The Evster's NBA Playoff Preview

The Evster's NBA Playoff Preview

This is not an NBA Playoff preview. I don't know why I called it that. I guess I figured no one would click on a link titled "Some Things The Evster Felt Like Talking About This Week on a Blog That Actually Pays Him to Write Stuff." But then again, it's not like you think you're about to get legit NBA analysis here. You know what you're getting into. This post is written by the same person who predicted this guy would win Defensive Player of the Year:

I still believe in you, Wendell!

Regardless if you're an NBA junkie or an actual junkie, this year's NBA playoffs have enough juice to get any fan's blood flowin'. I don't even know what that means, "juice," no one has used that word since 1992. What I was trying to say is that there are a bunch of players and a couple of storylines that I am so, so, so excited to follow. And below are some of the ones I'm most looking forward to seeing.

So read away, get pumped for the playoffs, and if anyone wants to do drugs while watching the games this weekend, please contact me at BigDInYoFace@The700Level.com.

BEST EARLY ROUND MATCHUP -- Clips vs. Dubbs

WELCOME TO BONERVILLE. I can't ever remember another first round series that featured such a bonkers matchup. Although to be honest, the Clippers could be playing against the St. Louis Slingdongs and it would still be entertaining. But luckily for us, they're playing the Warriors, who have essentially been on an 82-game heat check. With the Splash Bros., Andre Iguaodladlalldaala and Mr. HAND DOWN MAN DOWN himself going against Lob City, there is a very good chance that I will make soft, missionary-style love to my TV this Saturday.

At some point during this series, I fully expect Jamal Crawford and Steph Curry to launch 35-foot bombs while I bite down on every pillow I own. I seriously might wear a dog collar while watching. DeAndre Jordan can dunk with his FACE. Matt Barnes will kill you. I haven't even mentioned the best pg in the game or Blake Griffy McGrifflestein!!!  Just because I can -- and to show you how excited I'm getting -- I will now type one last series of exclamation points using only my dork.

Ready?

!Q!!!#!~!##!!!@!W!!!!!!@W!!!!!Q!!!!!!!!!

Edit THAT, Enrico!

FAVORITE DUDE WHO PLAYS 16.5 MINUTES PER GAME -- Nick "Wiz" Calathes

I didn't know that was his nickname either!

Also that painting kinda looks like Jerryd Bayless.

Also who paints a picture of Nick Calathes/Jerryd Bayless?!?!

No player in the league has had a bigger impact this year than Wizzy C (not his nickname, also not a true statement). But whatever, after spending the last four years playing in Greece and Russia, Pat's little bro has found an NBA home as the Grizzlies backup point guard. He's not necessarily that good, and he hasn't really done anything that warrants him being included in this article, but there's something about Nicky C that makes you really pull for him. Maybe it's the fact that he's embraced his male pattern baldness in a way that only Clyde Drex and Manu Ginobes have done in the past. To see Wiz scurrying around, making post entries, and kicking it out for wide open threes whilst rocking a legitimate bald spot is an inspiration to all, receding white men. I just wish he would also embrace his shoulder hair. And let it just sprout. Forget about Jason Collins coming out, the NBA needs a guy to embrace shoulder strays. I'm lookin' at you, Nick Collison. I'm lookin' at you!

WATCH THIS JAWN NOW -- New Damian Lillard Adidas/Foot Locker Commercial

[nbcsports_video src=//www.youtube.com/embed/vnaZBRumpg4 width=620 height=349]

No big deal, just the $100 million Adidas deal for Damian this week.

#JUSTTHEHUNDO

OMG WHAT WILL THIS DUDE DO NEXT -- Lance Stephenson

Lance Stephenson is by far my wife's favorite basketball player. A total loose cannon, this guy could go berzerker at any given mome. For example, one half he could be on pace for a triple dubb, and the next he could eat a guy's shoe. I love him, too. Love his okie doke handle. Love when he palms the ball in the half court set. Love this pic of him celebrating in high school.

Ayyyyyyyyyyy!

This is awesome too:

HEY GUYS, GLAD YOU COULD MAKE IT. TAKE OFF YOUR COAT AND STAY AWHILE. CARE FOR SOME CHEESE? I RECOMMEND THE BOUCHERON. IT'S QUITE LOVELY -- John Wall, Kyle Lowry and Kemba THE NOT WHITE Walker

Look, the West may have most of the talent, but these three Eastern Conference point guards are easily the most electric. (I mean, besides Russell Westbreezy. Obviously besides Russell Westbreezy. It would be silly to write an NBA article and not call Russell Westbreezy the most electric point guard to ever play the game. He plays so ANGRY. And Chris Paul, too, but whatever. That's a given. And I already mentioned Steph. Okay, so they're like the 4th through 6th most electric point guards. Maybe 7th if you wanna include Shabazz Napier. And there's Rondo and Derrick Rose too, but, let's just move on. Let's just move on.)

Do you know who had the most total assists in the league this year? John Wall. (Ricky Roobs was second by the way, which I found fascinating.) Kyle Lowry ain't scare o' NOBODY. And Kemba Walker is the best professional basketball player who you have never seen play an actual professional basketball game.

TV SHOW YOU NEED TO WATCH – The Starters on NBATV

If you’re not watching The Starters every single day you are living a goddamn lie. The show is essentially this: four idiots sitting around in flannel shirts breaking down every angle of the NBA. But they’re not just idiots, they’re really knowledgeable and passionate idiots. Daily features on the show include: Wedgies (highlights of the ball getting wedged under the rim and against the backboard), Leigh Ellis’s Very Solid Play of the Night (normally consisting of a dude playing nice help defense or making a very solid bounce pass) and the Kobe Bryant Twitter Watch (he’s still not following Kendall Marshall). I love these guys so much and desperately want to be Twitter friends with them/shampoo their hair/go grocery shopping with them.

BIG THREE, SCHMIGG SCHMEE. THE HEAT BENCH IS WHERE IT'S AT: B-Eazy, Birdman and Oden

Look, we all love LeBron. And when D-Wade actually plays basketball, he's incredible too. And I even kinda sorta almost like Chris Bosh (no I don't). But the most fascinating players on the Heat roster are the dudes who hardly get any burn: Chris Andersen, Michael Beasley and omg you know who I'm talking about I just wrote their names in the header for goodness sakes.

When Birdman is on the court, he is impossible to ignore. IMPOSSIBLE. LeBron could be going coast to coast for one of his patented Chinese locomotive dunks (not a thing), but if Birdman's in the game, forget about it. IMPOSSIBLE TO IGNORE. I went to see the Sixers play the Nuggets a few years ago when Birdman was on Denver... didn't see one play the entire game. I just locked in on Birdman. Whatever he did, wherever he went, my eyes followed. Setting screens. Sitting on the bench. Staring at chicks while he was supposed to pay attention in the huddle. Seriously, there was one timeout where George Karl was drawing up a play and Birdman locked eyes HARD with a Sixers Dance Team lady. I think he was looking at that redhead. I love that redhead. How does she not have any moles?

Michael Beasley is just a weirdo. A super skilled, versatile, weirdo. But at some point during these playoffs, B-Eazy is gonna go off. He's too talented not to. He might go off the rails. But he's gonna go off. Every playoffs, someone comes out of the blue and just goes off. I'm not sure Michael's even aware that the playoffs are starting.

Poor Greg Oden. It's just sad. But it's nice to at least see him getting out of the house for once. He has the weirdest head. Honestly, what is going on with his head? I can't believe we have seen both his and Paul George's dorks.

NSFW BY THE WAY.

PREDICTIONS

East: Round 1 -- Pacers over Hawks (obvs); Heat over Bobcats (double obvs); Raptors over Nets (Terrence Ross!); Bulls over Wiz (not yet John Wally!) ... Conference Semis -- Pacers over Bulls (not one upset picked yet!); Heat over Raptors (sweeeeeeeep) ... Conference Finals -- Heat over Pacers (WHY ARE PEOPLE SLEEPIN ON BRON BRON)

West: Round 1 -- Spurs over Mavs (RIP Dirk); Thunder over Grizz (awesome series though); Clips over Warriors (no Bogut, no dubbs); Blazers over Rockets (Dwight and the Beard are SOFT) ... Conference Semis -- Spurs over Blazers (is anyone actually reading this part?); Clippers over Thunder (I'm not sure if I actually believe that!) ... Conference Finals -- Spurs over Clips (Can you believe Kawhi Leonard still has cornrows?!??!?!)

Finals -- Heat over Spurs (in 7!) I'LL BELIEVE SOMEONE BEATING LEBRON WHEN I SEES IT.

Enjoy the games everybody!

Basketballlllll!!!!!!!!!!

[nbcsports_video src=//www.youtube.com/embed/_shxzlTRK44 width=620 height=465]

Honestly that's the most amazing/corniest video EVER.

Follow The Evster @TVMWW.

NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

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NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

Dragan Bender

Position: Power forward
Height: 7-1
Weight: 225
Team: Maccabi Tel Aviv

Croatia’s latest basketball export is just 18 years old. He won’t turn 19 until November. Like a lot of teenagers, he’s hardly a fully finished product. The kid is raw, but his obvious potential figures to make him a high lottery pick in the upcoming draft.

Through 38 games with Maccabi Tel Aviv this season, Bender averaged just 12.9 minutes. He took 3.7 shots per game. He shot 42.3 percent from the floor, 33.8 percent from deep (on 2.0 attempts per game) and 71.9 percent from the line. He didn’t get to the line very often, by the way. In fact, he hardly got there at all, taking less than one attempt per game from the stripe.

But Bender’s appeal isn’t about what he is right now; it’s rooted in what he could become with time. There’s a reason why all 30 NBA teams sent someone to watch him play this year, according to DraftExpress. Investing in him could yield a significant return. Also, dude’s name is Dragan Bender. He was destined to become a pro athlete or conquer King’s Landing. Either way, good things ahead.

Strengths
Bender has been on the NBA’s projection radar for a while now. He’s worked hard to develop his shooting. Initially thought of as a non-shooter with wonky mechanics, Bender changed his stroke. It’s more compact and efficient now. Despite the small sample size, Bender had a 54.1 true shooting percentage and a 51.4 effective field goal percentage through 38 games this season.

He could pass more, but when he does he’s pretty savvy — particularly with the full-court outlet pass. Defensively, he’s not a rim protector, but he has a long wingspan (7-2) that should help him be a good pick-and-roll defender with time. In the increasingly switch-everything NBA, that’s a plus.

Also, did we mention his name is Dragan Bender? Donald Bender works in Croatian finance. Dave Bender has a nice B&B on Hvar Island. Dragan Bender is a potential NBA star.

Weaknesses
He’s reportedly put on some weight recently and worked hard to develop a better base, but he’s 7-1 and 225 pounds. Someone needs to feed him lots of sandwiches and protein shakes. Adding muscle for the long-slog NBA season will be important.

In addition to having a still-developing body and skill set, he hasn’t faced top-level international competition yet on a regular basis. He needs minutes against the best in the world, and in order to get those minutes he’ll have to refine his game – particularly his ball-handling and driving, which are still works in progress.

Unlike some other recent NBA imports (Nikola Mirotic and Kristaps Porzingis among them), it’s probably going to take a while before Bender can be a consistent contributor in the league. Any team that takes him has to acknowledge the inherent time commitment.

How he’d fit with the Sixers 
If we’re talking about how he’d fit with the Sixers, who had a long-term plan and weren’t in a hurry to rush anything, the Sixers who embarked on an open-ended journey with no fixed timetable or end point, you could make a case for Bender (but not with the first overall pick). Five or seven years from now, Bender could be a polished product – an outside shooting threat with, perhaps, an expanded offensive game that allows him to put the ball on the floor and optimize his passing and scoring. You could imagine him growing defensively and creating mismatch problems. You could envision it – over time.

The question is whether these Sixers, who keep talking about transitioning from the rebuild into whatever comes next, are about to scrap the slow-and-low approach to cooking their roster in favor of adding on-court heat and off-court PR sizzle. If that’s the case, Bender wouldn’t fit well at all. Not to mention that taking Bender means adding another body to an already clogged frontcourt.

NBA comparison
Lots of people have drawn a parallel between Bender and Porzingis. That’s the easy, reflexive comparison. Both are tall, lanky stretch fours from a not dissimilar region of the world. But really that’s unfair to Bender. Porzingis declared for the NBA draft back in 2014, only to withdraw his name and wait until last year. The wait helped elevate him to more of a known commodity. At that point, he had played three seasons for Sevilla of Liga ACB in Spain, one of the best leagues in Europe that features some of the premiere international talent. Bender isn’t there yet in terms of experience, and their games aren’t one-to-one equivelants anyway. Bender might ultimately shake out as something closer to Andrei Kirilenko (if he can improve his handle) or Nikola Mirotic.

Draft projection
Top five. If he lasts any longer, it will be a surprise.

Eagles mailbag: Jordan Matthews; injury concern, leading rusher

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Eagles mailbag: Jordan Matthews; injury concern, leading rusher

Another day, another mailbag. 

I hope you're enjoying your Memorial Day Weekend. If you're reading this on the beach or at a BBQ, well done. 

Yesterday, I answered the first round of your questions about Doug Pederson, Brandon Spikes and the possibility of adding another running back. 

Today, I'll answer some more: 

At times, Jordan Matthews will still be in the slot this season. But he won't be there all the time. 

In Doug Pederson's offense, the receivers will move around quite a bit, which means we'll see Matthews lining up out wide on both sides and in the slot. He has the ability to do both. Either way, he's going to be on the field. He's clearly the Eagles best receiver and they're not going to take him off the field. 

I think there's a good chance we'll see some Josh Huff in the slot this year, which would make a ton of sense to me. Huff is at his best when he gets the ball in his hands and can make something happen. He's shifty enough to play in the middle. 

The idea that slot receivers are just small, shifty guys is outdated. It's all about matchups and Pederson won't be afraid to move his receivers around to find the best ones. 

Good question. I'll give you two names. One on offense and one on defense. 

Now, I didn't just pick the best players, I picked the best players with the biggest drop off to their backups. So on offense, it's Jason Peters and on defense it's Jordan Hicks. 

The scary thing: it wouldn't be shocking if either of these two go down in 2016. 

If Peters goes down, the Eagles will be fine at left tackle, because Lane Johnson will shift over. But that means either Dennis Kelly or Halapoulivaati Vaitai will come in. We all know what's happened in the past when Kelly comes in, and Vaitai is just a rookie. Not a ton of great depth at tackle. 

As for Hicks, we saw what happened to the defense when he went out last season. And this year, the team has virtually no depth at linebacker. If Hicks went down, either veteran special teams player Najee Goode or rookie Joe Walker would need to fill in. Yikes. 

I understand it's kind of a cop-out to just pick the top running back on the depth chart, but that's what I'm doing. I know Ryan Mathews has a lengthy injury history, but I can't see Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood or Kenjon Barner being the team's leading rusher. 

And when healthy, Mathews was the team's best running back in 2015, going for 539 yards on 106 carries, an average of 5.1 yards per attempt. If he manages to play 12 games this year, I think he'll be the team's leading rusher. 

Phillies pitching prospect Mark Appel hits DL with shoulder strain

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Phillies pitching prospect Mark Appel hits DL with shoulder strain

Mark Appel, whose fastball velocity was down considerably in the first inning of his last start, was placed on the disabled list Friday with a shoulder strain.

Appel, 24, is 3-3 with a 4.46 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in eight starts for Triple A Lehigh Valley in his first year in the Phillies' system. He's struggled his last four times out, allowing 18 runs (15 earned) in 16⅓ innings on 20 hits and 11 walks.

The No. 1 overall pick in 2013 out of Stanford, Appel has had a disappointing pro career to this point. In 62 minor-league games (61 starts), he has a 5.04 ERA. The Phillies acquired him from Houston as part of the Ken Giles trade this past winter.

Appel's trip to the DL creates an opportunity for right-hander Ben Lively, who was promoted from Double A Reading to Triple A to take Appel's place in the IronPigs' rotation. Lively, acquired from the Reds for Marlon Byrd prior to the 2015 season, is 7-0 with a 1.87 ERA this season.

Rehab updates
Leftfielder Cody Asche and left-handed reliever Mario Hollands had their rehab assignments transferred to Triple A Lehigh Valley. 

Asche is 5 for 34 (.147) with two home runs and 12 strikeouts during his stints with Clearwater and Reading. 

Hollands has been sharp, posting a 1.04 ERA in 8⅔ innings with 12 strikeouts and one walk.