Take 5: Warriors, Jazz, 76ers can contend for Finals



Cleveland Browns defensive end Olivier Vernon sacks Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson in the first quarter, Sept. 29, at M&T Bank Stadium.

By TPN Staff

With the start of the NBA season just around the corner on Oct. 22, several staff members discuss which teams they think can surprise people and become NBA Finals contenders. 

Salt Lake City Success

With the 2019-20 NBA season just around the corner, the Utah Jazz is a team that will put the entire league on notice.

Its roster is mostly comprised of the same players that led the organization to the fifth seed in the Western Conference last season. Utah then added players in the offseason that will make an immediate impact for the team.

The Jazz enters the season led by co-stars Donovan Mitchell and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. Mitchell only continues to improve, and Gobert is just entering the prime of his career.

There’s one key addition that will inevitably take Utah to the next level — former Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley. The Jazz finally added the type of talented point guard it’s been lacking for years. The pairing of Conley and Mitchell will undoubtedly be one of the top backcourts in the league.

Utah also brought back a key contributor in Joe Ingles and acquired solid pieces in Bojan Bogdanovic and Jeff Green to add depth on the wings. Its projected starting lineup consists of Conley, Mitchell, Bogdanovic, Ingles and Gobert. On paper, despite the lack of flashy names, this is a very good team. The Utah Jazz will shock the NBA by making an appearance in the Western Conference finals come year-end.

— Tyler Moran, Staff Writer

Sixers looking for a parade on Broad Street

With Jimmy Butler deciding to send his career south to Miami after a playoff run with the Sixers, Philadelphia’s roster left much to be desired. The Sixers received guard/forward Josh Richardson in the transaction, but there were still obvious holes in the lineup.

The playoff core of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris remained intact, but the signing that set the Sixers above the rest was Al Horford. Before joining Philadelphia, Horford was a mortal enemy of the Sixers’ fan base, always picking apart Philadelphia’s defense while on the Boston Celtics. Horford’s addition brings a much-needed reliable big man behind Embiid with proficient three-point shooting at 36.8% over his career.

With all these new and old pieces in place, the projected starting five for the Sixers has no one below the height of 6-foot-6, the shortest being Richardson. This should be a nightmare for opposing teams trying to get into the paint or frankly trying to score at all.

Along with the new signings, the core of Simmons, Embiid and Harris all improved their own skill sets. Simmons is looking to add a serviceable jump shot to his already dominant offensive arsenal. Embiid shed 20 pounds during the offseason in preparation for a potential MVP season. Harris will take on more of a big-moment role with Butler’s departure.

This team can be extremely lethal this upcoming season and should make its presence felt come playoffs.

— Ben Mankowski, For the Pitt News

I’m sorry Mr. Jackson

Mobile quarterbacks are a hot commodity in today’s NFL. They can run for a first down just as well as they can throw for one and can extend the play long enough for a receiver to get open from tight coverage. Michael Vick, Steve Young, Randall Cunningham and Fran Tarkenton are just some of the more successful running quarterbacks to grace the NFL.

The most recent mobile quarterback to find success is the Baltimore Ravens’ Lamar Jackson. He fought through jokes about him being more of a running back than a quarterback to put up fantastic numbers to start the season. Through two games, Jackson threw for 596 yards with seven touchdowns and zero interceptions, along with 126 yards on the ground. Pundits were ready to hand Jackson the MVP trophy on the spot.

But in weeks three and four, Jackson played markedly worse, throwing for 514 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. The Ravens dropped both games, losing to the Chiefs 33-28 and the Browns 40-25. So what was the difference?

The difference was not only that the Ravens played two of the worst teams in the NFL — the winless Arizona Cardinals and Miami Dolphins — in their first two games, but defenses are also starting to figure out Jackson.

Jackson’s past two opponents sacked him seven times and had him running for his life all game long. If this keeps up, he could find himself injured very soon. Every time Jackson gets pressured, his first instinct is to try to juke out the entire defense, usually resulting in little to no yards.

Jackson has a nice arm. If he wants to become the best — and healthiest — quarterback he can be, he’ll need to run less and throw more. The ability to scramble as a quarterback helps an offense tremendously, but it shouldn’t be the first instinct.

— Jack Clay, Staff Writer

Golden State of mind

It feels like the Golden State Warriors have been written off by the NBA media this year. The Warriors currently have the sixth-best odds to win the NBA championship at 12/1, and have the fourth-best odds in the Western Conference.

Of course, after losing Kevin Durant — and Klay Thomspon until at least the All-Star break — the Warriors are depleted. But they still have two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry and former Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green, and added an Eastern Conference All-Star in D’Angelo Russell from the Brooklyn Nets. The Warriors are still a stacked team and should be feared next year as a serious threat to come out of the Western Conference.

Green and Curry themselves are certainly still confident of Golden State’s chances. When asked during Warriors’ media day if the team could make the NBA Finals, Green responded with a question of his own.

“Is Steph Curry on our team? Klay Thompson?” he asked. “Yup.”

The Warriors will be just fine and still have the ability to outshoot anybody on any given day. They should still be viewed as one of the top favorites to come out of the West, because making five straight finals is nothing to scoff at.

This Warriors team will use all the disrespect as motivation to prove to the Western Conference that the path to the finals still goes through Golden State.

— Michael Elesinmogun, Staff Writer

An ode to Clint Hurdle

The Pittsburgh Pirates’ loss to the Atlanta Braves in the 1992 NLCS Playoffs would be an unfortunate indicator of years to come. Barry Bonds left Pittsburgh to become one of the most prolific hitters of all time, etching his name into history after breaking the home run record. Manager Jim Leyland would leave soon after and manage the Florida Marlins to their first World Series win ever in 1997. 

Despite the former leaders of the clubhouse finding success elsewhere, the Pirates found themselves stuck in a rut. After their playoff loss in 1992, Pittsburgh would go on to have two decades of losing seasons with six different managers at the helm. The sixth manager in that line of succession happened to be Clint Hurdle.

It took the Pirates 21 years to field a winning team again, and Hurdle was the manager to make it happen. He brought a strong clubhouse attitude that preached resiliency and feistiness. The Pirates finally received national coverage and the ball club started to build its reputation as winners again. For nine years Hurdle did his best to make Pittsburgh a relevant baseball city with the help of his players.

With his recent firing, Hurdle will leave the Pirates with a winning record as a manager, and he will always be welcomed in Pittsburgh for his role in bringing baseball back after 21 years.

— Sami Abu-Obaid, Staff Writer