NBA UCLA Bruins vs. NBA Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Sometimes, you have to find beauty in a matchup even when the final result is inevitable. The NBA UCLA Bruins vs. NBA Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets is a mismatch, due to the brilliance of UCLA’s roster. However, Georgia Tech has some unique lineup combinations they can throw out to confound the more talented Bruins. Can they use their quickness and shooting to steal a game or two in this series? Or will UCLA brush them aside on their quest toward the championship? Here’s how the series will play out.

NBA UCLA Bruins vs. NBA Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Key Matchup

UCLA’s two-center lineup versus Georgia’s Tech’s frontcourt – UCLA has a massive Twin Towers lineup, featuring 7’2” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the 7’0” plus Bill Walton, whose listed height of 6’11” was known to be a gross underestimation. Georgia Tech will start each game off with a traditional power forward, Derrick Favors, and an undersized center, Chris Bosh. They also have a solid defender in John Salley coming off the bench, along with their biggest player, 7’0” Matt Geiger. However, none of these players realistically has a chance to stop either Jabbar or Walton. What can Georgia Tech do to make it interesting? They can play Thaddeus Young together with Bosh, and just try to outquick the UCLA duo on the offensive end of the court. Or they can play four perimeter players around Bosh and force one of UCLA’s centers to defend out to the three-point line. Georgia Tech will have to be creative, since playing UCLA straight up is a losing proposition.

Biggest Mismatches

UCLA’s size – The reason Georgia Tech will have to be creative is because they don’t have the personnel to even bother UCLA’s centers. Walton will be able to see over the top of his defenders in the high post, while Jabbar will face little resistance scoring inside and out. The big men will be staggered so each is paired with Kevin Love, who will provide a unique combination of spacing and rebounding on the offensive end, and Sidney Wicks, whose quickness and athleticism will help him on the defensive end of the court against Georgia Tech’s perimeter-oriented options. Outside of Bosh, Georgia Tech’s big men are more pedestrian than spectacular, and they don’t have the size or skill to compete.

Georgia Tech’s small ball – Since UCLA’s two best players are traditional centers, expect Georgia Tech to do everything possible to get them off of the court. Play Mark Price, Stephon Marbury, Jon Barry, and Dennis Scott alongside Chris Bosh, to have a three-point threat at every position? Sure! Try to utilize a breakneck pace to take advantage of the ball-handling skills of Marbury, Kenny Anderson, and Jarrett Jack? Absolutely! There’s no reason why this team can’t be entertaining, even if they’re getting blown out in the process.

UCLA’s star power – Despite these theatrics, UCLA has a Hall-of-Fame-caliber player at every position in their starting lineup, and all-star level talent from one through 12. If Georgia Tech wants to get into a three-point shooting contest, UCLA’s Reggie Miller, Gail Goodrich, Kiki Vandeweghe, and Kevin Love would likely make that a losing proposition. Get in an up tempo battle, and the irrepressible Russell Westbrook will attack with Marques Johnson, Jamaal Wilkes, and those wonderful shooters at his disposal. Jabbar and Walton will doom them in the halfcourt game. There are no good options for Georgia Tech.

X-Factor

Jabbar and Walton – Two of the greatest centers ever facing a team with only one seven footer on its roster (the replacement-level Matt Geiger)? Goodnight.

Results

Georgia Tech has some funky lineup configurations, and the underappreciated Price and Bosh, but this one was over before it started.

UCLA wins, four games to none.

Next Round

UCLA faces the winner of the Syracuse Orange vs. Arizona Wildcats in the second round of our tournament.

NBA UCLA Bruins

NBA UCLA Bruins

Our first profile details the top seed in our tournament, the NBA UCLA Bruins. Overall, 88 players from UCLA have played in the NBA, six of whom have been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. They also feature arguably the two greatest players in college basketball history, who both went on to become an NBA Most Valuable Player and the best player on a championship team. With a mix of dynamic playmakers, long-range shooters, and unstoppable low-post forces, they field one of the best and deepest rosters in our field.

Russell Westbrook, the starting point guard, may be the most dynamic player in the current NBA. In addition to his triple-double exploits, Westbrook’s best attribute is his ability to get to the rim, and draw the defense with him. He’ll create many opportunities for his backcourt mate, Reggie Miller, who was one of the greatest shooters in NBA history. At 6’7”, Miller had the ideal height for a shooting guard, and both he and Westbrook will have to use their length and athleticism on both ends of the floor, instead of solely concentrating on offense. They’re backed up by Baron Davis, an erratic point guard whose talent was often overshadowed by his poor decision-making, and Gail Goodrich, a Hall-of-Famer who played both guard positions. Expect Goodrich to serve as the primary backup for both starting guards, and Davis to be used sparingly due to the depth on the roster.

Marques Johnson, one of the more underrated players in NBA lore, will start at small forward. Johnson was a tremendously efficient player in his prime, who also exceled on the glass for his position. While he was not a three-point threat, he was a master from the midrange and in, and his crafty game will allow him to find space despite the plethora of low-post options on this team. He’s backed up by Jamaal Wilkes, one of smoothest players of his time who exceled on the fast break, and defended his position stoutly. Kiki Vandeweghe, one of the best shooters and scorers of his era, will also see time on the wing.

The starting big men are the aforementioned college (and pro) legends, Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Both were natural centers who will have to adjust to playing off of one another in the starting lineup. Before his injuries, Walton led Portland to their only NBA championship, and then guided them to one of the great starts in NBA history the following year before his body broke down. He will man the high post on offense and utilize his world-class passing skills to direct the offense in half court sets. Abdul-Jabbar is one of the handful of greatest players in NBA history, and will serve as their primary offensive option throughout the tournament. Their minutes will be staggered to ensure that one big man is always on the court at all times, but when they play together, opponents will have no chance of scoring at the rim against them. Kevin Love will see plenty of minutes as the ideal stretch four who will create space for each big man to operate in the post. His phenomenal rebounding skills are also noteworthy, as he won’t let them slip on the glass when the Twin Towers are staggered. Sidney Wicks and Mark Eaton will play when needed as the fourth and fifth big men on the roster. Wicks was an immensely talented player who battled with teammates and played on losing teams in his time in Portland. However, his size, quickness, and passing ability were valuable assets, and he should be able to positively contribute when called upon. Eaton, the most prolific shotblocker in modern NBA history, will provide a massive defensive roadblock for opponents if Walton and Jabbar suffer from foul trouble.

The NBA UCLA Bruins have a complete and balanced roster with great high-end talent. In order to reach their peak, their point guards, particularly Westbrook, must run the offense through their big men and avoid dominating the ball. Their shooters will thrive with the looks that Jabbar, Walton, and Westbrook will create for them, and their defense should flourish, particularly on the interior, with three of the great rim protectors in the tournament.

All-Time Los Angeles Lakers vs. All-Time Portland Trail Blazers

Our next matchup, the All-Time Los Angeles Lakers vs. All-Time Portland Trail Blazers, features two annual Western Conference contenders who have engaged in a fairly one-sided rivalry over the past 45 seasons. Things started off promising for Portland in their magical 1977 season, when they swept the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals on their way to the only championship in franchise history. Since then, however, they’ve lost nine of 10 playoff series to L.A., including two brutal Western Conference Finals losses in 1991 (when they had the best record in the league) and 2000 (when they blew a 16 point lead in game seven and launched the Shaq-Kobe mini-dynasty). Will things be any different in our tournament? Here’s how the franchises match up.

Lakers vs. Blazers

Key Matchups

L.A.’s wings vs. Portland’s power forwards: The Lakers have one natural power forward on the roster, Vern Mikkelsen, and two other players who can play at the four (James Worthy and Elgin Baylor). Portland features a deep collection of power forwards (LaMarcus Aldridge, Rasheed Wallace, Maurice Lucas, and Sidney Wicks), who will all earn minutes alongside their pair of centers (Bill Walton and Arvydas Sabonis). The Lakers will experiment with certain Twin Towers lineups, but will generally have one big on the floor with their collection of wings. Can Portland exploit the Lakers when they play small? Magic Johnson, the Lakers’ jack-of-all trades, will help to minimize any size disadvantage that Baylor or Worthy have against Portland’s power forwards.

Walton and Sabonis vs. L.A.’s Hall-of-Fame big men: The Blazers feature the best passing big man duo in the tournament. Bill Walton, their great but oft-injured center, was also an elite defender, and Sabonis was one of the bigger players in NBA history. They’re going to have their hands full with the greatest collection of centers ever assembled. The Lakers feature legends Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, George Mikan, Shaquille O’Neal, and Wilt Chamberlain, who will all share minutes and provide different looks for the opposition. Walton will have to avoid foul trouble for Portland to have any realistic chance of competing.

Biggest Mismatches

L.A.’s star power vs. Portland’s star power:  The Lakers feature eight of the greatest players in NBA history. Their other four roster spots belong to four run-of-the-mill Hall of Fame players. The Blazers feature the Hall-of-Fame duo of Clyde Drexler and Bill Walton, surrounded by a mix of all-star players, but they’re outmatched by L.A.’s dominant legends.

X-Factor

How will the Lakers’ high-scoring stars co-exist with one another? The Lakers have many players who are used to having the ball in their hands, particularly in their starting lineup. Coach Pat Riley has a unique challenge getting them to blend their talents together. Who will willingly take on a supporting role? Will Kobe Bryant, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor complement each other, or will their minutes have to be staggered to maximize their effectiveness?

Results

After getting a bye in the first round, Los Angeles uses this round to work out the kinks and settle their rotation. The Magic Man leads them to an expected victory.

Magic Johnson is ready for all challengers Copyright © Lipofsky Basketballphoto.com
Magic Johnson is ready for all challengers
Copyright © Lipofsky Basketballphoto.com

Lakers sweep, four games to none.

Next Round

Los Angeles plays the winner of the All-Time 76ers vs. All-Time Knicks.

All-Time Washington Wizards vs. All-Time Portland Trail Blazers

Our next match up features two teams who won the 1977 (Portland) and 1978 (Washington) NBA Finals. They haven’t been able to win it all before or since, but they’re linked by their success in an overlooked era in NBA history. Who would win the battle between the All-Time Washington Wizards vs. All-Time Portland Trail Blazers? There are many factors at play.

Similarities

Passing Big Men: Both teams are anchored by starting centers who were known for their passing skills. Wes Unseld is widely regarded as the best outlet passer in history, while Bill Walton may have been the best passing center to ever play the game. Both teams often ran their offense through these players, and their career assist numbers reflect this. In addition, Washington’s Chris Webber and Portland’s Arvydas Sabonis were excellent passing big men who can play similar roles when Unseld and Walton are not on the floor.

Big Rosters: Big men make up half of each team’s roster. They each should be able to keep everyone rested, avoid foul trouble, and throw multiple looks at one another.

Washington’s Advantages

Battle of the Boards: Washington’s big men should have a slight advantage in controlling the glass. The starting trio of Gus Johnson, Elvin Hayes, and Wes Unseld is one of the tournament’s best in terms of rebounding, and Walt Bellamy, Jeff Ruland and Webber should help them maintain this advantage off the bench.

Versatility: Washington should be able to play many different styles. They have score-first ball handlers (Gilbert Arenas and Earl Monroe), and a pass-first option (John Wall). They have a physical small forward (Johnson), an outside threat (Bob Dandridge), and a tweener (Antawn Jamison) that they can play at the three. They have a pass-first big man (Unseld) and a dominant low post scorer (Bellamy). They also have good defensive players (Hayes, Johnson, Dandridge, Wall) who can play when they need to get stops. Coach Dick Motta has many options at his disposal.

Portland’s Advantages

Offensive Efficiency: Overall, Portland’s team shooting is very high, and they don’t feature a player on the roster who shot below 46 percent for his Blazers career. In addition, the advanced statistics (PER and WS/48) of the Portland players are higher than those of the Washington players. Will this translate to the games? Portland’s pieces do seem to fit well with each other, and they have several excellent passers who should help them mesh as a unit.

X-Factor

Health: Much like real basketball, fantasy tournaments of this nature can often be decided by injuries. The methodology here is that once a player makes the cutoff for years and games played for a franchise (4 seasons, 200 games played), then they’re eligible to compete in all games of their series. This clearly benefits a player like Walton, and discounts the ironman achievements of someone like Elvin Hayes. While imperfect, this method allows us to imagine each team’s best roster, and filters out those who had extremely short stints with a franchise.

Results

Once again, we have a very hotly contested series. In the end, the brilliance of Walton and Drexler and the clutchness of Porter win out. The good people of Portland go a bit overboard in their celebration.

1977_NBA_Finals_Game_6_Blazers_vs_Sixers

Portland wins, four games to three.

Next Round

Portland faces the All-Time Lakers.

All-Time Portland Trail Blazers Team

All-Time Portland Trail Blazers Team Infographic

Our next franchise may be the NBA’s unluckiest. Their history includes a who’s who of basketball’s tragic figures. Bill Walton. Sam Bowie. Greg Oden. Brandon Roy. If these players were not beset by career-ending injuries, we may be talking about one of the NBA’s glamour teams. Instead, we have a very good franchise that should have achieved greater success than it has. The All-Time Portland Trail Blazers team is solid, and not spectacular, which reflects this unlucky history.

Two-time all-star Terry Porter is the team’s starting point guard. Porter was a reliable play maker who regularly raised his level of play at the most crucial moments; during his Blazers career, his playoff averages were 18.2 PPG, 6.3 ASG, .484 FG%, .390 3FG%, 18.4 PER, and .164 WS/48. Another two-time all-star, Jim Paxson, joins him in the backcourt. Paxson had great size for his position (he stood at 6’6”), and was very accurate, shooting over .500 for his Blazers career, and leading the league in playoff field goal percentage in 1983. Off the bench, Rod Strickland was a very good play maker who is one of the better players in league history to have never made an all-star game. Brandon Roy was able to make three all-star games and two All-NBA teams before his body gave out; he’ll play both guard positions in reserve.

Hall-of-Famer Clyde Drexler, who stood at 6’7”, will start at small forward. Drexler had the best career in team history, spearheading two NBA Finals runs, and ranking first in franchise history in games played, field goals, free throws, offensive rebounds, steals, and points. LaMarcus Aldridge barely beat out three other qualified candidates for the starting spot at the team’s deepest position, power forward. Aldridge became a stud in the latter half of his Blazers career, with a deadly mid-range jumper and great size (6’11” 240lb) for his position. They’re backed up by Kiki Vandeweghe, a prolific scorer who came close to achieving the shooter’s holy grail (50% field goal percentage, 40% three point field goal percentage, 90% free throw percentage) for his Blazers career. The aforementioned power forwards are Rasheed Wallace, Maurice Lucas, and Sidney Wicks. Wallace was a versatile and talented player who was solid in all aspects of the game. While he wasn’t a go-to guy, his unselfish nature and versatility were ideally suited for a team that didn’t need to rely on him to be its best player. Lucas was an excellent defender who was the second best player in the team’s lone championship run. Wicks played on losing teams every year he was with the franchise, and was known for battling with teammates as well. However, he has the second highest points per game in team history, and is the only career 20-10 man in franchise history.

For a two year stretch, Bill Walton was one of the greatest centers in NBA history. He was one of the greatest passing centers the league has ever seen. He was a dominant defender, leading the league in blocked shots per game in 1977. He was a prolific rebounder, leading the league in boards per game the same year. He was an easy choice for 1977 Finals MVP, then won the 1978 regular season MVP, despite playing only 58 games. Before his body gave out on him, he was a transcendent superstar, and carried the team to a title in the first playoff appearance in franchise history. He’s backed up by another “what if?” player, Arvydas Sabonis. The 7’3” Sabonis didn’t make it to Portland until he was 31, and already had irreversible wear and tear from a legendary career overseas. While he couldn’t run well or play much on Portland (averaging 24.2 minutes per game in his career), he was still a very effective player, who will combine with Walton to give them the best passing center duo in our tournament.

Coach: Jack Ramsay

All-Time Franchise Winning Percentage (through 2014-15): .535