Team-by-team guide: Eastern Conference

Jay Asser 28/10/2015
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Another NBA season, another year of the Eastern Conference running through LeBron James. 

Washington, Milwaukee, Indiana, Miami, Charlotte, Detroit and the New York Knicks are all expected to fight for a play-off berth, while Brooklyn, Orlando and Philadelphia round out the bottom.

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BOSTON CELTICS

Head coach: Brad Stevens
Star man: Isaiah Thomas
Last season: 40-42, seventh in conference, lost in first round of playoffs
Key ins: Amir Johnson, David Lee, Terry Rozier (rookie), R.J. Hunter (rookie), Jordan Mickey (rookie)
Key outs: Brandon Bass
Strengths: Boast incredible depth with reserves that come in waves which should allow them to wear down opponents over the course of a game.
Weaknesses: Continue to lack star talent on the offensive end where they have few playmakers.
Verdict: They can earn a top-four seed if they resemble the team from the second half of last season.

BROOKLYN NETS
Head coach:
Lionel Hollins
Star man: Brook Lopez
Last season: 38-44, eighth in conference, lost in first round of playoffs
Key ins: Andrea Bargnani, Thomas Robinson, Shane Larkin, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (rookie)
Key outs: Deron Williams, Mason Plumlee, Alan Anderson, Mirza Teletovic
Strengths: Have two go-to scorers in Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson for key scoring situations.
Weaknesses: With Deron Williams gone, point guard is a major question mark.
Verdict: In a hopeless situation with the team headed for the bottom and their draft picks owed elsewhere.

NEW YORK KNICKS
Head coach:
Derek Fisher
Star man: Carmelo Anthony
Last season: 17-65, last in conference
Key ins: Robin Lopez, Derrick Williams, Arron Afflalo, Kyle O’Quinn Kristaps Porzingis (rookie), Jerian Grant (rookie)
Key outs: Andrea Bargnani, Tim Hardaway Jr, Shane Larkin
Strengths: Have a star in Carmelo Anthony who can still carry the team offensively for stretches.
Weaknesses: Reliance on the Triangle offence and failing to recognise its drawbacks could be their downfall.
Verdict: They’re certainly improved from the dumpster fire of last season, but even with a better cast somewhere in the 35-win range seems like their ceiling.

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
Head coach: Brett Brown
Star man: Jahlil Okafor
Last season: 18-64, 14th in conference
Key ins: Carl Landry, Kendall Marshall, Nik Stauskas, Jahlil Okafor (rookie)
Key outs: Thomas Robinson, Ish Smith
Strengths: Frontcourt of Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor is young, exciting and clearly the nucleus of the franchise.
Weaknesses: Have by far the least amount of talent in the entire league with only a handful of players who would be on NBA rosters outside of Philadelphia.
Verdict: It’s another year of bottoming out and tanking for the 76ers as they brace for one of the worst records again.

TORONTO RAPTORS
Head coach:
Dwane Casey
Star man: Kyle Lowry
Last season: 49-33, fourth in conference, lost in first round of playoffs
Key ins: DeMarre Carroll, Luis Scola, Cory Joseph, Bismack Biyombo, Delon Wright (rookie), Norman Powell (rookie)
Key outs: Amir Johnson, Lou Williams, Greivis Vasquez, Tyler Hansbrough
Strengths: Backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan can score and get to the free throw line at will.
Weaknesses: Dropped off defensively last season and allowed opponents to shoot at a 45.9 per cent clip.
Verdict: Suffered turnover with role players and it’s hard to see them taking another step forward.

CHICAGO BULLS
Head coach:
Fred Hoiberg
Star man: Jimmy Butler
Last season: 50-32, third in conference, lost in conference semi-finals
Key ins: Bobby Portis (rookie)
Key outs: Tom Thibodeau (head coach)
Strengths: Retained the team from last year, which is one of the most talented in the East.
Weaknesses: Point guard depth could hold them back and the toll of minutes played under Tom Thibodeau continues to be an issue.
Verdict: Offence should improve but a lot has to break right for them to reach the Finals.

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
Head coach: David Blatt
Star man: LeBron James
Last season: 53-29, second in conference, lost in NBA Finals
Key ins: Mo Williams
Key outs: Shawn Marion
Strengths: Their trio of stars forms arguably the best offensive unit in the league.
Weaknesses: Staying healthy will be paramount and they’re already dealing with key injuries heading into the season.
Verdict: There isn’t any team in the East that can stop them, but they’ll still have a difficult time beating the West in the Finals.

DETROIT PISTONS
Head coach:
Stan Van Gundy
Star man: Andre Drummond
Last season: 32-50, 12th in conference
Key ins: Marcus Morris, Ersan Ilyasova, Danny Granger, Steve Blake, Aron Baynes, Reggie Bullock Stanley Johnson (rookie)
Key outs: Greg Monroe, Caron Butler
Strengths: Were tied as the top offensive rebounding team last year.
Weaknesses: Defence will be tested.
Verdict: Stan Van Gundy can get them in playoff contention, but the coach has his work cut out in shaping the team.

INDIANA PACERS
Head coach:
Frank Vogel
Star man: Paul George
Last season: 38-44, ninth in conference
Key ins: Monta Ellis, Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill, Myles Turner (rookie)
Key outs: David West, Roy Hibbert, Luis Scola
Strengths: Spacing should be much improved with Paul George at power forward.
Weaknesses: After losing their defensive anchor in Roy Hibbert, centre is a wild card.
Verdict: George can vault them if he returns to his pre-injury self, but they’re another one of the teams in the middle of the East jumble.

MILWAUKEE BUCKS
Head coach: Jason Kidd
Star man: Greg Monroe
Last season: 41-41, sixth in conference, lost in first round of playoffs
Key ins: Greg Monroe, Greivis Vasquez, Rashad Vaughn (rookie)
Key outs: Jared Dudley, Ersan Ilyasova, Zaza Pachulia
Strengths: Versatile, long players allow them to switch constantly on defence.
Weaknesses: Lack outside shooting and spacing.
Verdict: Their young core could make a leap, but they’re still not true contenders yet.

ATLANTA HAWKS
Head coach:
Mike Budenholzer
Star man: Al Horford
Last season: 60-22, first in conference, lost in conference finals
Key ins: Tiago Splitter, Tim Hardaway Jr
Key outs: DeMarre Carroll
Strengths: Ball movement and fluidity on offence creats great shots.
Weaknesses: The loss of DeMarre Carroll hurt the continuity of the starting lineup and his production will be hard to replace on both ends of the floor.
Verdict: It’s tough to see them winning 60 games again, but they can still be as good while finishing as a lower seed in the East.

CHARLOTTE HORNETS
Head coach:
Steve Clifford
Star man: Al Jefferson
Last season: 33-49, 11th in conference
Key ins: Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lin, Frank Kaminsky (rookie)
Key outs: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (likely out for season to injury), Lance Stephenson
Strengths: Always disciplined and sound on defence and rarely turn the ball over.
Weaknesses: Have limited offensive firepower and outside shooting.
Verdict: Always well-coached and solid enough to creep into the playoffs, but have a very limited ceiling that doesn’t go beyond the first round.

MIAMI HEAT
Head coach:
Erik Spoelstra
Star man: Chris Bosh
Last season: 37-45, 10th in conference
Key ins: Gerald Green, Amar’e Stoudemire, Justise Winslow (rookie)
Key outs: Shabazz Napier
Strengths: Have one of the best starting fives in the East with plenty of pedigree.
Weaknesses: Health and decline due to age is a major concern.
Verdict: They’re a strong squad on paper, but there are a lot of variables which are likely to hold them back from challenging at the top of the conference. The second round of the playoffs is as far as they can go.

ORLANDO MAGIC
Head coach:
Scott Skiles
Star man: Victor Oladipo
Last season: 25-57, 13th in conference
Key ins: Shabazz Napier, Jason Smith, C.J. Watson, Mario Hezonja (rookie)
Key outs: Kyle O’Quinn
Strengths: Defence should improve under Scott Skiles, who can utilise a cast of long, athletic players.
Weaknesses: Have few shooting threats which means the floor on offence will be cramped.
Verdict: They’re very young and while Skiles can stimulate individual growth, the team as a whole is too raw right now to make much noise. Another bottom-five finish in the East should be expected.

WASHINGTON WIZARDS
Head coach:
Randy Wittman
Star man: John Wall
Last season: 46-36, fifth in conference, lost in conference semi-finals
Key ins: Jared Dudley, Alan Anderson, Gary Neal, Kelly Oubre (rookie)
Key outs: Paul Pierce
Strengths: Backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal is the nucleus of the team and creates much of the offence.
Weaknesses: Unreliability of wings following Paul Pierce’s departure in free agency.
Verdict: There’s a wide range of possibilities for them, anywhere from reaching the conference finals to losing in the first round. Somewhere in the middle is most likely.

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Going Out: Learn from the master at Gary Kirsten’s coaching clinics

Denzil Pinto 27/10/2015
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Time to impress: Trials will be conducted to select youngsters for the clinic.

For budding cricketers in the UAE, here’s your chance to be taught by Gary Kirsten when the South African holds his coaching clinics in Dubai next month.

The 2011 World Cup winning coach will host a two-day masterclass session on November 21 and 22 at Coverdrive Sports Academy, compromising of one-on-one and group sessions.

Only 20 spots are available and to be selected, each cricketer will be invited for a free one-hour trial at Coverdrive.

“Gary Kirsten certainly has a lot of experience in the game and has worked with some big names in cricket,” said Kobus Olivier, owner of Pro Coach, which is organising the clinic.

“The last time Gary was here we had 40 people in Dubai but he only wants to work with 20 this year. So we are inviting the children for a one-on-one trial where I will see them in practice and then send the video to Gary Kirsten in Cape Town for his consideration.

“Those who are selected for the two-day clinic will receive an official invite from Gary Kirsten to say they have been accepted.”

Given Kirsten has worked with superstars like Sachin Tendulkar, Graeme Smith and Kevin Pietersen, Olivier is expecting there will be a strong interest as his last visit to Dubai was hugely popular.

Be prepared: The Clinics will be held at Coverdrive Sports Academy in Dubai.

“Following last year, he said he wants the best cricketers,” he said. “The first day will be a group session led by Gary, myself and Ryan Cook (both Level Three coaches). And on the second day, Gary will work one-on-one with all 20 boys throughout the whole day.”

Having known Kirsten for more than 10 years, while being team-mates in South Africa during their playing days, Olivier insists there are plenty of positives to gain from signing up.

“What Gary wants to achieve is that he wants to make a difference to how children play,” he said.

“After the first day, they must go home  and feel they have learnt something valuable. It’s not just meeting Gary Kirsten.

“After the clinic, Gary will still be in contact with the 20 boys and after reviewing video footage on a regular basis, he will give tips on how to improve. I think this is what makes this clinic stand out from the rest.”

He added: “He’s worked with some great players like Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar and he will be passing on his extensive knowledge to some promising cricketers in the UAE. It’s one not to be missed.”

So hurry up and give it a go.

What: Gary Kirsten Coaching Clinic
Where: Coverdrive Sports Academy, Dubai
When: November 21 and 22.
Contact: To book a one-hour free trial or for more information, email [email protected]

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NBA Western Conference Season: Warriors have plenty to keep

Jay Asser 27/10/2015
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Still the man to beat: Golden State’s MVP star Stephen Curry and Co will be favourites.

The Western Conference is once again so loaded that one of any number of teams could reach the NBA Finals, but the easiest answer remains the most obvious one.

The Golden State Warriors are the reigning champions for a reason after a historically dominant season culminated in the franchise’s first banner in 40 years.

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They won 67 games in the regular season, including a sparkling 39-2 mark at Oracle Arena, while leading the league in scoring at 110.0 points per game, in defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) at 109.6 points per game, in pace (number of possessions per 48 minutes) at 100.69 possessions per game, all of which resulted in a massive plus-10.1 average point differential.

Golden State returns this season with nearly the entire title team intact, including MVP Stephen Curry, as they now have the experience of winning a ring and until proven otherwise, remain favourites to repeat.

Chasing the Warriors are a myriad of teams with their own claim to the throne. Maybe the biggest threat to the team from The Bay is a franchise that didn’t even make the playoffs last season.

Despite a talented, young roster, the Oklahoma City Thunder are in win-now mode thanks to the possibility of superstar Kevin Durant leaving when his contract is up next summer.

The 2014 MVP played in only 27 games last season due to a crippling foot injury as the Thunder lost the tiebreaker for the eighth seed to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2009. If Durant returns to his destructive form, he and explosive guard Russell Westbrook will be out for blood.

In Houston, not only did James Harden fall short of Curry for MVP honours, but the Rockets were also taken out by Golden State in the conference finals. After adding Ty Lawson to bolster their biggest positional weakness at point guard, however, Houston have as good as chance as any team to knock off the Warriors this year.

It’s another year into the Gregg Popovich-Tim Duncan era, but the aging San Antonio Spurs are now pillared by two young stars in Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. Leonard is fresh off claiming Defensive Player of the Year, while the Spurs landed Aldridge, the most significant free agent on the move this past summer, to give them an ideal bridge into the future when Duncan finally retires.

The final contenders in the top tier of the West are the Los Angeles Clippers, who are still searching to get past the conference semi-finals, and the Memphis Grizzlies, built on their identity of ‘Grit & Grind’.

The continued emergence to superstardom of Anthony Davis makes the New Orleans Pelicans interesting, while at the bottom of the West, the play of future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant will be fascinating.

 From top to bottom, the Western Conference has storyline after storyline, but more importantly, contender after contender for the NBA crown.

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