We've already seen the defending NBA Champion Lakers fall, as well as the West's #1 seed Spurs. Will the defending Eastern Conference champs be next? The Celtics will try to stave off elimination down 3-1 on the road against the Heat, and with a one-armed point guard. Later, the Thunder-Grizzlies series goes back to Oklahoma City for a pivotal game 5 after an epic triple overtime Thunder win on Monday night.

Notes:

Tonight's Games:

Celtics at Heat, 4PM PDT, TNT. Heat lead series 3-1.

Grizzlies at Thunder, 6:30PM PDT, TNT. Series tied 2-2.


Minnesota Timberwolves' Michael Beasley, left, attempts to bat the ball away from Phoenix Suns' Marcin Gortat, of Poland, during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game on Wednesday, April 6, 2011, in Minneapolis.(AP Photo/Tom Olmscheid)

Is Marcin Gortat the Center of the future? Depends on how you look at it.

By Suns standards, he's a marvel. In the past 43 seasons, a Phoenix Suns C has put up 13 points and 9 rebounds per game for at least 50 games in only 7 of them. Thank you Alvan Adams, Neal Walk and Jim Fox. You made the 60s and 70s the golden age of Suns pivot men. Since 1980? Only Marcin Gortat.

Yet by league standards, he's no more than a one-year wonder at this point. The league as a whole has produced 345 seasons of at least 13 and 9 in 50+ games from a team's Center, including such luminaries as Zelmo Beaty, Ray Felix, Sven Nater and Gheorghe Muresan.

Regardless of whether he's a marvel or a one-year wonder though, you've gotta enjoy the Polish Hammer's attitude. He loves basketball, loves being in the spotlight and consistently delivers great sound bites when a microphone is placed in front of him. 

"December 18 was definitely the best day of my life so far," said Gortat about his trade to Phoenix, to suns.com in April. "It's bigger than my birthday right now. It was a day where a new chapter in my book opened up. It's a different story finishing the season away from my old team. You pack up, and then you're getting 35 minutes a game. It's just a great feeling. It was huge step for me."

Yet it wasn't all roses when Gortat arrived on the scene, and he wasn't afraid to let anyone know it.

"I came from a team where everybody was competing and trying to do what the coach told you," Gortat said after a horrible loss to Philly in December. "We just totally changed our rotations and what we said before the game. We were not playing hard enough and we have a lot of work in front of us."

That wasn't the worst/best of what he said that night, either.

"It is just frustrating; it is frustrating as hell. I'm not going to lie, it is a reality check for me going from a team who is winning to a team who is losing and we are the worst defensive team in the league."

But of course Marcin always sees the bright side, ending on a high note that foretold a Suns turnaround with him at the helm.

"We're not playing hard enough and I've just got to tell you, there's a lot, a lot of work in front of us. The positive thing is? It can't be worse."

Things did get better, eventually. The Suns had their best month of the season in February, going 9-3 while giving up only 98 points per game. And Gortat was at the center, literally, of their resurgence. He got his first extended burn in the pivot that month, amassing 13.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in 30 minutes per game. Gortat improved even more over the last 6 weeks of the season, upping those numbers to 15 points and 10.7 rebounds per game on 33 minutes in March and April.

Statistically speaking, Marcin Gortat is the Suns' second-best rebounder - by rebound-rate - of all time (a prize for whoever guessed the winner was Earl Williams in 1974-75).

Offensively, the Suns have had more talented offensive players manning the pivot (Shaquille O'Neal, Alvan Adams and Neal Walk), and they've also had better defensive players according to advanced stats (including Adams and Walk again, plus guys like Andrew Lang, Rich Kelley, Mark West and James Edwards).

But since 1980, Gortat is statistically the best Center to take the court for the Suns, and he is relatively young, durable and committed to a reasonable contract (3 more seasons).

But where did he rank in comparison to the rest of the league's Centers in 2010-2011?

How about 7th in a stat called 'win shares', despite playing the second-fewest minutes of any center in the top 10. He's also 3rd overall in 2010-2011 in defensive rebound rate, 6th in PER, 9th in points per game, and 9th in overall rebound rate.

And don't forget that quote machine.

"I just got to play with two great leaders in this league here, Grant and Steve," Gortat said in the nba.com interview. "And everything starts with Steve. I'm ready to get out my checkbook (laughs). He can have my car. He can use my apartment. I'll bring him donuts everyday he won't eat. I'll bring him salads onto the plane. He can do whatever he wants to do. I will take care of him. He's a great player and a great leader. I really learned a lot this year, and I'm really grateful.

"The organization has been great to me. It's fun playing basketball here."

But is Marcin Gortat the future of the Suns' center position? Can the Suns count on him as a key player, a team leader, in upcoming seasons?

The Suns have no young stars. Their best players are 38 and 39 next season, and the rotation is polluted with role players no better than a 5th-8th best player on a contender.

Marcin Gortat is the only guy with the potential grow beyond "solid starter" into a top-4-on-a-contender type of player. He's already better than Kendrick Perkins, for example, but not quite as good as Marc Gasol. To get to that next level, he needs a more versatile offensive repertoire beyond pick-and-roll layups and set shots. And he needs to be a leader on the defensive end of the court.

"I got a lot of respect from my new teammates and Head Coach Alvin Gentry," said the center, who set a new franchise mark for double-doubles off the bench in 2010-11. "He gave me a lot of freedom and the green light to do a lot of things on the floor. I'm really grateful for everything I did and everything I have. Obviously there are a lot of things I still have to improve on. I'm going to work hard this summer, and I'd like to come back twice as better next year."

 

"I definitely showed that I improved," Gortat said. "I also said that I could do a couple of these things a long time ago but I just wasn't able to show it. I didn't have a green light to show it. But who cares now? I just have to keep improving.

"In the summer, I'm going to work my butt off to be one of the leaders of this team."

Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/sports/suns/articles/2011/04/06/20110406phoenix-suns-marcin-gortats-improvement.html#ixzz1M0fCUZ6Q

and speaking of summer...

"I'm definitely going to forget about basketball for the first month," Gortat said. "I'm going to try to relax and recover. I'm playing 30-plus minutes and it's having a big impact body. I really feel tired right now. I have to change my whole routine. Every morning when I stand up, I feel the 30 minutes from the night before. It's going to be a long, long summer."

Once his break is over, Gortat has a summer plan to work out in Orlando and visit Phoenix and Poland while trying improve his post-up game, jump shot and lower-body and core strength.

"I definitely look forward to come back strong, be one of this team's leaders and be a guy who is the future of this team for a couple years," Gortat said.

Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/sports/suns/articles/2011/04/14/20110414phoenix-suns-center-marcin-gortat-tired.html#ixzz1M0gSVxGh

 

Considering he delivered on every promise this season, who's to say he won't continue to deliver?



'Lesser Twin' To Suns In Mock Draft

You knew it was only a matter of time before Markieff Morris showed up next to the Sun's name on a mock draft board.

As always, please DON'T FREAK over mock draft results...especially this far out from the draft. Just soak it all in and learn some names floating around the top 20 or so.


There's only one game on the schedule for tonight, and while it should be compelling as the Bulls and Hawks square off in Chicago in their pivotal game 5 tied 2-2, this series has left some (including myself) less than enthused due to the amount of isolation play and generally sloppy offense we've seen. We're spoiled by watching Steve Nash run an offense, aren't we?

Notes:

There was lots of talk in the game thread last night about Russell Westbrook taking too many shots, as he took 33 FGAs and dished only 5 assists to score 40 points. Well check out what league MVP Derrick Rose has done in his 9 playoff games so far:

  • 25.8 PPG, 7.7 APG
  • 88-218 FGs, 40.4% (9.7-24.2 FGs per game)
  • 16-62 3PT shots, 25.8% (1.8-6.8 3s per game)

7.7 assists per game is respectable for a PG, but 24 FGAs per game, only making 40% of them? And nearly 7 3-ptrs per game when he's only hitting 26%? For comparison's sake, in the postseasons after Nash won each of his 2 MVPs, he attempted only 17.9 FGs per game in 04-05 to go with 11.3 APG, and 14.55 FGAs per game in 05-06 to go with 10.2 APG. Nash's FG%s were 52%/39% in 04-05 and 50%/37% in 05-06. No surprise here. Nash set up his teammates better, shot less and was much more efficient when he chose to shoot. After all, he's Steve Nash.

Speaking of shot selection, Josh Smith was under fire for his lack of judgment in this area before he seemed to see the light and take it to the basket in the second half of game 4. Will "good Josh Smith" show up tonight, or will it be "bombs away!" from outside again?

Tonight's game: Hawks at Bulls, 5PM, TNT. Series tied 2-2.


It's no secret that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook aren't exactly the best bros in the world right now. Russell Westbrook continues to force his own game while Kevin Durant stands around wondering, "Why the f#$% isn't he passing me the ball?!"

The Grizzlies vs.Thunder series has been an exciting one to watch, but the storyline that has been getting the most attention has been the Durant vs. Westbrook saga. I took the liberty of putting what the players were probably thinking as they were captured on camera.

Stay tuned see just what the players were thinking!

Photo 1: Ego? What ego?

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Photo 2: You know how parents develop a special talent to tune out children's whining? Kevin Durant has reached a similar point.

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Photo 3: Kevin Durant and James Harden are really good at having mental conversations. Like, scary good.

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Photo 4: Don't be fooled by the sheepish face. He's not even close to ashamed.

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Photo 5: Well, glad they're at least on the same page.

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Photo 6: Kevin Durant: Master of passive aggressive comments

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