NBA Playoffs--2nd Round Preview (Part I)
DETROIT (1) vs. CLEVELAND (4)
Cleveland better enjoy the celebrating & champagne showers now because it's the last time they will be partying this summer. Not much is expected of them in this series, so they should just try to play free and easy vs. the Pistons. If the Cavs want any chance at even competing in this series, they have to get more consistent play from their secondary ensemble, especially on offense. Lebron was not getting much steady help at the start of the series. But the last 2 games, other Cavs brought some needed support--Hughes & Murray brought some offense, Varejao brought some energy and Marshall brought a wily veteran presence. Mike Brown has to find a way to get Ilgauskas involved somehow--he was a total non-factor vs. the Wizards. I think Brown has to play Marshall as much as possible to space the floor for Lebron's driving lanes. Damon Jones needs to be used much more as well. I know he's a massive defensive liability but his shooting prowess is too important to overlook. Defensively for the Cavs.... well let's just say not much is going to get better any time soon to compete with the Pistons. The only reticence about the Pistons's play I have right now was their total no-show defensively on the road--60% & 55% in the two games in Milwaukee. They also gave up an average of 49 points in the paint the last 3 games of the series; not very Piston-like. It is a tad worrisome cause their regular season defensive numbers were not spectacular. Although, they did play championship-level defense at home; maybe they just were disinterested knowing the Bucks posed no threat. Even with this mediocre defense, Detroit is too talented, too savvy, too determined to be derailed by this Cav team. Don't think that Lebron will have huge lanes to basket vs. the Pistons like he did with the Wizards. Even at a medium effort, Detroit is exponentially better defensively than the Wizards. I also expect, he will not finish at the rim with quite as much ease in this series. The Pistons should sag off him a little and dare him to be a perimeter shooter. I am not sure if the Pistons will double him much--the Pistons don't like to do much doubling, they really don't need to do too much cause each player is such a good individual defender. I am just trying to decide if the Pistons will turn off the "defensive intensity" option for 1 or 2 games in the series, throwing a bone to the Cavs just to keep the series interesting for TV.
PISTONS IN 5
San Antonio (1) vs. Dallas (4)
This is the series that everyone in the NBA has been waiting for since Christmas. Some folks consider the series as the de-facto Western Conference Finals, and I tend to agree, although the Clips are starting to give me pause. The two top teams in the West going at it, to see whose in the King of Texas. Projects to be a classic. With all that said, I think this series will hinge on if the Mavericks' defense & rebounding is legit. Do not forget their defensive numbers were fairly solid at the end of the regular season last year, and they could not seem to translate that over into the playoffs last year. But they had a full year under Avery Johnson's tutelage this year and you can really see the difference: they do a much better job at rotating & cutting off lanes than when Nellie was just rolling the ball out there for practice. The Mavs looked very solid in the Grizz series, but it could be a little deceiving since Memphis has absolutely no firepower after Gasol. I always sort of cringe when Dirk's name is mentioned in the same sentence as the word "MVP". You think my problem would be with his defense (partly), but it has more to do with his refusal to take smaller defenders down on the block. Last year vs. the Suns in the playoffs, he just seemed allergic to the idea of taking Marion down low, instead he was content settling for jumpers like the rest of the Mavs. That perimeter mentality cost Dirk & the Mavs the series, when they should have been attacking the weak interior defense of the Suns. I want to see him take Bowen down low more often before I consider him MVP material. A big X-factor for the Mavs is the play of Josh Howard. He has faired pretty well vs. San Antonio this year and if he can bring his offensive rebounding & other intangibles, Dallas could pull the upset. The Spurs are not without concerns about their defense as well. The Kings really made the Spurs look rather ordinary defensively, especially in their interior which is usually impeccable. It will be interesting to see how Bowen makes the transition from the physical interior play of Wells & Artest to the length of Dirk. At the start of the Kings-Spurs series, I thought that the Kings should double Duncan on the catch and make the perimeter players prove that they can hit. I knew that the Spurs had probably the best collection of outside shooters they've ever had, but I still thought you make them prove they can shoot. Well, in the two first games they proved it; 3 pt. shooting was the only reason they were in Game 2, even before Barry's kind bounce. So I changed my gameplan to single Timmy, after noticing that Duncan looked gimpy in Game 2. It worked for the Kings in Games 3 & 4--the Spurs never really got off from long-range. This sort of leads into the other big subplot: What is the health of Duncan? We know he's hurt, but to what degree? Can Dallas get by just single-teaming him most of the series allowing them to guard the 3 pt. line better? I know one thing for sure, the Mavs have to make Parker a jumpshooter. He & Manu's driving lanes need to be clogged up. Dallas has a golden opportunity to steal Game 1 because of the quick turnaround for the Spurs--it's basically a back2back game for them, something that has not agreed with them all year, especially with their aging vets. The Mavs need to steal a game on the road, might as well be Game 1. This year's Mav team is the best they have had in the Cuban era to compete in the playoffs. It's a tossup--but I have to lean toward Duncan doing just enough to make sure the Spurs prevail.
SPURS IN 7