane Wade has kept things ticking over for Miami in the post-LeBron era, but how long will it last?

With Friday’s line-up of games looking about as appealing as any Adam Sandler movie since Happy Gilmore, we’ll take a look at the 2 that might, just might, be passable viewing. And no, Kobe vs his urge to kill his teammates is not one.

Heat @ Hawks:

The Heat count as a surprise team this year mainly because everyone assumed D-Wade was done and that Bosh had forgotten how to play basketball but this team has looked really good so far. They’re 4th in Offensive Rating and though their defence isn’t quite there, with a coach like Spoelstra at the helm they should form a coherent strategy before too long. This team would be a prime candidate for dark horse Eastern Conference finalists with a little luck but it’s always hard to make such calls this early, especially when the Heat are reliant on Wade staying healthy and big contributions from the corpse of Danny Granger, Shawne Williams and Justin Hamilton (your guess is as good as mine). The Heat will just be happy to prove that there is life after LeBron.

The Hawks were fun last year, with Coach Budenholzer bringing the Spurs’ ways on board with some beautiful ball movement. That was without Al Horford, the Hawks’ franchise guy, and making the Playoffs without your best player is always a great sign, East or not. Again, there’s a problem with making calls too early but the Hawks haven’t quite meshed yet. To be 3-3 without playing your best is never a bad thing but there always remains the threat of the Hawks being stuck in that corridor of mediocrity in the NBA. Their defence has been fine but their offense hasn’t quite worked out yet. However, in Teague, Korver, Millsap and Horford they have four really good offensive starters and this team on paper looks like it’ll make the Playoffs with little bother. The main question is whether this team’s ceiling is a first round exit.

As for this match-up, I like the Heat – the Hawks have question marks over two key pieces, DeMarre Carroll and Mike Scott, and the Heat are playing pissed off this year. This is probably the tightest game of the night to call: if the Hawks have those two guys fit, it should be a great game but the Heat’s extra rest could prove key.

Betting Instinct tip – Miami Heat to win the Southeast Division is +185 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Cavs @ Celtics:

The Cavs could pretty much have come out and won every game by 30 and we’d still probably criticise them for not fulfilling expectations, but in the early season they have undoubtedly had problems. They’re .500 but their wins have come over an awful Nuggets side, a Bulls team without Jimmy Butler and finally a picture of what we all expected from them against Anthony Davis and Co. Let’s face it – what we saw against New Orleans is what will surely become the norm for this team but the picture is far from perfect.

Dion Waiters isn’t a great fit with the Cavs’ starters and even with Marion starting, they’re still starting two pretty awful defensive players, two good defenders in Marion and LeBron who aren’t what they were on that end and a big question mark on Varejao and his health. The bench doesn’t hold much hope for them either, Waiters should keep running that unit whether he likes it or not but even with him, the bench unit doesn’t have much going for it.

When Matthew Dellavedova’s injury is a problem, you have a depth issue, but Erik Spoelstra showed with the Heat that a good scheme can cover up many problems defensively and this is a potentially historic team on the offensive end. The Cavs will be in the Eastern Finals unless they get some serious bad luck with injuries but my bet would be on a healthy Bulls team to best them – though betting on Derrick Rose to be healthy is never too safe…

The Celtics are going to be entertaining this year. Rajon Rondo is playing like national TV Rondo right now and that means he’s a great bet to lead the league in triple-doubles and between he, Avery Bradley and Mahcus “Wicked” Smaht (if that makes no sense to you, you are fortunate to have never come into contact with a Boston accent) they have the potential for the best defensive 1-3 (the Celtics have ran the 3 together with Bradley at Small Forward) in the league. Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger are talented big men and Jeff Green will either be LeBron or D-Leaguer depending on the night and Brad Stevens is a legit NBA coach. We all know the Celtics aren’t going to storm the Eastern Conference but grabbing the 8th seed wouldn’t be the strangest thing that’s happened. There will come a point where they have to decide how dedicated they are to tanking and a Rondo trade remains the most likely scenario but there are the makings of a bright future here for Boston.

For all the criticism of the Cavs and the positivity surrounding the Celtics, this game really shouldn’t be in question. We might get Rondo guarding LeBron which is one of the most entertaining defensive match-ups in the league but no matter how good Bradley and Rondo are on D (Smart will miss the game through injury), the Celtics lack of rim protection will cost them against two of the best finishers at the rim in the league. If the Cavs manage to play at 75% of their second half against the Pelicans, this game will go to them.

Betting Instinct tip – With a few question marks over them at present, now could be a good time to snap up the +100 price on the Cavs to win the Eastern Conference with Intertops.eu

 

  DIARMAID HILL (@dhillmu7) is a basketball and football fan who plays both even worse than he writes  about  them. He supports the LA Clippers and Manchester United and yes, he’s heard every joke about both.  Follow  him on Twitter or Google+.

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Even Barack Obama has a go during March Madness as predicting a perfect bracket becomes an American pastime

Is there anyone in the United States who doesn't fill in a March Madness bracker?

Is there anyone in the United States who doesn’t fill in a March Madness bracket?

68 teams.  63 games.  21 days.  Millions of fans.  No second chances.

What happens when something predictably unpredictable becomes so unpredictable that we don’t even know what to expect when expecting the unexpected?  Madness.

The NCAA tournament is one of those rare occasions on which human beings embrace madness.  Every year millions of brackets are filled out in what has become a national pastime in the States, with people entering into online competitions and office pools alike in the hope of predicting the tournament correctly.  Even Barack Obama has a go.  But, clever though he may be, the odds don’t look good: there is about a one in 147.57 quintillion (18 zeroes) chance of picking the perfect bracket.  Why do people subject themselves to such an exercise in futility?  If they needed an incentive beyond the fun, the office pot, or an innate desire to defy the odds (a rare motivation, I’ll admit), Warren Buffett has provided one.  For those unfamiliar with Mr. Buffett, he recently became the world’s second-richest man, and is thus able to promise a $1 billion prize to anyone who can pick the winner of all 63 games.  I wouldn’t bet on it.

This isn’t the NBA Playoffs, no matter how much casual basketball fans love that comparison.  Yes, the stakes are high and the best players are on display, but what separates March from April, May and June is that every game is Game 7.  The atmosphere doesn’t reach fever pitch, it starts there.  Because every team has a chance.  Bracket busting teams of the past, like Butler in 2010 AND 2011, typified the unpredictability of the tournament with their ‘Cinderella stories’.  Except this year, there are so many teams whose feet might fit the proverbial glass slipper that so-called ‘bracketologists’ will have a harder time choosing than Prince Charming.  There seems to be an abundance of ‘giant killers’, but few, if any, giants to kill.  Obviously there are the big-name programs and stalwart coaches who are present year in, year out, but none has set itself apart.

If the NBA’s new Commissioner gets his way, and the league’s age limit is raised from 19 to 20, March Madness 2014 could be the last of its kind.  This year NBA scouts have been giddy with excitement about possibly the most heralded freshman class in recent memory.  The likes of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Joel Embiid, and Andrew Gordon have not disappointed thus far, but they don’t have much more time to prove themselves.  Because of the increasingly popular ‘one and done’ trend, highly-touted prospects have tended to spend just one year in college before declaring for the NBA draft.  These players and their teams get one shot at the title, in contrast to those mid-major programs comprised of upperclassmen that have been together for years.  It will be interesting to see whether this class of freshmen really is as good as advertised; does any of these players has what it takes to shoulder the weight of a long run in March?  Keep in mind that the team ranked No. 1 in the country, Florida, has just that many freshmen on its roster.

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NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Betting Odds

Florida 5.50
Louisville 7.00
Arizona 8.00
Michigan State 9.00
Kansas 10.00

(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

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At the time of writing it’s still championship week, so, if you haven’t already grasped how fickle the nature of this tournament is, here is my disclaimer: while I’ve begun by mentioning the two teams I’m most interested to watch, the unpredictability of March Madness could mean their hopes are up in smoke within a day or two of this preview going live.

Oklahoma State have flirted with being both overrated and underrated since the season began, but the consistent fact of the matter is they will go as far as Marcus Smart takes them.  When he is dialled in, this team can be very difficult to beat, as Kansas found in the second half of their game earlier in the month.  Admittedly I have a fetish for 6’4, 220lb guards (see Wade, Dwyane), but Smart has shown he can pretty much do it all.  Against Texas Tech in the First Round of the Big 12, Smart stuffed the stat sheet and, more importantly, showed the character that has been questioned since the last time the teams met.  If Smart stays focused and gets some help from his teammates, OK State may still justify some of the hype.

After watching UCLA edge out the much-fancied No. 4 Arizona, I don’t see why the Bruins couldn’t make some noise at the Big Dance (especially now that Ben Howland is gone).  They have some intriguing pieces in Jordan Adams and Zach LaVine, but the star of the show in LA this year has been Kyle Anderson.  The 6’8 point-forward was given the keys to the team by new coach, Steve Alford, and has responded with per-game averages not far off a triple-double.  He hasn’t gotten the hype his play has deserved, but a few wins in the coming weeks would change that.  Watch this space.

The fun of the tournament is finding your own teams to follow, so grab a bracket or six and share in the madness.

Betting Instinct Tip – UCLA face Tulsa in their opener, and UCLA -9 is -115 with AllYouBet.ag 

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Intertops Sportsbook $25,000 March Madness Bracket ContestIntertops Sportsbook will pay out $25,000 for a perfect bracket — 63 correct picks. If no player manages to select a perfect bracket, the prize money will be divided equally amongst the 25 players with the highest number of correct picks. Entry deadline is March 20th, 2014.

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Cathal avatarCATHAL LOUGHRAN (cathalloughran) is a student and writer from Ireland, based in London.  He writes about college basketball and the NBA for Betting Instinct