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The NBA preseason is finally underway and that can only mean one thing, a brand new regular season is right around the corner, officially beginning on October 25th. The lowly Minnesota Timberwolves picked up a victory over Luka Dončić’s Dallas Mavericks in the first friendly game of the campaign.

The talented Slovenian managed to rack up 25 points in his 17 minutes on the court, but the defeat has proven that he will need support from Kyrie Irving if he is to bring the first Larry O’Brien Championship trophy to Colorado in 13 years.

Who are the current NBA Champions?

There were two teams that stole the show in the 2022/23 NBA playoffs. The first of those was the eventual champion Denver Nuggets. Their giant Serbian centre Nikola Jokić was famously drafted 41st overall during a Taco Bell commercial back in 2014.

Over the last three years, though, he has proven that he will go down as one of the greatest players to ever step foot on the caught, despite the comical scenes surrounding his drafting. 

The 28-year-old won the MVP award in both 2021 and 2022 and many thought he was robbed of becoming just the fourth player in history and first since 1986 to claim the honour in three consecutive seasons.

The award was instead given to Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid, however, that was of no concern to the Joker once the postseason got underway. He posted incredible numbers throughout the NBA Finals series, being named MVP and handing the Nuggets their first championship in franchise history. They are the favourites to retain their crown in the upcoming campaign.

Underdog Rises 

But it was the team that Jokic and Co. beat in the finals that truly got everyone’s attention. The Miami Heat are one of the biggest franchises in the NBA, however, last term they could only manage a modest seventh-place finish in the Eastern Conference with a record of 43 wins and 38 losses. They had to play two play-in games to even reach the postseason, losing the first but eventually beating the Chicago Bulls to secure their spot. 

In their opening game of the playoffs, they weren’t given a chance against Giannis Antetokounmpo and his top-seed Milwaukee Bucks. However, what transpired was perhaps the greatest shock in NBA history. Inspired by the brilliance of big-game player Jimmy Butler, the Heat managed to stun their more illustrious opponents in seven games, and they didn’t stop there. 

They would defeat Jalen Brunson and his New York Knicks to set up a meeting with the Boston Celtics in the Conference Finals. The TD Garden side were once again heavily favoured for victory however, it was the underdogs who raced into a 3-0 series lead. The trailing side would rally to tie things up and set up a seventh-game decider on home turf, but it was Jimmy Buckets who would come to the fore once more. 

He top-scored with 28 points to set up a date with the Nuggets in the Finals series. Unfortunately for them, that proved one step too far, succumbing to a 4-1 defeat. But their performances raised the team’s profile, and they will be hoping to impress once more when their campaign gets underway against the Detroit Pistons on the opening day of the season.

The Contenders

Both the Heat and the Nuggets are amongst the favourites for glory this season. Another team you can never write off are the Los Angeles Lakers. Certified GOAT LeBron James became the all-time top points scorer in NBA history last season, and he confirmed throughout the close season that he wouldn’t be retiring just yet. At the age of 38 he led his side to the Western Conference finals last term, can he roll back the years and provide one last hurrah for the Lakers faithful? 

Also in California, the Golden State Warriors aren’t quite the dominant force they once were. Between 2015 and 2022, Steph Curry and Co. won four championships in seven years and established themselves as the number one force to be reckoned with in the league. Last term, however, they were dumped out in the conference semifinals by the aforementioned Lakers. They can never be written off however, is their time at the top coming to an end? 

Finally, over on the East Coast, both the Celtics and the Bucks will be aiming to put their embarrassing postseason defeats behind them this term. They are spearheaded by superstars in the form of Jayson Tatum and Giannis, respectively, and they are expected to impress once more.

A lifelong Liverpool supporter with a passion for storytelling and an unhealthy obsession with Anime, NFTs, and Web3. When not cheering on the Reds or diving into the latest crypto trends, I'm busy crafting engaging content that'll keep you up-to-date on all things sports.

NBA

NBA Finals Drama: Porzinģis’ Injury Shakes Up Celtics’ Strategy and Dončić Worries

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NBA Finals

On Tuesday, the Boston Celtics announced a new injury to former All-Star center Kristaps Porziņģis: a torn medial retinaculum allowing dislocation of the posterior tibialis tendon in his left leg. The team described the condition as a “rare injury” and stated that his availability for the remainder of the NBA Finals would be determined day-to-day. A few hours later, Porziņģis was officially listed as questionable for Game 3, with Boston leading the Dallas Mavericks 2-0 in the series.

How Does He Feel?

“I’m optimistic,” Porziņģis told reporters in Dallas on Tuesday. “As I said, I will do everything I can to be out there tomorrow. Nothing’s going to stop me unless I’m told I’m not allowed to play. That’s the only reason I would not be out there, but tomorrow we’ll see.”

The Celtics said the injury occurred in the third quarter in Game 2 during a box-out collision with Mavericks center Dereck Lively II. After the collision, Porziņģis appeared to move more gingerly on his left leg, particularly on the next several possessions as he attempted to close out on shooters. He stayed in the game for another 2:45 before subbing out and retreating to the locker room, then returned to play an additional 3:26 in the fourth quarter.

“He’s doing everything and anything he can to be ready for the game tomorrow,” said Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla. “It’s a serious injury. At the end of the day, our team and the medical team are not going to put him in any bad situations. We’ve taken the decision to play out of his hands because of the importance of him. He’s going to do everything he can to play, and we’re going to leave it up to our medical team.”

How likely is Porziņģis to play in Game 3?

“I have no idea,” said Mazzulla.

Before Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Porziņģis missed 36 days, including both the Eastern Conference semifinals and finals, due to a soleus strain in his right calf. The team stated that his latest injury is “unrelated.”

The Celtics are +25 in Porziņģis’ 44 minutes over two games of the NBA Finals. They are even with Dallas in the 52 minutes he has been on the bench. During the regular season, Boston outscored opponents by 11.2 points per 100 possessions in Porziņģis’ minutes; that number increased to 11.8 with him off the floor.

If Porziņģis is absent, 38-year-old Al Horford, who started at center in Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Finals, would see increased minutes. Additionally, Luke Kornet might get his first playing time off the bench in the series.

Dončić Injury

Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Dončić is expected to receive a painkilling injection before Game 3 of the NBA Finals to manage a thoracic contusion, according to multiple reports. He received the same treatment before Sunday’s Game 2 loss in Boston.

Dončić sustained the chest injury during Game 1. The Mavericks listed him as questionable for Game 2 due to the contusion, but he ultimately played through the injury, finishing with 32 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists in the Mavericks’ 105-98 loss to the Celtics. Now, with the series shifting to Dallas for Game 3 on Wednesday, the Mavericks find themselves down 2-0.

Despite playing in Game 2, Dončić was visibly laboring, especially in the fourth quarter, where he appeared fatigued. When asked about the injury on Tuesday, Dončić said he “feels good,” indicating he isn’t overly concerned about the chest pain limiting his performance.

This injury is just the latest in a series of ailments Dončić has been dealing with throughout the Mavericks’ postseason run. He has been managing a knee injury since the first round and also picked up an ankle injury, but has not missed any time. The Mavericks can’t afford for him to sit out either.

Given that Dončić received the same injection before Game 2, getting one ahead of Game 3 is unlikely to impact his production significantly. However, he will need his teammates to step up so he doesn’t have to shoulder the entire offensive load. This is a role Irving should naturally fill, but he has struggled against the Celtics’ multiple lengthy and strong defenders. Dončić may have another 30-plus-point game, but if Irving can’t get going and the role players don’t start making shots, the Mavericks could be facing a sweep if they aren’t careful.

Read more: The Zach Edey Effect: How He Could Impact NBA Teams Next Season

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Patrick Beverley Says EuroLeague Coaches Are Better Than Their NBA Rivals

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Patrick Beverley EuroLeague

Nikola Jokić and Luka Dončić are arguably the best players in the NBA. What they both have in common is that they grew up playing basketball in Europe and played professionally abroad before coming to the NBA.

Jokić and Dončić are hardly the only Europeans giving American players fits in the NBA. Other top players include Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kristaps Porziņģis, and Domantas Sabonis. 

All of these ultra-talented players may soon be overshadowed by Victor Wembanyama. The 20-year-old French player is 7 feet, 3.5 inches tall without shoes, and can do things other players his size can only dream of, including crossing up opponents, draining three-pointers, and throwing laser-accurate cross-court passes. 

In the last 10 years, there’s been an explosion of European players in the league. In the past, Europeans were largely role players, with few like Dirk Nowitzki and Tony Parker achieving superstar status. However, that has all changed; now, arguably, three of the best five players in the league hail from Europe.

Due to this shift, fans are curious why this has happened. Recently, Patrick Beverley, who has played all over Europe and had a very successful career in the NBA, shared his thoughts. The Milwaukee Bucks players had some very interesting insights into American and European Basketball.

Role Players in the EuroLeague and NBA Are Very Similar

Patrick Beverley said that apart from the NBA superstars who are in a league of their own, the skill level between the leagues is very similar. He said that if NBA and EuroLeague role players swapped, nobody would be able to tell the difference. Players from both leagues have similar skill sets and are all-round professionals. 

Beverley said that the EuroLeague is lacking superstars. You won’t find players like Luka Dončić, LeBron James, Steph Curry, and Kevin Durant in the EuroLeague. These players are so rare and are drawn to the NBA due to the massive salaries that the EuroLeague can’t compete with. 

Shane Larkin is the highest-paid player in the EuroLeague and is reportedly earning $4 million per year. While it may sound like a lot, wait until you hear how much Steph Curry is earning. The greatest three-point shooter of all time is pulling in $51,915,615 annually.

EuroLeague Players Compete Harder

According to Beverley, there are no off days in Europe. Players are expected to give their all in every single game. This is very different from the NBA, where coaches regularly rest star players, and due to the amount of travel and number of games, teams take games off.

In the EuroLeague, players are expected to play through injuries. They only miss games if there’s a serious medical issue. On the other hand, in the NBA, coaches want to protect their star players and keep them healthy for the playoffs. They won’t risk playing superstars, even if they only have a minor injury. 

Defense is also a source of pride in the EuroLeague. Coaches are very strict about players being physical, while in the NBA, many teams only get serious about defense during the playoffs, and if it’s just a regular season game, won’t push themselves that hard. 

European players have a deep connection to their clubs, and there’s a strong team atmosphere where all players are meant to sacrifice for the good of the collective. It’s different in the NBA, where the focus is on superstar players interested in padding stats, signing huge contracts, and winning championships at any team. 

The EuroLeague Has Better Coaches

Even after playing over a decade in the NBA, Beverley says the best coach he ever played for was Jure Zdovc. The legendary Lithuanian coach helped Beverley improve his fundamentals and showed him how to play proper team basketball.

Zdovc was also incredibly tough on Beverley. Despite the American being the MVP of the league, the Lithuanian would regularly get in Beverley’s face and demand perfection.

The veteran NBA player thinks that NBA coaches are hired to be fired and are tossed aside whenever there’s a dip in form. Beverley thinks the coaching is more sophisticated in Europe, with coaches taking pride in the plays they run and the ability to win with multiple teams. In contrast, NBA coaches are more focused on how big their salary is.

Read more: Isaiah Collier Is Likely to Go Number 1 at the 2024 NBA Draft

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Bronny James’ Agent Says He’ll Be Drafted

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Bronny James playing basketball

When Bronny James first came out of high school, everyone was claiming he was going to be LeBron 2.0. However, after a decent but not great college season, expectations have cooled. Public opinion even swung the other way, with many experts predicting that Bronny wouldn’t be drafted at all.

After a strong pre-draft showing, LeBron’s son is now ranked 54 out of 100 prospects by ESPN, and many analysts have him picked up in the second round. After seeing his stock slide so much while playing at USC, many expected Bronny to return to college in a bid to improve his skills and then declare for the 2025 NBA Draft.

His agent, Rich Paul, has come out and said that Bronny will take part in the 2024 NBA and forgo his remaining collegiate eligibility. Paul is quietly confident that James will be picked up by an NBA team.

Bronny is an interesting proposition because the team who drafts him isn’t just getting a player. They’re getting the son of one of the greatest players of all time. Bronny is already more famous than the majority of the players in the NBA, and the team that signs him will see a big uptick in fan attendance and merchandise sales based on his name recognition alone.

The other x factor is that LeBron has stated that it’s his dream to play alongside his son. So the team that drafts Bronny will likely end up with LeBron on their roster, too, even if it’s only for one season.

Bronny James Proves Haters Wrong at NBA Draft Combine

Bronny has been under immense pressure since declaring for the draft. Many critics are convinced he’s not good enough to play in the NBA and is only receiving attention due to his father. This is partly true; at USC, he averaged just 4.8 points per game. He spent most of his time on the bench, starting only six games.

Even Bronny supporters don’t see him becoming an NBA All-Star. At best, they see him as a role player. If he does manage to be drafted, he’ll have a very different career compared to his father, who was one of the most hyped prospects to ever come into the league and immediately became an All-Star.

Following his lackluster college season and his medical emergency where the 19-year-old suffered a cardiac arrest, analysts ditched Bronny from their draft boards. 

However, the USC player didn’t give up. After being medically cleared to be drafted, he had a very successful pro day and turned heads at the NBA Combine. 

During the Combine, which took place in May, Bronny let his shooting do the talking. The young prospect came second out of 71 players in two 3-point shooting contests. He made 19 out of 25 shots – many teams would be interested in a knockdown shooter like that. Then, in front of his dad, he dropped 13 points as the draft hopefuls battled it out in a tightly contested scrimmage.

There are some concerns about Bronny’s height as he measured 6-foot-1.5 inches without shoes, which is well below the NBA average of 6-foot-6.5 inches. On the positive side, he does have a 6-foot-7 wingspan and a very impressive 40.5-inch max vertical jump. Then, he showed his elite speed, recording a time of 10.96 seconds in the lane agility test.

Bronny James’ Draft Stock Increases, But Is It Enough?

Everyone admits Bronny James is an unfinished product. By drafting him, teams are betting on him turning into a bonafide NBA player. In a perfect world, Bronny would spend another two years at college developing. However, he doesn’t have that luxury. His father probably only has two seasons left. So if they’re going to play together, then Bronny needs to declare for the 2024 NBA Draft.

While Bronny may not be an NBA-level talent, it looks like he’ll be drafted in the second round based on his potential and name value. The front runners are the Los Angeles Lakers, where LeBron plays, or the Phoenix Suns. Despite having the nepo baby tag, it’d be cool to see the first-ever father and son duo in the NBA, so let’s hope a team takes a chance on him! 

Read more: LeBron James Continues to Extend His NBA Scoring Record

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