NBA Playoffs--West Conference 1st Round
(1) San Antonio vs. (8) Sacramento
Sacramento is definitely better than their #8 seed and will provide a tough out for San Antonio. The Kings' defense has easily improved since Artest arrived, but it still has enough holes that will eventually be too much to overcome. Bibby has never been much interested on the defensive end. Which is too bad because it's imperiative that he tries to keep Parker out of the lane. Probably will not happen. Another major problem for Sacto, is the lack of size & skill on the defensive end at the 4 spot. Thomas is just too small and Shareef is never been a defender. So that opposing 4 on the Spurs should have a field day if consistently single-teamed. What should the Kings do to remedy this situation? Double-team Duncan hard on the catch, get the ball out of his hands and make the other guys prove they can hit outside shots. Without question, sag off Parker & Ginobili--force them to be jumpshooters (especially Parker). Don't be shy about throwing some zone in to try to discourage driving lanes for Manu & Parker. The Spurs have more guys than they ever had who can hit from long-range, but you have to make them prove it. For the Kings on the offensive end, they must establish both Wells & Artest on the block. Both guys are capable of overpowering Bowen & Manu and getting them in foul trouble. Keys for the Spurs: Just be the Spurs.
SPURS IN 6
(4) Dallas vs (5) Memphis
Should I have to even give my synopsis? It seems like everyone has the Mavs sweeping this series and the Grizz keeping their playoff game losing streak alive. Just cause Memphis is never on TV does not mean they are no good. They were the 4th best team in the West. This is a very solid defensive unit that Fratello has slapped together. As many problems as Dirk causes Gasol on the defensive end, Gasol does vice versa to Dirk. Memphis has a good possible match-up for Dirk in Battier, an extremely underrated player. The problem with Memphis is they just don't seem to have overwhelming offensive firepower. Mike Miller is nice. Ed Jones is alright. Battier does some nice things. Just not enough sizzle after Gasol, who was the only guy who did much of anything last year vs. the Suns. You have to give credit to Avery, he has single-handedly turned around the Mavs defensively. These guys rotate so much better & close off driving lanes exponentially better than they ever had; you really have to wonder what they were doing in practice when Nellie was coaching. As long as they get a well-rounded effort offensively from guys like Howard, Stack, Terry, and if Dampier can just give them a little consistency (dubious, I know), they should prevail.
MAVS IN 6
(3) Denver vs. (6) LA Clippers
How hard is it to just re-seed the playoffs 1-8? Am I missing some buried bylaw? Seriously, why do some people seem to be making this harder than it needs to be? Tangent aside, this series should be interesting. Very interesting (Say it just like Timmy Hardaway) This series has wild & wacky written all over it. (Sorry, Marv) I could see Melo pulling his Bernard King-impersonation where he is just draining a variety of shots 17 feet & in. Then I could see Cassell doing some call & response and just matching every big Melo shot with his own. I could see Sammy with a big smile on his face, jabbering down the court, probably getting into with George Karl, which you know George would love. Throw in Mobley, Kenyon, Ruben to the mix and you have a series full of colorful characters. But from a strict basketball sense, the Nugs have a major problem after Melo--they can't shoot from the perimeter at all. This has been their Achilles' Heel since the start of this year & they have done nothing to fix it. They have no pure shooting guard on the roster. The Nugs are the easiest team to defend as a whole in the playoffs. It's a no-brainer that you double, triple team (yes, seriously) Melo often. Plenty of zone is advised as well. Camby is really the only guy you have to honor out to about 15 feet. Make Melo's every touch a miserable affair just like the Spurs did last year, just swarming him with 2 & sometimes 3 guys. The stuff I said above about Melo turning into Bernard shouldn't happen with any consistency, if you bring a smart gameplan defensively. One thing that goes overlooked about the Clips: their defense. It is pretty good and was good last year before injuries.
CLIPPERS IN 7
(2) Phoenix vs. (7) LA Lakers
I have been wavering back and forth about this series for a couple days. I can easily see the Suns winning in 4 games where they just execute to perfection on the offensive end. I can also see the Lakers pulling a mild upset in 7 games. I can see the Suns winning a close series in 7. For the Lakers to win, they must attack the paint at all cost, all the time. The Suns lack height, it was one of their major flaws last year. Their answer to the problem over the summer was to add Pat Burke. Exactly. The Suns' interior defense & rebounding were a problem last year even with Amare. Now, no Amare, Kurt Thomas is questionable, Brian Grant is running on fumes--small ball it will be. It annoys me all these people who think that D'Antoni is some genius for playing small ball with Diaw in the post. Like he has a choice. Also, to all these people--when has small ball ever worked in the playoffs? Sometimes D'Antoni gets way too much praise. The Suns have been awful at the defensive end since the All-Star break. During the month of March, the Suns were giving up roughly 49% fg pct. on the defensive end, while getting out-rebounded by 10 a game. They were getting murdered on their def. glass as well. The two factors of def. FG % and lack of taking care of your def. boards are crushing come playoff time. The great sage, Hubie, will always agree with me on that. On defense, the Lakers need to sprint back to the paint as fast as they ever have. Head always on a swivel vs. the Suns. In the half-court, I suggest they encourage Nash to be a primary scorer. The Suns love to run high pick/roll with Nash & spread three guys out on the 3 pt. line. They want you to help off the shooters, so they can jack up threes. The Suns love threes, it's a huge part of their offense. I say let Nash go off inside the three-point line, stay home on shooters. These other guys are always playing off of Nash, waiting for him to get them involved, and Nash's instinct is to get them involved. If Nash is enticed to score, the other players seem to stand around. If you cut down on the Suns' 3pt attempts and curb their transition points, they are scoring less points. With the way they have been playing defense & giving up second chance opportunities, the Suns really need that extra point on each three point shot and easy points in transition that much more. Easier said than done, though. It's worth a shot, Phil. I think the Lakers will not be able to stop Phoenix's tempo enough and will not get enough after Kobe. Although, Kobe, just by himself, will be good enough for two wins.
SUNS IN 6