Shoot for It: With Alex Lee ’16 and John Beneville ’16

by John Beneville and Alex Lee | 10/8/15 6:01pm

What’s up Dartmouth? The Shoot For It boys are back again this week to tackle the NBA. Flashback to May 14, 2015: game six of the NBA Western Conference semifinals. The Los Angeles Clippers were playing at home with a 3-2 series lead against the Houston Rockets, and ahead 89-70 with just over two minutes left in the third quarter. They had just ousted the defending champions, the San Antonio Spurs, in a thrilling seven-game series and seemed primed to make a championship run.

NBA fans know full well what happened next. The Rockets put together one of the most stunning comebacks in NBA history and eventually eliminated the Clippers in seven games.

Since last spring, both teams have reloaded during the offseason. Today we’ll answer which of the two will make the deeper playoff run.

Alex’s Take: Let me start off by saying that both of these teams are on the precipice of championship runs, and that this is no easy argument. With the Clippers’ supreme talent and solid additions, however, I believe that they will make a deeper playoff run than the Rockets. Besides the talented trio of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, led by their coach Doc Rivers, the Clippers have added several key pieces that have bolstered them into bona fide contenders.

Paul Pierce is the most compelling case for “Old Man game” that I have ever seen. This guy, even during his peak athleticism, probably had a lower vertical than some of the guys on Dartmouth’s pickup courts. His craftiness and sound fundamentals, however, have kept him relevant in the NBA even at age 38. In fact, his age will be a huge asset for this young, talented, but sometimes mentally-weak team.

Some people remember Lance Stephenson as “ear-blowing” Lance Stephenson, but I remember him as 2013 max-contract contender athletic, wily, gritty Lance Stephenson. He has struggled over the last year and a half due to some bad behavior. I think that talent-wise, however, the sky’s the limit for this guy. Furthermore, with the calming presence of Doc Rivers and Paul Pierce, I believe Lance Stephenson will have a good season. Perhaps Lance Stephenson is the Justin Bieber of the NBA and is due for a behavioral transformation and a career turnaround in 2015. Where are Ü now, Lance?

Josh Smith is that guy who sits in the back of class of your “Math 100” class, never does any of his work, does not get good grades, but is nevertheless incredibly intelligent. He has a plethora of natural gifts, but low motivation. Hopefully joining a team of contenders will ignite the fire in his belly.

James Harden and his mini-me Ty Lawson are both great offensive players, but the Rockets lack depth, experience and veteran leadership, and ultimately these will be their undoing. I would not be surprised if we saw round two between these two heavyweights come playoff time.

John’s Take: The Rockets and Clippers are two of the most compelling teams in the West. They both have some incredible talents, but as Alex mentioned, they both fell short last year in their championship runs. Unfortunately, the Rockets and the Clippers have several lackluster competitors on their teams that will once again keep them from winning the finals.

Let’s start with the Rockets and the giant teddy bear that is Dwight Howard. Dwight Howard may have not completely fallen from superstardom, but his stint on the Lakers reminded us all why he’s never won a championship — no killer instinct. It didn’t take long for Dwight Howard to lose Kobe Bryant’s respect and thus, my own. After his team was eliminated from playoff contention last year he was quoted as saying, “No matter how the season ends, I’m still a champion.” No, Dwight, you are not a champion. Kobe Bryant is a champion, Shaquille O’Neal is a champion, heck, even LeBron James is a champion (after several tries). But Dwight is no champion, and his acceptance of defeat earns him zero respect in my book. James Harden is the real deal, however, and for that reason the Rockets will go far again this year. But will they go farther than the Clippers?

The Clippers have more talent than the Rockets and more players that are willing to do whatever is necessary to win. Last year, Paul Pierce had one of his classic game-winning buzzer beaters. He banked in a step-back shot over three defenders and, when asked if he called bank, Pierce answered, “I called game.” Paul Pierce will never lose that clutch gene, and players like Dwight Howard will never have it.

As for the rest of the players, they are as exciting to watch as they are skilled. Blake Griffin leaps like a kangaroo, Chris Paul has the handles of a Globetrotter and Lance Stephenson is the second coming of Metta World Peace. Alex is right about Doc Rivers, although I’d need to see him win another championship before I compliment him any further. Josh Smith is an interesting acquisition, although I would never make any comparisons that involve that dude sitting in a college math class. Josh needs to go back to fractions and then take another look at his career shooting percentages. Hint: 2/10 isn’t good. Keep the ball out of Josh Smith’s hands and let Chris Paul make the game easy for his teammates, and the Clippers will go farther than the Rockets this season.