4 players to watch in the NBA Conference Finals
Four teams are left. Two tied at one game a piece, one up a game, and one trailing by a game.
That leaves us roughly 46 players to watch...soon that'll be narrowed down to 24.
And as we all do...there are always those special individual players we like to see.
Obviously everyone wants to see LeBron, everyone wants to look at Kobe (believe me, they'll get the chance) but we each have our own interests for our own reasons.
And here is just one guy's short list: (I've decided to not include the remaining all-stars (LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, Kobe Bryant, Chauncey Billups or Pau Gasol) or guys that I consider to be stars on their teams (Hedo Turkoglu, Carmelo Anthony) so we can talk about some different players for once. And yes, I do know Mo Williams was an all-star, but I want to write about him, so I'm going to use the excuse that he wasn't an original selection and therefore slips through ( I know, I'm cheating, but I'm also the guy behind the keyboard so ha)
Enjoy, and as always, show me your list in the comment section:
1: Trevor Ariza: L.A Lakers
Background: Ariza must be one of the stories of the year...surely. He was involved in a small trade with the Magic that no-one really cared about last year and was injured for most of the playoffs.
Though his regular season numbers won't make anyone gasp, he made a very strong contribution off the bench and continued to improve all year. He was a great help on defense, averaging 1.7 steals a game and often guarding the opposition's best perimeter player.
On top of this he certainly provided some highlights with his high-flying dunks.
And it only got better in the postseason: His numbers have risen across the board, and he is shooting a blistering 50% from the 3-point line. And those dunks keep coming.
Why I want to watch: But enough with the numbers: I'm interested in watching Trevor Ariza because he really is one of those 'glue guys', he's more valuable to the Lakers than most would think.
He hustles after every loose ball, he comes up in the big moments, and you can see he just wants to win: Definitely what I want to watch on a basketball court.
And again, the dunks are pretty sick.
2: Nene Hilario: Denver Nuggets
Background: I have the utmost respect for this man.
We all should. We know the hard times that Nene has endured and conquered, so we won't dwell on that, but I think it says a lot about his character and determination that he's even on the court, giving us the chance to talk about him. Nene is one of the best big men in basketball. His regular season numbers of 14 and 7 per aren’t eye-popping, but are more than respectable when playing in the West and being on a team loaded with perimeter scorers. He is a major piece of the Denver puzzle, and his attitude is now completely geared towards winning, thanks to the arrival of Chauncey Billups (Mr. Big Shot has done it for all the Nuggets)
Why I want to watch:
Nene is nasty. There was a play in game one where Pau Gasol thought he had an easy defensive board...suddenly Nene was just jumping over him, ripping the ball from the air, and dunking it back on the Spaniard's head. He embodies this new nasty, running, dunking, attitude-heavy Denver team that has finally reached the Western Conference Finals and, as with Ariza, is a glue guy.
He does the little things. He boxes out. He sets picks (HARD picks) and he bumps cutters as they come through the lane. And then he also has the highlights such as I mentioned above. Nene is a great man, and his coach put it best: ''He's the comeback player of the year...this guy should be given an award for everything he's done''
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3: Rafer Alston: Orlando Magic
Background: I could write an entire article on Alston's background, so I think we'll stick to the recent history.
Alston started off the playoffs well against Philadelphia: He scored in double figures in every game, and in game 6 (minus Dwight Howard) he had a double-double with 21 points and 10 assists.
In the hard-fought Boston series, he struggled early on...as portrayed through his attempt to swat a bug off the back of Eddie House's head. It took until game 5 for Alston to score in double-figures, and his high for the series was 16 points.
Though he did distribute the ball well, averaging 5 assists through the series while his 3-point shooting also got better as he went on.
Why I want to watch:
People like to hate on Rafer, but I found his head-slapping hilarious...it was a very long night trying to stop Eddie House, and his kissing of the refs head was just as priceless.
Alston has the chance to be part of something special, if his Orlando Magic can build on the one-game lead they have over the favored Cavs, it'll be something of legend.
Everyone has penciled the Cavs into the finals ever since Boston lost the first game of the entire playoffs to the Bulls.
If the Magic can go even further than that and win a championship...then very few will have gone on a longer and more storied road to an NBA championship than Rafer Alston.
4:Mo Williams: Cleveland Cavaliers
Background: Yeah I know...all-star...one of the teams stars, I'm breaking my own rule...but considering the quotes Williams has amassed the last two days, I couldn't leave him out.
Williams has truly become what LeBron James wanted they needed him to be...a true second offensive threat, a steady point guard and someone who fits within the team...I think you can check all three of those off. He has scored in double figures in every playoff game (aside from a very questionable 2-point outing in game 3 against the Pistons). He has been involved in numerous highlights involving the King and the other Cavs (dude is a great oop thrower) and highlights of his own (buzzer-beating 3's to end the half, for example)
Why I want to watch:
Since their game 1 loss against the Magic, Williams has put himself in the media spotlight with his quotes. After the loss he tried to take the blame:
“I have to take pressure off of [LeBron]…I look at myself, 6 for 19.” Williams said. “LeBron is 20-30 from the field. I don’t care; he can go one-on-one all he wants.”
Fair enough, I think that's being a good teammate.
But today, this quote also emerged: "I don’t feel this team can beat us four times". This is something he should be saying, he needs to have confidence in his team and not let his teammates get down on themselves, but it also does hint at over-confidence.
I say just play the game...but either way I'm interested to see how Williams does now that he's pointed all the cameras towards him-I say all the cameras, think most are reserved for LeBron and Dwight, but you get my point. Williams is an entertaining, talented player, who is surely going to be involved in some big plays yet.
Back to my original point, there are 4 teams left, and its teams that I love to watch...but still, nothing wrong with enjoying individual efforts too.
By Joe Buckley
Pro-Basketball Fans staff-writer
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