NBA Playoffs--2nd Round Preview (Part II)
MIAMI (2) vs. NEW JERSEY (3) (Eastern Conf.)
A lot of star power in this series with Shaq, Wade, Vince, Kidd, and Jefferson, but I think it could come down to role players from the Heat making the difference. The Nets are just a better, more experienced version of the Bulls. The Nets' defense is highly underrated and on the same level as the Bulls' superb unit, but with New Jersey having the added benefit of size. The Bulls' offense revolved around their perimeter (Hinrich, Gordon, & Nocioni), very similar to the Nets, except that the Big 3 of Kidd, Carter, & Jefferson are better at each position. Did you see how much trouble the Bulls made for the Heat defense for most of that series? Well, I think the Nets can do similar things taking advantage of the shaky Heat perimeter defense. Carter has to be aggressive taking the ball to the basket vs. Miami, he seemed to change his attitude in the Pacers' series after being passive on the perimeter in Game 1. Jefferson needs to follow Vince's lead, look to use his superior slashing ability to keep the Heat on their heels. Attacking the paint vs. the Heat is highly recommended on two fronts: not only are you taking advantage of their leaky perimeter defense, you are also taking the ball at Shaq's body, maybe getting him in foul trouble in the process. The one thing that the Nets showcase that the Bulls were lacking, is a big guy with offensive skills, like Krstic. He has the ability to take Shaq away from the basket and get him in pick/rolls (the bane of Shaq's existence). I do expect Shaq to guard Collins most of the time, this is why Larry Frank needs to play Uncle Cliffy with Krstic more to make Shaq have to decide who to guard--both guys can pull him away from the paint. The Heat have to do the obvious: dump the ball into Shaq as much as possible. Shaq's going to get his in this series, that's not in doubt, but will the Miami role players step up, especially from the 3 pt. line. The Nets will probably run some doubles at O'Neal, even though Collins is one of the better 5-spot defenders in the NBA. So the openings should be there for the Heat shooters. The Heat secondary support staff was somewhat uneven in the 1st round series as well in the regular season. Jason Williams had some nice games shooting the ball early in the series, but he was his usual pathetic self on defense. Posey was not really effective until Game 6 and they desperately need his shooting streak to continue along with Walker, Williams, & Payton's shooting. I think that Wade can be neutalized by Carter, and the Nets have the ability to throw different looks at him defensively with Kidd, Jefferson, & Vince. The Nets do not shoot the ball well from deep, surely not as good as the Bulls, so I would think that Riley should consider some sagging man-- daring the Nets to shoot. I feel it is a no-brainer encouraging Vince & Jefferson to become jumpshooters rather than slashers, and leaving Kidd open outside is always the easy decision. I have been wavering back & forth on this series, one minute I am going with the Heat, the next I am going with the Nets. At first glance, I was going with the Heat just like I picked them to beat the Nets before the start of the playoffs. But the way the Heat struggled vs. the Bulls, I really had to reevaluate this prospective series. The Nets are just a ramped-up version of the Bulls with the added bonus of more quality size. The Heat really struggled with dribble penetration and that is a big factor they need to clean up. Although, if the Heat are sharp shooting the ball from outside and their defense is solid, they could easily win this series in 6 games. I just have too much skepticism about the supporting Heat players coming to the aid of Shaq & Wade enough in this series.
NETS IN 7
PHOENIX (2) vs. LA CLIPPERS (6) (Western Conf.)
Well, the Suns had to be a big buzzkill and ruin eveyone's excitement about a Hallway Series. Even so this series has the chance of being pretty entertaining in its own right. Obviously when going up against the Suns, your gameplan should be pretty simple: Pound the post all the time. As even as much as the Lakers were going down low, I still felt it was not nearly enough. As good as Kobe was, I thought that the LA offense was much more effective running through the post. They abused the Suns in the interior when they chose to go down there, and the Clippers should thrive even better because of their more conventional post players. As good as Odom is down low, he's more of a hybrid forward who likes to float out on the perimeter alot. You really don't have to be concerned with Elton Brand straying to far from the painted area--he's a classic power forward, who loves playing back-to-the-basket. Kaman also brings a little bit more size & girth than Kwame, not to mention better hands and better footwork. So as you can see, the Suns are in for even more rough times in the paint than they faced with the Lakers. One thing that seems to still get overlooked about the Clips, is their defense. They had very good numbers in the regular season--the Clips had the 4th best Defensive FG % (43.5) and they guarded the 3 pt. line the 5th best in the NBA (34.3). The Def. 3pt. % is a big factor cause we all know how much the Suns love the 3pt. line--Suns led the league with at 40% from 3 pt. land. Another area where the Clips have a distinct advantage over the Suns is on the boards: the Clips were the 5th best in the league in Rebounding Margin, while the Suns were 3rd worst (not a real big surprise). Also, the Suns expect to give up a lot of offensive rebs. to the Clips just like they did to the Lakers. Although, the Suns did a somewhat better job of competing on the boards late in the series. For the Suns to prevail, they need to stick with their identity--just try to push tempo at all costs and try to jack up as many threes as they can. As much as Kaman will hurt the Suns' on offense, the Suns have to turn the tables and run him ragged on the defensive end. Diaw or Marion can take advantage of him on the perimeter, and D'Antoni will most likely attack this angle. Although, the Clippers are one of the best teams in the league at stopping fast break points, so this should be an interesting subplot. The Nash-Cassell matchup looks real enticing--two of the better points in the league, who both don't play a lick of defense, and who both want the ball in their hands in late-game pressure situations. By the way, for some curious reason Dunleavy went away for Savvy Sammy late in Games 1 & 3 in the Denver series. I felt these were major mistakes--Cassell has to have the ball in pressure situations, he lives for those chances and he usually delivers. Hopefully, Dunleavy doesn't make the same decision to take the ball out of Sam's hand in tight games in this series. In this series, I expect the Suns to run and get up as many threes as they can, and I think their best bet on defense is to scramble around trying to cause havoc. The Clippers did do a shaky job of taking care of the ball in Game 3--24 turnovers cost them the win, so trapping & scrambling could be effective for D'Antoni. The Clippers have to a better job at guarding the high screen/rolls than the Lakers did; the screens just totally stymied the Lakers' defense. I feel the Clippers are just a better overall team than the Lakers, especially on defense & on the glass, which should be too much for the undersized Suns to overcome this round. I do think the Suns will take a couple games because they will hot from the perimeter and try to run Kaman around on defense. The Clips just need to keep diligent about taking control of the paint at all times--don't ever take pressure off the Suns' interior defense & rebounding.
CLIPPERS IN 7