Could Duke Beat The Cavaliers? Another Question That Shouldn’t Be A Question

With Duke’s star-studded (a relative term) lineup having caught a hot start to the college season, many people have begun to ask the age-old question which can never be answered: Could (the best college team in a sport) beat (the worst professional team in a sport)? 

We heard it last year. “Could Alabama beat the Browns?” More recently, it’s been “Could Alabama beat the Bills?” The rise of Duke’s abnormally stacked and athletic Big 3 of Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish, and RJ Barrett have people wondering if this Duke roster could beat the 2-14 Cleveland Cavaliers, the team with the worst record and biggest talent deficit in the NBA.

The short answer, no matter what teams are in the equation, and no matter which sport, is simple: No. The long answer, in case you need elaboration, is still simple: Noooooooooooooooooooooooooo. Anyone who understands either college sports or professional sports (you don’t even need to understand both) will know that this is an unfathomably stupid talking point for a multitude of reasons. For one, it will never happen. No professional team would bother playing in a match like that, and the rules around amateurism would make it complicated for any player with hopes to continue playing in college to partake, effectively defeating the purpose. Secondly, there is no way on Michael Jordan’s green earth that any college team could beat the Cavaliers, even without star forward Kevin Love.

First. a disclaimer: Duke is good. No one is doubting that. But they could go undefeated through the whole season and NCAA tournament, winning each game by 10 or more, and this discussion would still be a waste of time. And Duke isn’t even doing that. They lost to Gonzaga in a stunning display of the team’s vulnerability when they struggle to engage their do-it-all point forward Williamson. So unless Gonzaga is secretly playing NBA veterans against Duke, this conversation is already moronic.

Second of all, the rules are different and this is impossible to ignore, even if you played the theoretical grudge match in NCAA rules, just to give Duke an edge. One, the pace of NBA games is much, much higher. The 30 second shot clock, and a full 30 after an offensive rebound, would give the Cavaliers all kinds of time to work against a defense that would be like traffic cones compared to even the worst defensive NBA teams. Another obvious rule change is the 3-point line being significantly closer. Against shoddy perimeter defense, the closer 3-point line would make Cedi Osman and even an ancient Kyle Korver look like Splash Brothers. And on the off-chance that they miss from time to time, Tristan Thompson would be eating 18-year-old’s for breakfast getting offensive rebounds, giving even more chances for easy 3’s with no time crunch. Easy board, with nearly double the clock time to re-rack and run another play.

The final and most obvious reason Duke couldn’t beat Cleveland is the way professional sports drafts work. While the 3 Duke freshmen may all end up going in the top 5 of the 2019 draft, most of the players on that Duke roster won’t even end up in the G League. Moreover, nearly every single person on every pro-sports team was once the hottest player on their respective college teams, who then went on to have multiple years of full-time training and experience against nothing short of the stiffest basketball competition the world has to offer. The idea that a couple of bright-eyed kids could use their youthful athleticism to overcome the collective decades of experience and training that any pro team has to offer is cute, to put it nicely. This is why the context and sport do not matter at all. The best college team will never beat the worst professional teams. Even the Browns, for example, have the best quarterback and a Heisman winner from a stacked draft. The cream of the crop coming out of college end up going to the worst teams most of the time. There is a reason you never expect rookies to be in the MVP conversation right away. As good as they may be, their talent needs refinement, repetition, and most importantly, trial and error.

To put this idiotic topic to bed, think about the last draft. The No.1 pick from the 2018 draft went to Phoenix in Deandre Ayton, who’s team is a stunning…3-14, for the second worst record in the NBA. Even then, the Suns are only surviving off of the seasoned young man Devin Booker. Without him, Phoenix would be the worst team in the league and we’d be talking about Duke beating the Suns instead of the Cavs. To think that the Duke 3, even if you believe they are all similarly as talent as Ayton was at Arizona which is arguable, you’re still talking about someone that highly regarded making nearly no difference in the pros. So if you genuinely, believe that 3 potential early lottery picks would be enough to take a team from the bottom to anything noticeably better, you might just also be stupid enough to believe that the Cavaliers could lose to Duke, when Duke wasn’t even good enough to beat Gonzaga.

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Styles Make Fights: Breaking Down the Sixers’ Big Game Against New Orleans

Both the 76ers and the Pelicans are riding 3 game win streaks into Wednesday’s match-up at the Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers are 3-1 since the acquisition by trade of star Jimmy Butler with the first game post-trade being a loss at Orlando. The Process has gotten into a solid groove, with their stiffest competition in the past 10 games being the Pacers, who the Sixers beat 100-94. Since then, the team has only lost in sloppy games while shorthanded when the trade was pending, or immediately after the trade while still trying to figure it all out. Their opponents being on the easier side after a tough stretch to start the season has allowed the team some breathing room to figure out the changes in their lineups: Fultz running the second unit, JJ Redick starting, and most importantly the on-court chemistry between the Big 3. They defeated a slumping Jazz, outlasted Kemba Walker’s 60-point extravaganza, and survived an uncharacteristically lax first half against Phoenix.

Anthony Davis and the Pelicans, on the other hand, are also on something of a streak, having won 3 straight against the Knicks, Nuggets, and Spurs all at home for New Orleans. While the Nuggets have slumped as of late and the Spurs still seek to sort out their shorthanded offense, those aren’t wins to turn your nose to. Julius Randle had a triple-double against San Antonio, and AD is a near-lock for 30 and 10 night-in and night-out. Pels’ Guard Jrue Holiday, whose FG% is higher in losses this year than in wins, is also averaging close to 20 points per game. And although the Pelicans have found a groove at home, the new-look Sixers on their home court may prove to be troublesome for them.

The Sixers’ team culture has hit a nice level with the early positive signs post-trade for Butler. Former star PG Allen Iverson was at the Suns game, and showed major love to both Embiid and Butler, which made the rounds on social media, and with the home crowds chanting ‘MVP’ for Embiid, as well as ‘Jimmy Butler’ and of course, the modern classic ‘Trust the Process.’ The starters will be feeling it tonight, and Embiid on a wave is never a good sign for an opponent, especially one with mostly inconsistent help to the sole star in AD.

Highlights from the Process and AD’s last meeting at the Wells Fargo Center.

Both Embiid and AD are putting up similar 30 point 10 rebounds with plenty of blocks on a nightly basis, but the similarities in the lineups end there. While both teams are in the top 5 of possessions per game, Alvin Gentry’s Pelicans make it a clear point to push the pace in their games, as there are so few men on the court who can stop AD, and so few men who can score on him. This will be different in tonight’s game, however, as early MVP candidate Joel Embiid was in the top 3 of Defensive Player of the Year voting (along with Davis), and JoJo now has 2 teammates among the best 2-way players at their positions in the league in Simmons and Butler. The question for Philadelphia will be how do fellow starters JJ Redick and Wilson Chandler impact the teams ability to score at a consistent rate and to tow the defensive line. JJ will help with the offense, no doubt. His scoring off of Embiid’s dribble-handoffs are nearly guaranteed 3s or dagger deep 2s. Chandler will help on the defensive side, at 6’9 and 225 lbs, he won’t be a traffic cone out there.

All in all, the Sixers will need a big offensive game from their bench tonight. New Orleans has a habit of pushing games to the 120-140s, where the Sixers prefer a more comfortable 100-115 type of game. If the Pels’ continue to push the pace, it will fall on players like Mike Muscala, Landry Shamet, and TJ McConnell (in the shoulder-related absence of Markelle Fultz) to keep the offensive energy going even when players like Embiid, Butler, Simmons, and Redick are off the floor.

Game Recap: Suns at Sixers 11/19

After being short as many as 14 tonight early in the game, the Sixers got back on track behind Embiid’s 33 points and 17 boards, as well as another near triple-double from Simmons. Simmons, who posted 19 points, had a nice game with some athletic finishes and seemed to do better about balancing his own offensive moves with not trying to do too much and passing the ball when he felt the need to. Every Sixers starter posted atleast 15 points except Wilson Chandler (Redick with 17, Butler with 16).

Most notable in tonight’s game was Mike Muscala’s 19 points, with 2 3-point makes on 3 attempts and 9 free throw makes. Additionally, TJ McConnell saw some minutes for the first time in a while, with 9 minutes and one quite athletic finish for his only 2 points. 

The Sixers’ 119-114 win over Phoenix feels like a sign of positive movement as the team cleans up on execution. The team usually starts well, loses their lead to sloppy play, and then either barely squeaks it out or loses another close one. This felt like a reversal of that, where they started off poorly, but had the composure and consistently solid play to bring themselves back into the game and hold the Suns at arms length down the stretch. This game, more than anything, felt like a testament to the kind of talent this team has and Brett’s ability to manage it all despite the rotations being somewhat shallow with some bodies out for injury. It was also a testament that the Suns are trash and might just get to draft Zion Williamson at number one because they can’t help themselves.

The Other 29: Inaugural Post 11/19/2018

Contrary to what you might expect given the contents of this blog, there are in fact 30 teams in the NBA, and while the 76ers as an organization put out just about as much writable content as anyone, sometimes the other 29 teams need a little love, especially in times where things are quiet on the Process side of the NBA. I’ll be using this little segment to touch on some other interesting match-ups coming up, and what they mean within playoff races, seeding perspectives, and just anything else story-line oriented. While this is supposed to be a non-Sixers segment, I’ll usually still include a blurb about their upcoming schedule.

Tonight: Monday 11/19

Suns @ Sixers: The Sixers host the Phoenix Suns tonight, who are currently scraping the bottom of the barrel much like the Cavaliers. I’m expecting Embiid to do work on defense against No.1 overall pick Deandre Ayton, and probably beast on him on the other end of the floor as well. Ayton isn’t known for his defensive presence, and not many people can handle Embiid in the post anyway. In all honesty, this wouldn’t be a bad game to finally give Embiid a night off, but I doubt he’d want to pass up an opportunity to followup on the preseason shit-talk he had for Ayton.

Jazz @ Pacers: Both of these teams came into the season expected to be middle of the pack teams with a chance to really take a leap forward. Indiana is considered the next team below the East’s top-heavy tier of Boston, Philly, Toronto, and Milwaukee. While Vic Oladipo has been a stud this year, it’s become pretty clear that the Pacers are in big trouble when he’s not on the court. They really are just one or two minor injuries away from dropping into the lower seeds and facing a potentially more threatening first round opponent. The Jazz have been a pretty major underachiever thus far this season. They’ve struggled at home, failed to reproduce their killer defense from last year (even with reigning DPOY Rudy Gobert on the court) and star-guard Donovan Mitchell hasn’t quite been shooting the lights out, and his efficiency has dropped significantly. Mitchell had a famously Kobe-esque game against the 76ers last friday, in which Mitchell posted 31 points on 35 FG attempts, with a big ol’ donut in both the Offensive Rebounds and Assists categories. Both of these teams have something to prove, but the Jazz have more to figure out going into the next stretch of the season if they hope to not get bounced in the first round, as the West is much less comfortable with an extra loss or two on your record than the Pacers’ East.

Nuggets @ Bucks: In somewhat opposite fashion to the Jazz/Pacers match-up, both of these teams had reasons for optimism entering this season, and then took a bigger leap than perhaps some might have expected. The Nuggets offense is deep at the guard position even before potentially adding Isaiah Thomas back in, although Mike Malone will have to figure out how to keep the defensive intensity high when working the back-court into lineups with Jokic, who, for all his smooth passing and scoring capabilities, might get exposed against athletic bigs or small lineups like the Bucks can roll out. Much less on the line for both of these two, although it should be an interesting game nonetheless.

The Rest of the Week:

Pelicans @ Sixers: The Sixers have the opportunity to carry a lot of momentum into the game this Wednesday night against Anthony Davis and the Pelicans, who might just regret their decision to not put up a better deal for Jimmy Butler. Davis has played well all year, but his frequent nights off keep him rested and he might just spoil the Sixers’ streak assuming a win against Phoenix Monday night. As the VP has always said, this match-up is particularly fun because Embiid and AD are the only two guys in the league capable of handling one another, so our eyes are peeled.

Lakers @ Cavaliers: Lebron returns to the Quicken Loans Arena for his Lakers debut on the court he used to call home. Other than that this match-up offers nothing as the Cavs will probably finish the season with the worst, if not close to the worst record in the NBA. 

Blazers @ Warriors: The Warriors have a chance to dispel the drama in their locker room (which I hope they do because I’m so tired of hearing about it) with a win at home against the Trailblazers. The Blazers’ backcourt has been stunning, and their bench looks more strong and deep defensively than they did last year. With Steph having missed some time with a hamstring injury, the Warriors will have to dig deep to their secondary deep-threat Klay Thompson and star forward Kevin Durant to outscore the dead-eye Blazers guards.