Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Western Conference Finals Recap (Game 4)

SUNS/MAVS (Game 4): Suns 106-Mavericks 86

- This game was shaping up to be a replica of Game 3 where the Mavs were only trailing by 5 at halftime after looking subpar in the 1st half. Even the halftime scores of both games was nearly the same--Game 3-52-47, Game 4-51-46. You were expecting the Mavs to turn up the defensive intensity in the 3rd quarter like they did in Game 3, and they were hanging tough midway thru the quarter (67-65 with 4 min. remaining). But the Mavs could never get the lead, partly because they could not get their offense functioning smoothly, and the Suns went on a 12-2 run to end the 3rd quarter and a 17-4 run to start the 4th quarter.

- The defense of the Suns actually showed up for consecutive games-- now if they show up again in Game 5, you better horde the duct tape & bottled water cause here comes some sort of biblical disaster. They continued the gameplan they installed after Game 1, where they encourage the Mavs to take jumpers and try to surround the paint to protect the interior. The Mavs took the bait by settling for too many outside looks once again--the Mavs only had 34 pts/paint and shot 41.8% overall. The Suns also kept the rebound margin close (Mavs 41-Suns 37), and nearly neutralized the off. rebound margin (Mavs 11-Suns 9). The Suns' offense seemed to return to their normal self by getting better shots in the interior and shooting a high percent from 3pt. (7/15)--the Suns shot 54.4% overall. Barbosa gave them a tremendous shot of energy off the bench once again either from deep (4/6 3pt.) or by nifty drives to the bucket--he finished shooting a blistering 10/13 from the floor for 24 pts. Diaw also did his damage inside 20 feet by either popping open jumpers or by displaying his flawless footwork in the paint to finish off post moves.

- The Mavs' offense probably put in its overall worst performance of the playoffs. They never really got any continuity going and just seem to settle for way too many jumpers. Dirk was particularly putrid, shooting 3/13 and in general, just settling for too many fadeaway jumpers. He never got his post game going and again was not being forceful enough attacking the rim. He needs to go at the rim more, instead of leaning back on his post moves, especially vs. the Suns--Dirk only got to the line 5 times. Another example came when he got a point-blank off. rebound in the 2nd quarter and he decided to kick the ball, just like he did in a previous game--Dirk has to go right back up with that shot, he's got to recognize better that the Suns don't have a guy bigger than 6-9. This is the sort of stuff that leads me to cringe when people mention Dirk for MVP. Basically, no Mav brought much to the table offensively besides maybe Josh Howard. He did a nice job of keeping the Mavs close in the first half with some tough shots in traffic and just his all-around effort was commendable. The Mavs also got a unexpected lift from Adrian Griffin, who shot 6/8 for 13 pts. & 7 rebs. The Mavs overall ragged performance was not helped by the 14 turnovers in Game 4 after only 6 in Game 3. The Mavs' defense was not totally bad--they kept the Suns' fast break points under double digits and even though the Suns shot 46% from 3pt, the Suns made only 7, so that's a number you can live with. I know I am beating this point into the ground, but the Mavs have to attack the interior as much as possible the rest of the series. Even if the Suns are collapsing around the paint, they are still vulnerable protecting the basket--you must pound them non-stop down low.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Eastern Conference Finals Recap (Game 4)

PISTONS/HEAT (Game 4): Heat 89-Pistons 78

- For the second game in a row, Miami was in danger of blowing another game they seemed to be controlling in every aspect. If you were watching the 1st half without the score graphic on the screen, you would have assumed the Heat were up by 20 points at halftime. But the Pistons were somehow down by 6, after being seemingly dominated, and continued to put the pressure on the Heat with a well-played 3rd quarter on both offense & defense. But Wade was not going to let this game slip away, and he put on a MVP type display in the 4th quarter.

- Wade made just enough big plays in the 4th quarter to push away the Pistons after a difficult 3rd quarter for the Heat. Wade, who was shut down in the 3rd thanks to the Pistons' solid zone, came back to life in the final stanza with some Jordan-like shots that were too much for any Piston to contain. Dwyane finished with 31 pts. on 8/11 shooting overall, 6 rebs., 5 assts. & went 15/19 from the line. Shaq had another efficient game with 21 pts. on 8/12, and once again flashed his refound mobility on both ends--had to love the full-court lay-in off his steal and also the quick spin on the baseline for the reverse jam. The supporting cast was not needed too much in this contest since the Pistons' offense continued its lackluster ways, but Haslem added a nice third option to the mix by hitting the open looks that were available (Udonis had 16 pts.). The Heat defense continued the strong effort its shown the last 10 games, by holding the Pistons' offense to 39% shooting. Although, the Heat were more careless than usual on their defensive glass--the Pistons grabbed 14 off. boards. These extra possessions plus the missed free throws were the only reasons Detroit was even in remote striking distance in the 4th.

- I suggested that the Pistons' offensive woes could be more of a chronic problem a couple of days ago, just as a hypothesis. Well, I feel pretty comfortable now that is the case, and it might be the effect of more deep-seeded issues inside the Detroit locker room. Whatever the case, the Pistons' offense could not find a consistent rhythm besides a fluid 3rd quarter and the last few minutes of the 2nd quarter--the Pistons shot 39% overall. Basically, no individual Piston had much of an impact of note on the offensive end. I guess Billups was solid with 14 pts. on 6/12 & 7 assts., and was the impetus in the 3rd quarter for keeping the Pistons close. Prince started off well and seemingly single-handedly keeping Detroit afloat in the 1st half--he ended with 15 pts., but shot 6/16. Detroit missing 10 free throws did not help their cause too much, especially when Miami missed 19 of their own. The Pistons defense was not much to write home about either. The Heat shot 55% overall--this is the third time in the series that the Pistons allowed more than 50% shooting. You combine that with putting the Heat on the free throw line 47 times, not good times. But even with these numbers, I still don't think the Pistons were terrible defensively in this game. I thought they did a great job in 3rd quarter by sticking with the zone for a long time, and it really took Wade out of his game. I have to give Flip some credit for sticking with the zone so long. One of my biggest pet peeves with NBA coaches, is they are usually too impatient when someone makes a basket on a zone.

- Obviously, the Pistons are in big trouble and they don't look to have the same cohesiveness that has been their trademark for the last couple years. You're hearing all these veiled complaints in the press from many Pistons, and they are coming at the worst time possible. I wondered before if they miss Larry Brown more than they or anybody thought, and I am starting to feel more confident about that theory each game.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Western Conference Finals Recap (Game 3)

SUNS/MAVS (Game 3): Mavericks 95-Suns 88

- The Mavs just put on a defensive clinic in the 2nd half by holding the Suns to 36 points and ultimately 88 points for the entire game. Defense was the overriding theme for Game 3, not just for the Mavs, but somewhat surprisingly for the Suns as well. The Suns' defense was not too shabby itself by only letting the Mavs shoot 41%, and arguably outshining it's offense. Most importantly, the Mavs did not give the Suns many easy scores--they only allowed 4 fast break points & the Suns hit just 7 3pts.

- Most of this victory can be accredited to the Mavs' defense--they were simply stifling, especially in the 2nd half. Holding the Suns to a total of 36 points in a half is nearly unheard of, indeed a rare event. You combine that with the Suns shooting 42.7% overall, making only 7 3pts., and scoring a paltry 4 fast break points--you will more than likely end up on the winning end vs. the Suns. After coming out of the locker room for the 2nd half, the Mavs were on a mission to shut down the interior defensively, and they were pretty darn successful. I thought Diop had his second good game in a row, by doing a tremendous job of challenging nearly every Suns' attempt in the paint. He was definitely the anchor, but it was also the quicker help rotations from the rest of the Mavs, especially their wings, that added to the Suns' rough 2nd half. Believe it or not, but I thought Dirk did a wonderful job defensively, particularly protecting the basket and by hauling down every rebound in his area. Josh Howard delivered another superb all-around game with 22 pts., 12 boards (4 off.), & 3 steals--one steal which was huge when the game was 88-84 and he pushed the game to 6 (the Mavs had 8 steals to 0 for the Suns). Howard was also just overall disruptive on the defensive end the whole game. The thing about this game was the Mavs were successful not only clamping down in the interior, but also doing a admirable job of not letting the Suns go off from long-range. Usually it's a tradeoff your team makes-- we will shut down the 3pt.-line at all cost understanding we will be vulnerable to allowing easier looks closer to the bucket, or vice versa--but in this game Mavs were able to do both. That is not something that is very easy to do vs. the Suns.

- I know you usually don't get to say this much, but the Suns' defense probably outplayed their offense in Game 3. They seemed to have made the decision to sag around the paint and have the Mavs beat them with perimeter jumpers as opposed to going thru the paint. This strategy was working fairly well in the 1st half, because the Mavs were settling for a lot of jumpers and they were not falling that well (Suns held the Mavs to 41.1% overall) But in the 2nd half, the Mavs made a concerted effort to get Terry open off of screen action and he started to knock down his shot, as did the rest of the Mavs to a better degree than in the 1st half. Diaw put in another solid effort for the Suns with 20 pts., 6 rebs, & 4 assts. But again, I think the Mavs will live with him getting offense inside the 3pt.-line, especially his 15-18 foot jumpers. The Suns did keep the overall rebound margin close (48-45), but gave up just too many off. boards to the Mavs (19), who just seemed to be outhustling the Suns the entire 2nd half. Also, what hurt the Suns' fortunes in this game were the turnovers--13 TOs to 6 for the Mavs.

- Even though the Mavs came away with the victory, I still think they settled for perimeter looks too much. Dirk still needs to attack the paint more--he only had 6 ft attempts-- and, again Stackhouse loitered around the outside too much again as well & shot only 2/8. I am not so sure they can have another game where they take away the 3 & the easy 2-point shots so well vs. the Suns; they are more than likely going to have to accept one or the other. From the Suns' perspective, they have to try to get out in transition more. Or maybe they can't because the injuries & short bench have possibly caught up with them.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Eastern Conference Finals Recap (Game 3)

PISTONS/HEAT (Game 3): Heat 98-Pistons 83

- The Heat totally controlled every aspect of this game on both ends. It was hard to believe this game was close in the middle of the 4th quarter. After Billups hit a couple threes to pull the Pistons within one point, you were really wondering how in the world the Heat were in trouble, considering they seemed to be totally outplaying Detroit the whole game. At that point, I think the Heat realized that fact as well, and made sure they were not going to blow a game in the final minutes that was their game for the taking from the opening tap.

- There wasn't much that went wrong with the Heat offense in Game 3. They shot a blistering 58.2%, throttled the Pistons in the points/paint battle 50-16, and grabbed 11 off. boards while the Pistons only got 19 def. boards of their own. Much of the damage was done by the two Miami superstars: Shaq & Wade. Wade had another MVP-type performance, where he seemed to get any shot he wanted against the supposed, vaunted Pistons' defense. Again, he got great looks all over the floor, leading to 35 pts on a ridiculous 13/17 shooting. Shaq brought the damage in the paint on both ends. He finished a little stronger in Game 3 than he did in Game 2, ending up with 27 pts. on 11/15 & 12 rebs. (6 off.). He also continued his newfound nimbleness on defense by moving around pretty well--he even challenged a couple pick/rolls. The Heat role players were solid, not great. in a game they were not really needed too much cause of the dominant play of Shaq & Wade. Walker had a very good floor game where he was not settling for his usual perimeter "volume shooting". Instead, Antoine decided to attack the basket, which not only led to 11 pts., but also 4 assts (two of which were nice lobs to Shaq). Haslem also pitched in with 10 pts. & 7 boards. I guess the only fault with the Heat in Game 3, was they commited 18 TOs--this is a minor concern after they commited the same amount in Game 2 & 15 in Game 1. I should not forget to add that I thought the Heat defense put in another solid effort. Riley has really turned their defense around since the last couple games of the Chicago series, after they were getting shredded on the perimeter.

- After the Pistons looked fairly competent offensively in Game 2, they reverted back to their ragged ways that have been plaqueing them since early in the Cavs' series. They shot 42.2% from the field and Billups was the only Piston to have much of an impact on the game. Chauncey actually had the type of game you were waiting for from him--31 pts on 11/17 & 4/5 from 3pt. range. Billups was the prime catalyst for the Pistons making the Heat sweat in the 4th quarter, it just did not seem the rest of the Pistons were along for the ride. Hamilton had a solid game with 20 pts., but again he did most of his damage in the 1st half & he only shot 40% overall. Big Ben had a very subpar game by his standards and was totally a non-factor on the offensive end. This might have to do with the fact that Riley is going with a "Maul-a-Wallace" plan, thus Ben is very skittish touching the ball on offense. Detroit's defense was not quite up to snuff either. They just don't seem to be rotating with same zeal that was their trademark for the last couple years; maybe they really do need Larry Brown more than anybody thought. Maybe in retrospect, the Pistons' defense is not as good as usual, and maybe why they looked so good in the Cavs' series was because the Cavs' offense is fairly one-dimensional; their defense was nothing special in the reg. season. I am not sure I am quite ready to accept this theory, but it's worth considering. The Pistons have let the Heat shoot 58% & 56% in their two wins.

Western Conference Finals Recap (Game 2)

SUNS/MAVS (Game 2): Mavs 105- Suns 98

- The Mavs came out early trying to get Dirk established down low, and it was pretty successful in the 1st quarter. But I think the Mavs went away from attacking the interior, and started to go into jumper-mode in the 2nd quarter, and thusly the Suns made a run & took the lead. All in all, Dirk had another good game with 30 pts., 14 rebs., & 6 assts. But I still thought he could have done more damage in the post--too many times when he gets on the block, he doesn't go right at the rim and ends up trying fadeaways like he does at the high post. Another example was when Dirk got an off. board after the Mavs had to force up a shot with I sec. on the shot clock--he had a clear point-blank shot but he decided to kick-out for a perimeter shot. The shot went in, but Dirk has to be more forceful when he gets down low, especially vs. the Suns. Look what he did with a 1:30 left in the 4th when the Mavs really needed a score to secure the win--he goes strong on a drive right down the baseline & finished strong at the rim. How bout that urgency & aggressiveness for the entire game. The Mavs as a whole settled for too many outside looks, even more than in Game 1--they only had 48 pts/paint. I know Terry is a great jumpshooter, but he needs to look to drive more-- he shot 6/15. Again, Stackhouse has been watching Dirk too much, because he seems to have transformed into a fadeaway shooter, shunning his slashing. This is the wrong series for Jerry to try this; he needs to start attacking like he can & living on the line, like he's known for. He had a huge drive late in the game where he got a basket & a foul, and I ended up wondering why he hasn't been doing this all the time. But this lack of attacking surely did not filter down to Josh Howard, who had 29 pts., & 7 rebs. Howard was great for the entirety of the contest from inside & out, especially proficient from the perimeter (3/5 from 3pt), something that's not his strong suit. Now you find out that the Mavs are 22-0 when Howard scores at least 20, so I assume Avery knows this and will keep milking Josh.

- The Mavs did a decent job defensively holding the Suns to 45% from the field and doing a better job of cutting down on the Suns' forays to the rim--Suns had 46 pts/paint opposed to the 70+ they got in Game 1. I thought the insertion of Diop for Van Horn (I thought it was a bad decision to start him) made a noticable difference on the defensive end. Diop did a good job in the interior discouraging Suns' drives and he also procured 11 rebs. Another big key for the Mavs, was they did a somewhat better job in transition defense by giving up 21 fast break points, although that is still a little too much, at least its better than 32 in Game 1. The Mavs got away with letting the Suns shoot 10/23 from 3pt. land. As I stated before, this is generally not a good idea cause the Suns will usually make you pay and the Suns had plenty of open looks that just did not fall. Tim Thomas had a couple open looks pop in & out, later in the series these looks could burn the Mavs. The Mavs again won the rebound battle--48-39--and grabbed 11 off. rebs to 7 for the Suns.

- Believe it or not, I felt the Suns played pretty good defense, relatively speaking. I thought they did a good job in help rotations: they were not allowing nearly as much easy looks at the rim and they seemed to be allowing the Mavs to shoot from outside, while sagging around the paint. I think this is smart for the Suns, even though the Mavs are a good perimeter shooting team. I think by enticing them to stay on the perimeter, you protect your weak interior defense. I would rather have the Mavs taking low-percentage shots than getting unencumbered lay-ins with the chance of picking up fouls as well. Although, in this game the Suns could not be pleased with the Mavs getting to the line 25 more times then them. I know the Suns do not get to the line a lot in general, but they also do not foul a lot either. Offensively, Diaw had another solid all-around game with 25 pts., 10 rebs, & 6 assts. I think I will live with Diaw getting this, since he does most of his damage inside of 20 feet.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Eastern Conference Finals Recap (Game 2)

PISTONS/HEAT (Game 2): Pistons 92-Heat 88

- For all this talk of SmallBall & uptempo being the new-wave of the NBA, it sure has not seemed to have reached the Eastern part of the USA. The East. Conf. playoffs lately have looked like mid-90s East Conf. playoff battles where defense takes over and easy points are hard to come by. This was the case in Game 2, which was not the most aesthetically pleasing game, filled with a combined 34 turnovers, especially an unappealing 3rd quarter. But the Pistons regained some rhythm that was missing from their offense for the last 5-6 games, helping them stave off a late rally by the Heat.

- Finally the Pistons' offense showed some semblance of consistency for the entirety of a playoff game. They were good, not great--the Pistons shot 44%, 6/22 from 3pt., & 16 TOs, so you can see they still have not quite righted the ship offensively. But they seemed to get better movement and looked more lively throughout the game, thanks in some part to running Rip around more. Hamilton did most of his damage in the first half by scoring 20 of his 22 points in the half. Once again though, Tayshaun was the most consistent Piston from opening tap to final buzzer, doing a little bit of everything as usual--Prince finished with 24 pts. & 11 rebs. (6 off.). Big Ben helped Prince out in the all-around action by doing the dirty work defensively and on the boards (12 rebs.), and also tossing in an unexpected spark offensively with 9 pts on 4/4, & 3 assts. Ben looked to make a concerted effort to make the Heat pay for coming off him defensively. Also, Ben did a solid job holding his own vs. Shaq: not letting Shaq finish with power too often, thus forcing a handful of close misses by Shaq. The Pistons' defense was better than in Game 1 by holding the Heat to 42.5%, although Wade did get some open lanes to the rim vs. the Pistons a little too much.

- I stated before that how the Miami role players go so go the Heat's overall fortunes. Well, in Game 2 the role players combined to shoot 11/37 overall and 4/18 from long-range; not usually good times for the Heat when this happens. The only reason the Heat were even in striking distance late was the superb play of Wade. He was the one Heat that was carving up the Pistons' defense, and single-handedly keeping the Heat in the game in the 2nd quarter--he ended with 32 pts., 7 rebs., 5 assts., but also had 9 TOs. Shaq was alright as well with 21 pts., 12 rebs., but he missed a few chip shots that just lipped out. Although somewhat surprisingly, I felt Shaq was pretty active defensively all night. All in all, I thought the Heat defense was pretty solid once again, particularly from the 2nd quarter on, and did not let Detroit get off from 3pt. distance once again. But the Heat hurt themselves with 18 TOs, especially in a ragged 3rd quarter.

- Obviously, the Heat need to get their role guys back involved down in Miami. For the Pistons, they still need to get their offense back into a good groove, like the one they showcased during the reg. season. Even in Game 2, the offense was still a little rough around the edges.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Wednesday Recap (May 24)

SUNS/MAVS (Game 1): Suns 121-Mavs 118

- The Mavs really blew that one. They had the game under wraps late, and all they needed was to make smart decisions, and they could not. They made a couple of unforced errors, did not get into good sets offensively, and let the Suns get good looks from deep late, after doing a great job defending the 3 all game. But what I think ultimately made the difference in this game was Dallas's inability to get back in transition--Suns had 32 fast break points.

- I bet the most common phrase that Avery is saying in practice today is: "We have to sprint back on defense after a make or miss!" (Make sure you say it imitating Avery's voice). I imagined he beat it into the Mavs' head before Game 1, but it did not seem to take. Dallas seemed perplexed that the Suns were flying by them, especially after some made baskets. Obviously when playing the Suns, cutting down fast break points is one of the main keys, besides discouraging 3pts.,--the Suns live on easy points. The Spurs did a great job of getting back in transition last year in the Conf. Finals throughout the series. Well, the Mavs did get at least 1 out of 2 of those big keys right--they did a wonderful job of getting the Suns off of the 3pt. line. When the Suns only attempt 15 shots, you're usually in great shape. Granted, this defensive strategy led to more easy shots inside the arc--the Suns had 72 points/paint--but as I've said before, I think you live with this and Avery should definitely stick with it. Some people seemed to think that Dallas did a poor job defensively cause they allowed the Suns to shoot 55.3%, but I thought they played the Suns pretty smart in the half-court, although they could have probably done a slightly better job cutting down the Suns' pts/paint. It was the transition points that killed the Mavs.

- I thought the best player for the Mavs last night was Devin Harris, and wasn't just cause he was the Mavs' leading scorer--it was because he was the one Mav who continuely attacked the basket. The Suns were letting a lay-up line happen anytime the Mavs even entered the paint (Mavs had 74 pts/paint), but I still thought the Mavs settled for too many jumpers. For me, you can not attack the interior enough vs. the Suns. I did not see enough post-ups for Dirk--if he wants consideration for MVP, he needs to get his rear down low more, especially in this series. What was Stackhouse doing settling for all these jumpers as well? Granted, he had 16 points, Stack is one of the best guys in the league at getting to the free throw line cause of his slashing--he was 1/1 from the line. His eyes should light up when playing a team like the Suns, who were giving up easy lay-ups all game. Maybe Avery does need to go to Damp even more--Damp shot 3/4--because if he's not using his size offensively, he's just a liability vs. the Suns.

- The Suns put up zero resistance defensively as usual, especially in the interior, but they lucked out by the Mavs not taking enough advantage of this. Nash had a super game, with some huge plays late in the game--he ended with 27 pts. & 16 assts. Diaw came thru big for the Suns as well, with a big shot and 34 points & 4 off. boards. Even though the Suns got outrebounded by 10 overall, they did a good job on their offensive boards--12 to 18 for the Mavs.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Western Conference Finals Preview

Suns (2) vs. Mavericks (4)

This series is a rematch of the competitive Conf. Semi-Finals from last year with one key difference--no Amare this year. Last year, I thought the Mavs were more successful when they attacked the weak interior defense of the Suns. I thought they lost the series because they settled for jumpers too much. Well, this year the Suns' interior defense is still awful, and the Mavs' defense is even better than it was last year. So I expect things to be different this year, and with Amare's injury, the West Conf. banner should be easier for the taking for the Mavs.

By now, everyone knows the linchpin of the Mavs' offense is Dirk. He is usually positioned around the free-throw line and he causes much damage from that area, no surprises about that. But in this series, I think he needs to get himself down in the post much more than he's ever had. The Suns' interior defense is as bad as any in the NBA, and Dirk is the best option that Dallas has for post scoring. I thought one of the things that cost the Mavs last year vs. the Suns, was that they did not attack the paint enough, and they settled for jumpers too much. Part of this problem was Dirk's refusal to take Marion down on the block. If Dirk wants to officially make the case for MVP, he needs to be willing to take Marion or Diaw down on the block a lot. Another angle that Avery has to use, is putting pressure on Nash on the defense end. This is where Harris needs to continue his dribble penetration that was so successful vs. the Spurs. All in all, the entire Mavs' unit needs to look to attack the paint more in this series. You know even some touches for Dampier in this series would not be a bad idea. I know he's not a post-up wonder, but the Suns did make Kwame Brown look like a borderline All-Star for most of the 1st round. Also, another aspect that Dallas can look to exploit is the offensive boards--the Mavs have two very good off. board men with Damp & Howard.

Defensively for Dallas, I think its the same script that every team should have vs. Phoenix--get them off the 3pt.-line at all costs. I am a big proponent of sacrificing some easy two-pointers, in exchange for discouraging 3 pt. attempts from the Suns. The Suns are still just looking to outscore teams, not stop them, and they use the three to build up the point total. They need that extra point per possession from the 3pt. shot and the easy points on the fast break to offset their non-existent defense. Let Diaw shoot that 18-footer, give Marion that 10-foot floater, give Nash some open looks inside 22 feet, -- just don't let them even attempt 3pts. To go along with this idea, you have to temper your doubles and help rotations when playing the Suns. The Suns are just dying for you to help and come off their shooters so they can pitch out for a 3. You have to recognize and sometimes restrain yourself from what would normally be the right thing to do defensively vs. the Suns. Maybe give up an easy lay-up sometimes, just don't let them get good looks from 3. The Clippers did a terrible job of this for most of the series, and it crushed them. I bet Avery throws Howard & Daniels on Nash quite bit in this series, length has bothered Nash before, with Ross & Bowen as prime examples. It will be interesting to see what type of line-ups that Avery goes with vs. the Suns. I think he can put Damp on Diaw quite a bit, and let Diaw shoot when he wants to.

For the Suns offensively, I don't expect too many adjustments and it should be the same gameplan as always--jack up as many threes as possible and try to lull Dallas into a helter-skelter pace. I think the Suns could tease the Mavs into this type of run-n-gun style, cause I think the Dallas guards really want to play this way. I imagine when Dampier or Diop are in the game, the Suns will try to run more high pick/rolls with them. I also expect the Suns to try to get Diaw & Tim Thomas switched onto the Dallas guards in pick/rolls, and to see how Dallas reacts defensively--see if they make the same miscues that haunted the Clips.

When talking about defense with the Suns, you have use the term loosely. Even so, I think the Suns match up pretty well with the Mavs (even better than the Clips or the Spurs), cause the Mavs don't really have a natural post presence. The Suns' interior defense is always ripe for the picking, but it will be interesting to see how often the Mavs try to attack it. Suns should get into scramble mode quite a bit, to see if they can create turnovers leading to fast breaks. I don't think the Suns really need to double as much in this series. I think Marion & Diaw can handle Dirk one-on-one on the perimeter, but I am not sure how they handle him if he chooses to go down low. I feel the Suns just match-up well with the Mavs' guards, and have the athleticism to neutralize them on the perimeter, if they really want to. But that's sort of the key question with the Suns, will they even put in much effort defensively.

I think the Suns have a great shot in the series, much better than if they had to play the Spurs, cause the Mavs really don't have a dominant post presence. Even though Dallas is quite successful getting the majority of their offense on the perimeter, they really need to mix in a fair amount of interior looks. The Mavs just need to take care of the ball and not rush up bad shots, because the Suns will ultimately let you shoot a high percentage. Also, when the Mavs do miss some of their shots, they will be given ample opportunity to get second chance points vs. the poor rebounding Suns. The Mavs just came off a series where they constantly beat the Spurs on the boards, so this series should be a piece of cake. I feel the only way that the Suns can pull off this series is if they go ballastic from 3pt. land, which is not that out of the question. I just think that the Mavs will do enough of an adequate job defending the 3pt. line for victory. MAVS IN 7

Tuesday Recap (May 16)

Eastern Conf. Finals

PISTONS/HEAT (Game 1): Heat 91-Pistons 86

- This game started off looking like a typical Western Conference playoff game with both teams combining for 58 points in the 1st quarter. Miami started off the game red-hot from the field, resembling Dallas on Monday, and the Heat ended up shooting 75% in the 1st. But then this game slowly fell back into a typical East Conf. battle where points are hard to come by. The Pistons, in particular, had a hard time finding the bottom of the net after the 1st quarter and this was their ultimate undoing.

- The Pistons continued to display very little consistency on the offensive end, and just could not find their mark on their jumpers--they shot 37.8% & shot 5/21 from 3pt. I think this is turning into a major concern, because this seems to be a chronic problem that has existed since the 2nd half of Game 2 vs. the Cavs. I think they really need to get back to playing off of Rip's movement around screens more. The last couple years, the Pistons as a whole really got into good rhythms by playing off the action Rip created. Although, the Pistons backcourt scored 41 points, Rip & Billups had to do it on a combined 15/41 shooting. Billups needs to look to attack more with the dribble: the Pistons got very few drives to the rim, and this is something that needs to be tested, especially vs. the Heat.

- Defensively, the Pistons were not quite themselves-- letting more forays straight to the rim than is per usual with Detroit's rep. Wade led this charge by getting great looks all night for the limited 27 minutes he played. Wade got into the paint basically anytime he wanted, and ended shooting 9/11 for 25 pts, and continued to create shots for his teammates with 5 assts. I have been stressing the importance of the play of the Miami role guys, and they came thru huge in Game 1, especially with Shaq in foul trouble. Payton turned the clock back to '96, by looking very spry on the floor--he ended with 14 pts. on 6/8. Williams & Walker also played solid games by chipping in with a combined 27 points. You can't forget Alonzo's defensive effort that discouraged the few drives that Detroit attempted. The Heat ended up shooting a superb 56.3%, and finished with 52 points/paint. The only issue the Heat really had in this game was turnovers--they had 15 to 6 for the Pistons. This was the only reason for Detroit being even close--Detroit got up 82 fg attempts to 64 fga for Miami. If the Heat can continue to get the support from their secondary guys, and hopefully they can keep Shaq out of foul trouble, they could be tough to stop.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Eastern Conference Finals Preview

Detroit (1) vs. Miami (2)

This series was the one most people predicted at the start of the season, and especially after Artest went on "sabbatical" leading to Indiana's semi-implosion, these two teams were on a beeline throughout the regular season to meet to see who is the King of the East. This rematch of last year's very competitive Conf. Finals, could be a replay, especially after the way The Heat improved their play in the 2nd round after looking vulnerable in the 1st round. While the Pistons seem a little bit more vulnerable then they showed in the reg. season after a putrid offensive showing vs. the Cavs.

The Pistons' offense needs to get back to running Hamilton off of screens more often, which has been the cornerstone of their identity for the last couple years. They really did not feature this enough vs. the Cavs, and I think it was a big reason for them never buliding up a consistent rhythm offensively in the series, besides Game 1. The Pistons also have the luxury of having 3 guys who are some of the best post-up options at their respective positions: Rasheed, Prince, & Billups. I think all 3 guys need to be milked down low cause they have a distinct advantage over their opposing defender. I thought that the Heat needed to get more size at the 4-spot over the summer, specifically cause Haslem's giving up too much height to Sheed. It cost the Heat in Game 7 last year, where Sheed used his length to get a big board & bucket late over Haslem. Billups needs to be much more assertive offensively vs. Miami than he was in the Cavs' series. Also, Flip needs to call Prince's number on the right block, so to make Ant Walker work as much as possible defensively (something he's not to fond of). Billups needs to look for more dribble penetration, especially vs. the shaky Heat perimeter defense, and he needs to just look to abuse Jason Williams as much as possible, especially with some post-ups. Another angle that I think Flip needs to examine is playing McDyess more often in the place of Big Ben. I know Ben does alot of the invaluable dirty work, but he does not make Shaq work on defense at all. I would love to see Sheed & McDyess playing together alot, so Shaq has to make a decision on who to guard, and both guys need to be guarded at least up to 15 feet. This can lead to more precarious pick/rolls for Shaq to be involved in, something he despises. I thought McDyess did a surprisingly good job on Shaq last year, so having him in place of Ben might not be as big of a problem defensively as imagined.

Defensively for the Pistons, they are going from having to gear their defense around one superstar to two. Dealing with Shaq is priority number one for Detroit. The Pistons do have the luxury of throwing 5 different vets with good size at Shaq. Big Ben will get the majority of the minutes on O'Neal, but Sheed and McDyess will get their cracks at him as well. Along with rotating Ben, Sheed, & McDyess on Shaq, Flip will more than likely shake the cobwebs off Dale Davis and Kel Cato in the series. The only reason for these guys being on the Detroit roster is for the sole purpose of them using their alloted 6 fouls on Shaq every game. I think even with this collection of solid defensive bigs, the Pistons will still need to send doubles at Shaq a fair amount. Even as good as Ben is, Shaq still can manhandle him during stretches of the game (Shaq ate him up pretty good one-on-one in the 2004 finals). I still think every game you go into vs. the Heat, you have to force the Heat role players to prove they can hit their perimeter shots. With Wade, I think Prince gets the main assignment, while Flip has the ability to throw different looks to possibly disrupt Wade's rhythm with the likes of Billups, Rip, & Hunter, who can harass Wade for limited minutes.

Main objection for the Heat offense in this series, is the same as any--get the ball into Shaq as much as possible. Make the Pistons' defense make decisions, make them decide if they need to double, hopefully leaving great open looks for the role players & Wade. I think Wade needs to look to attack and create with his dribble like he did vs. the Nets--he did a wonderful job of creating shots for himself & his teammates. Like it was in the Nets' series, the play of the Heat secondary guys could be the key tipping point of the series. Shaq & Wade will probably get their numbers, but Walker, Haslem, Posey, Williams, & Payton need to give solid support, especially shooting the open perimeter jumpers that will sure to be created by the defense collapsing on Shaq & Wade. Walker really needs to carryover his good shooting in the Nets' series into the Conf. Finals, too take pressure off the doubles that come onto Shaq & Wade.

The Pistons are as tough as any team to defend in the NBA cause they can hurt you in a variety ways--multiple guys who can post, Rip's mid-range game, good 3pt. shooting overall, Sheed's inside/outside ability, pick/rolls with Billups. The Heat defense looked alright, not great, vs. the Nets after looking very shaky vs. the Bulls. There is one thing for certain that the Heat need to do--they can come off of Big Ben as much as possible. This usually means that Shaq needs to be extra active off the ball, especially helping Haslem with Sheed. I know its dubious asking alot of movement & effort from Shaq but I think it will be needed. I expect to see more Mourning in the series to bring some activity on the defensive end and possibly play with Shaq as to put more size on Sheed.

After the 1st round, I would have thought this series would have been a foregone conclusion for the Pistons, that's why I even picked the Nets to beat the Heat. But after the way both teams played in the 2nd round, I am expecting a much more competitive series, like the one I expected at the start of the year. The Heat defense rebounded to an average level in Round 2 after a pretty dismal performance in Round 1. While on the other hand, the Pistons' defense is not the problem, it was their offense that suffered badly in Round 2. I totally expect Detroit to regain some semblance of consistency offensively in this series, but if they don't, the Heat will capitalize on this alot easier than the Cavs could. I don't think the Heat defense will be good enough to deal with all the options of the Pistons. While I still feel uneasy about the Heat role players providing the aid that is required night-in, night-out, even though they played well vs. the Nets.

Monday Recap (May 22)

SPURS/MAVS (Game 7): Mavericks 119-Spurs 111 (ot)

- I guess this instant classic of a series could not be complete without ending in an instant classic Game 7. The Mavs came out of the gates insanely hot and forced the Spurs to play catch-up the rest of the game. Spurs finally got close late in the 3rd quarter, but could never seemed to be able to get the lead. You thought the Spurs might never break thru the Mavs' lead, but they finally did with less than a minute remaining. When the Spurs finally got that lead, I think you felt that the momentum from the breakthrough would carry them to victory. But The Spurs made a mistake fouling Dirk and could not get two good looks to fall at the end of regulation. They failed to capitalize on the momentum, and the Mavs took advantage in the OT by reverting back to their 1st half ways, and draining most of their attempts.

- The Mavericks came out in the 1st quarter on absolute fire, basically not missing a thing they threw up--15/18 from the floor in the quarter. They only slightly cooled down more in the 2nd quarter, by ending the half shooting a flat-out ridiculous 70% from the field. They finally came back down to reality in the 2nd half and in turn, the Spurs started to claw their way back. The Mavs finally ended the game shooting 52%. Dirk brought an MVP-type performance throughout the game with clutch shots and a new-found aggressiveness on the boards--37 pts., 15 boards, & 15/16 from the line. Dirk also provided the impetus for the scrambling of the Spurs defense, opening up good looks for his teammates. Terry being back also opened up the floor even more for the Mavs. Terry's ability to rain down jumpers from all over again, helped Howard (18 pts) & Stackhouse (13 pts) find their way to good looks. A nice pleasant surprise to the Mavs scoring party was Diop hitting all his shots (3/3) for 7 points. Not to mention, the solid defense on Duncan in OT and some big offensive boards late in the game. Probably the best thing to happen to the Mavs down the stretch was Van Horn & Dampier fouling out, letting Diop play in OT.

- Even while the Mavs were shooting lights out in the 1st half, the Spurs' offense was not doing too bad themselves. The Spurs played pretty well offensively the whole game (Spurs shot 47.4%), they just seemed to be getting overwhelmed because the Mavs would not miss. It seemed to take forever for the Spurs to finally get the lead, but when they finally did you felt the game was over. Manu came thru with big plays when the Spurs needed them and Duncan was his usual dominant self in the post--Timmy ended with 41 pts., 15 rebs. (6 off.), & 6 assts. Although, Timmy struggled to finished some chip shots in the OT, that eventually came to haunt the Spurs. The one minor issue I've noticed with Duncan in this series is--he rarely would spin baseline, he looked to finished most of his moves on either block going thru the paint. I thought he got a little predictable, and he had ample opportunities on Diop to use his quickness toward the baseline. And I don't remember Dallas sending too many doubles baseline, if at all. I think I shouted "Spin baseline" to the TV too many times to count during this series. Another thing that stood out about this game that was a microcosm of the whole series-- was that the Spurs only got 2 bench points vs. 29 for the Mavs. The Spurs got very little support from the vets on the bench this series--Van Exel should have retired last year, Barry never seemed to build any rhythm, and Horry has officially used up all his karma with the basketball gods. By no means, is the Spurs' dominance over as some people suggested, they still have the core of Duncan, Manu, & Parker signed for awhile. They just need to make some minor tweaks around them. They definitely need to get younger on their bench, especially their wing positions. Even though Finley & Bowen have played well this year, they both are at the age where they can turn slow overnight.

SUNS/CLIPPERS (Game 7): Suns 127-Clippers 107

- Not much nuanced analysis needed about another anti-climatic Game 7 with the Suns involved--the Clippers decided to put forth their worst defensive effort of the series, the Suns shot 60%. They again made poor decisions when to double and were out of place all evening defensively. This led to the major problem of the Suns getting great looks at the 3pt. line (15/27), which is just asking for trouble. The Suns spread the wealth around offensively by having all 7 guys who played for them score in double figures. Nash seemed to regain his stroke that was missing for most of the series--he finished with 29 pts, 11 assts. & 4/5 from deep. Marion also had the touch last night from deep (5/9), while Barbosa added a nice spark again with 18 pts. on 8/10. The Suns also kept the rebound battle close--32-32.

- The Clippers offense was not really a problem--they shot a very good 52.6%, to go with 58 points/paint. The Suns let the Clippers get what they wanted as per usual, especially Brand again--he had 36 pts. on 16/26 & 9 rebs. (7 off.). Maggette was alright off-the-bench with his attacking play--18 pts., 9 rebs., but also some dumb TOs, which is something that comes with the territory with Corey. The Clips have some big decisions to make this off-season. Do they re-sign 37 year-old Cassell to a short deal? Do they re-sign Radmanovic to a deal? Do they keep Maggette around? Kaman has an extension coming up this fall. So let's see if Sterling has really changed his frugal ways or if its just P.R.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Sunday Recap (May 21)

PISTONS/CAVS (Game 7): Pistons 79-Cavs 61

- The Pistons finally finished off a series that turned out a lot more arduous than anyone could have imagined. The final game followed the same script from the rest of the series--a slow-paced, defensive old-school East Conference battle. The Pistons just mustered a little bit more offensive success late in the 3rd quarter and carried it over into the 4th.

- Detroit's defense continued its great play by making the Cleveland offense struggle to find any easy looks. The Pistons were downright stifling in the 2nd half by holding the Cavs to a total of 23 points (they held the Cavs to 30.8% for the whole game). After Lebron kept the Cavs afloat in the 1st half with 21 points, the Pistons got the ball out of his hands early in possessions and totally cut down any driving lanes for him (Lebron only scored 6 points in the 2nd half). On the other hand, the Pistons' offense for the most part of three quarters was none too pretty. They could not get any rhythm going once again until late in the 3rd quarter and carried it over somewhat into the 4th. Up until 3 minutes remaining in the 3rd, the Pistons only managed 49 points, then they pieced some possessions together and ended up outscoring the Cavs 30-15 the rest of the game. Hunter provided a key spark to this mini-run at the end of the 3rd. Prince again seemed to be the only Piston that brought some consistensy for the entire game. For the second game in a row, the Pistons kept the Cavs closer than they should have been by missing free throws--18/32 from the line. The offensive struggles in this series for Detroit really are a big concern going into the Conf. Finals.

- The Cavs' defense can't be faulted in Game 7, they held the Pistons to 42.6% and only allowed them to score 79 points; you can't ask much more from them. They just could not find any answer in the 2nd half when the Pistons forced the ball out of Lebron's hands. The Cavs desparately needed their role players to rise to the occasion in Game 7, and Hughes was basically the only guy who took any pressure off James (Cavs not named Lebron shot 9/41). Hughes was the only Cav to score in double figures besides Bron--Larry had 10 pts., 6 rebs, 5 assts., & he moved the ball well in the 1st half with Lebron. In the 3rd quarter, the Cavs were downright awful offensively--they had no idea what to run in the half-court with the Pistons taking away Bron. I thought Coach Brown needed to run Bron off some screens to get some sort of movement going and get the ball back into Bron's hands after Det. would double him early in possessions.

- Although, the Cavs have to feel totally satisfied with the way they went above & beyond what was expected of them vs. Detroit. Their defensive performance kept them in this series, something I did not expect to say at the start of this series. Their offense was not too pretty for most of the series, but I think that can be rectified with a few tweaks in the off-season. The main part they need is a point guard who can shoot and defend somewhat--they thought they solved that problem last year with Damon Jones, but they realized he only does two things well and that's it--shoot & promote himself. Now if they only could combine Snow & Jones, the Cavs would have the perfect point guard to put with Lebron. It would not hurt them to acquire some back-up shooters as well.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Friday Recap (May 19)

PISTONS/CAVS (Game 6): Pistons 84-Cavs 82

- Pistons avoided being the victim of one of the biggest upsets in NBA Playoff history by the slimmest of margins. A string of timely offensive rebounds saved their collective behinds. On the same token, the Cavs have to feel somewhat sick that they actually had a great chance in the 4th quarter, but could not to come out on top.

- The Pistons' offense was still a little troublesome overall in Game 6, they just could not get a consistent rhythm going for the fourth game in a row. Detroit really made things tougher on themselves by shooting 16/28 from the free throw line. But they did make the clutch plays when they needed them in the 4th, not to mention 8 offensive rebounds in the 4th. Although, Chauncey did not have the dominant overall game I thought he would have, he did show his cool demeanor in the 4th by hitting a couple tough shots and knocking down all but one of his free throws--Billups ended with 15 pts. & 8/9 from the line. Sheed also stepped up to the plate by being a factor inside & out--he was 4/8 from deep and did his usual damage on the block. I've always felt that Wallace's low post arsenal is only second to Duncan's; Sheed just needs stop goofing around on the perimeter so much. Detroit's defense was once again rock solid--Cavs shot 44.8% & only 2/12 from 3pt. Big Ben did a wonderful job on his help rotations all game challenging shots at the rim and making sure on a few occasions that Lebron was not getting the old-fashoined 3-point play. Although, the Cavs did win the points/paint battle again, this time 42-22.

- Cleveland came out early looking sharp offensively and seemed to be building a nice momentum in their home arena. I thought the Cavs were really moving the ball well in the 1st half, especially Lebron--who was finding cutting Cav bigs well. Ilgauskas pieced together his second solid game in a row with 16 pts on 8/11 shooting. Drew Gooden pitched in with 13 pts. & 8 rebs., and did a good job of getting to the open space on the floor. Although, the Cavs did not get much other help offensively, especially from their backcourt. I think it is very important for the Cavs in Game 7 to get at least 15 points from Murray if they want a shot. What ultimately burned the Cavs in this game, was they gave away to many possessions in the 4th quarter either by turnovers or Piston off. rebs. I know it's hard to fault Lebron for another elite-level performance, but he ended with 7 TOs and some key ones down the stretch--you just can't give away possessions to a team like the Pistons.

- I think the general consensus is the Cavs blew their chance and there is no way Detroit will lose a Game 7 at home. I agree. But I also felt that the Pistons would just flick a mental switch after Game 3 and totally blow the Cavs' doors off--as you can see the Cavs were not having any of it. So maybe the Cavs will continue to surprise in Detroit. I think the only way they can pull it off though, is if the Cavs get an unreal shooting display from their role players.

SPURS/MAVS (Game 6): Spurs 91-Mavs 86

- I thought the Spurs were pretty much done in the 2nd quarter when Duncan went out with 3 fouls and the Mavs were looking to extend the lead into double digits, but Manu Ginobili would not let it happen. Manu basically single-handedly kept the Spurs afloat in the 2nd quarter, keeping them within striking distance so to stem the tide until Duncan could return in the 2nd half. Finley was also determined last night not to be eliminated by his former team. He was really the only other Spur who brought some relief to Duncan & Manu--16 pts., 6 rebs, 2/3 on 3pts--not to mention the gutsy 3-pointer in the corner with the score tied at 82-82. I really thought that shot was a bad idea when he released it, cause he took it early in the possession and should have dump the ball into Duncan, but Finley did not seem to care--he wanted the Mavs finished.

- The defensive performance by the Spurs in Game 6 was a flashback to the Spurs' defense of old--Dallas was held to 38.6%.
Was this outcome heavily affected by Jason Terry not being there? Not positive, but probably so. San Antonio was definitely sagging off more, daring the Dallas perimeter players to become jumpshooters, something I thought that was a no-brainer for Coach Pop. Devin Harris looked out of sync all game and could not get some easy shots to drop for him. Josh Howard, who was pretty effective in the 1st half, looked really hesitant to shoot from outside when given a wide berth and only shot 7/17 overall. So most of the offensive responsiblity was left to Dirk, who delivered with 26 pts. and 21 rebs. It just was not quite enough to put the Mavs over the hump. One problem did arise for the Spurs again vs. the Mavs--12 off. boards for the Mavs. Spurs' small-ball line-up has continued to hurt them on the boards--Spurs are giving up an average of 11.6 off. boards a game in this series.

- Dallas's defense did a really solid job on closing off driving lanes, especially impeding Parker from flying thru the paint, something that had really hurt the Mavs the last couple games (the Spurs shot 43.3%). Even with all this concentration on cutting driving lanes down, the Mavs still did a good job of not allowing the Spurs to get off from the 3pt line (Spurs 4/10 from 3pt.). This is something they have done a good job on all series, which is key after the Spurs were relying heavily on 3pts. in the Kings' series. Also, I thought Dampier did as good as a job on Duncan one-on-one as one can--Duncan had 24 pts., but only shot 8/21.

- There also seems to be a heavy consensus that the home team will win this Game 7 as well. But I am not so sure this one is as clear-cut as the Pistons/Cavs Game 7; these teams are much more evenly matched than Det. & Clev. Dallas has lost by a combined 3 points in their 2 losses in San Antonio and they cruised to the most lopsided victory in the series there as well. With Terry back, the Spurs are going to have to re-adjust their defensive gameplan, possibly leading to the same problems that happened thru Games 2-5 for the Spurs. I expect Avery to double-team Duncan more, in turn forcing the Spurs to hit from outside, something they really have not been doing all series besides Game 4. As I thought earlier in the series, Pop should try to get Barry & Finley open on some screens to let them get some long-distance attempts up early to help them bulid up some rhythm. With all that being said, with the teams being so close in talent, I have to go with the home-court tie breaker slightly pushing the Spurs thru.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Thursday Recap (May 18)

SUNS/CLIPS (Game 6): Clippers 118-Suns 106

- The game started with its usual helter-skelter pace where offense came easy and led to a combined 63 points in the 1st quarter. The Clippers just kept the scoring barrage going to the final buzzer while the Suns were somewhat off with their marksmanship.

- The Clips basically got what ever they wanted offensively all game. No surprise that the Clips' plan was to attack below the free throw line and the Suns put up little resistance. Nothing new for the Suns, but this was probably their worst defensive effort of the playoffs--I know, I know, sometimes it's hard to choose which one is the worst with the Suns (The Clips shot a ridiculous 61.5%). Brand put up another dominant performance down low with 30 pts. (14/21) & 12 rebs. But maybe even more unstoppable for the Clips was Corey Maggette. He just decided early that he was going to explode to the basket at every opportunity. Suns' defenders were bouncing off Maggette when he flew thru the paint, in turn leading to 9/9 from the free throw line. Corey ended with 25 pts on 7/8 shooting and he continued to clean the defensive glass with 8 rebs. The Clips' offense also got a pleasant surprise from an unlikely source--Quinton Ross. Ross, strictly on the floor for his def., was given open looks from the Suns, and he was buring shots--18 pts. on 9/14. Ross also took Nash to school in the post a couple times, which combined with his excellent defense on Nash all game earned him the MVP of Game 6. Although, it seems that there is no fault to be found at all with the Clips' offensive performance, there was one sorepoint: 19 turnovers. Turnovers have been a bit of a recurring problem for the Clips' during the playoffs (the only reason they lost Game 3 vs. Denver was TOs), and it could come to haunt them in Game 7. Sammy was the biggest perpetrator of not taking care of the ball by just making some boneheaded passes in the 2nd half and he just had an overall shaky game. This is two games in a row that Cassell's decision making has been crummy--Sam & the Clips can't afford these careless mistakes in Phoenix.

- The Clippers' defense was pretty solid from the 2nd quarter to the finish. I thought they challenged shots in the paint as good as they have in this series--the Suns shot 43.7%, which is always a good sign. They did another good job on Nash and the high screens did not really hurt them. But I still don't like the way they let the Suns get up too many threes--13/31 is just too many & too good of a percentage. The Clippers are still making bad decisions when to double or sending too many guys when they don't need to. For example, when Tim Thomas or Diaw get switched over onto a smaller defender, let them go one-on-one in the post for most of the time. Live with Thomas or Diaw getting two points on the block as opposed to them kicking out for a three. Also understand who you can come off--you can come off Diaw a fair amount, and even though Marion was decent in Game 6 (4/7), most of the time you can creep off of him. Right now, you can't come off of Thomas, Bell, & Barbosa. I know Barbosa can blow by anyone, but I like I've been harping on--sacrifice some easy two-pointers to get the Suns off the 3-point line. The only reason the Suns were even as close as they were in this game was the 13 extra points per possession they got on their 3pt. makes. They were able to go on a 11-2 run at the end of the 3rd thanks in large part to 3pointers. Also, the Clippers gave the Suns more easy points by allowing 17 fast break points. The Clips have to cut down on these easy, extra points in Game 7.

- Hopefully, this Game 7 will be more entertaining then the disappointment in the Suns-Lakers series. If the Clippers can just make smart decisions overall--good shot selection & keep the turnovers low--they have a great shot at winning cause the Suns will let them shoot a good percentage. Also, the decision making on defense is just as important--they have to pick their spots judiciously when to help off of shooters and when not to. For the Suns, they just need to keep being who they are--jacking up as many threes as they can and hope their scrambling can cause turnovers by the Clips, which can lead to fast break points. Also, the Suns need to keep the Clips off the offensive boards--although the Suns got outrebounded by 20 in Game 6, they did not really get hurt too bad cause they actually finished with 2 more off. boards.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Wednesday Recap (May 17)

PISTONS/CAVS (Game 5): Cavs 86-Pistons 84

- Stunning. I highly doubt anyone predicted that the Cavs would be in position to close out the series at home in six games. I don't even think anyone in the Cavs' organization thought they had a chance in this series, besides maybe Lebron and his mother. For the third game in a row, the game was a defensive-dominated affair where offense was not easy to come by.

- Who would have thought that Cleveland could play at the same level defensively as Detroit, if not maybe slightly better. When people during the regular season were guessing how far that Lebron could take the Cavs in the playoffs, I always made the case that was not the major issue: the main issue I had was I did not think their defense was anywhere near playoff-caliber. But Mike Brown has pushed the right buttons in this series after a thorough beating in Game 1. Cleveland's defense was once again the key last night--holding the Pistons to 42.7% and only letting them shoot 2/10 from 3pt. The Cavs have done a super job holding the Pistons to a paltry 39.2% for the last 4 games and they've really clamped down on the Pistons' 3pt. success--the Pistons have only hit 13 total 3pts. the last 3 games after hitting 25 the first two games. The Cavs also were very active last night causing turnovers and deterring shots--the Pistons had 17 TOs, & Ilgauskas had 6 blocked shots. Donyell Marshall came thru with a huge block late in the game to go along with another overall good game for him--14 pts., 13 rebs. (5 off.). The Cavs finally got the performance from Big Z they needed--14 pts., 10 rebs. (5 off.), 6 blocks, doing most of his damage in the 1st half.

- The Pistons' offense is picking the absolute worst time to go into a funk after looking as flawless as any team the entire season. They just look totally discombobulated the last 3 games--this is as out of sync thatI've seen them the last couple years. Prince was the only guy on the roster that was effective for the entire game--21 pts. & 8 rebs. Billups did make a big contribution in the 3rd quarter by being the key to the Pistons' rally, but overall he was not typical clutch Chauncey (he had 6 TOs). McDyess seemed like the only Piston to show up in the 4th quarter, by single-handedly keeping Detroit close--he ended with 11 pts., 11 rebs., 3 blocks (a huge one on Damon Jones). I really think that for the rest of the series the Detroit offense has go thru Billups as much as possible. He needs to take over and look to attack the basket more, either off the bounce or by posting up.

- Some people are wondering if the Pistons' defense is as good as it has been the last couple years, thus being the crux of their problems lately. Granted, the Pistons' numbers were not amazing in the regular season, in the last 3 losses to the Cavs the Pistons have been pretty good. Detroit held the Cavs to 38.3% shooting. Although, they can't be giving up 19 offensive boards to the Cavs too often; the Pistons did somewhat neutralize that total by grabbing 16 off. boards of their own. I think if the Pistons could just get a decent performance from their offense, they should pull out a win cause their defense is fine. I think the Pistons will prevail in Game 6 and eventually pull-out the series with a more concentrated effort from their offense, especially Billups. My theory now is that the Pistons are waiting to the exact last possible moment to lay the anvil down on the Cavs; at least that's the theory I am trying to convince myself of.

SPURS/MAVS (Game 5): Spurs 98-Mavericks 97

- The third thoroughly entertaining game in a row of one of the better playoff series in awhile. Most people thought these two teams were pretty evenly matched and this series is a testament to the predictions. Although, you would have thought that there would be more of an emphasis on defense, but it's turned into more of an offensive shootout.

- San Antonio came out very aggressive once again, looking to take the action right back at the speedy Mavs. Parker was once again flying around with reckless abandon, creating offense with his penetration. Duncan continued being a monster on the block--he was 11/11 in the 1st half with 28 pts--while the Dallas bigs were picking up fouls left & right. Timmy ended with another massive statline--36 pts. (13/19), 12 rebs (4 off.) & 3 blocks. Manu brought the chaos on both ends with 18 pts., 5 assts. and countless hustle plays that were key to the win. You really can see why Ginobili is always a leader on plus/minus lists. Overall, the Spurs offense was very effective the whole game--they shot 53.6%, won the points/paint battle 56-48 and had the added bonus of 14 fast break points.

- This game actually saw some defensive stops after not seeing too many since Game 1. After a back-in forth offensive 1st half devoid of any defense, the 2nd half showed a little bit in the way of defense. In the middle of the 3rd, the Spurs strung together a few defensive stops that helped them build up a 10 point lead. But then the Mavs responded at the end of the 3rd with some tough defense (thanks to a solid zone), and eventually cut the Spurs' lead to 3 to end the 3rd. In the 4th, the Spurs probably played the best defense they've played in the last couple games. Overall, the Spurs never let Harris & Terry (both had 15 pts.) go too crazy the way they have been the last 3 games. Dirk had a big game with 31 & 10, but I think the Spurs can live with it if they can keep the other Mavs somewhat in check.

- On the last Spurs possession, Duncan can't give up the ball to Parker, he needs to back-in Diop. I thought this almost cost them big time and Duncan could have been regretting this decision for awhile. If the Spurs can play the kind of defense they put forth in the 2nd half, they have a great shot in Dallas in Game 6.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Tuesday Recap (May 16)

HEAT/NETS (Game 5): Heat 106-Nets 105

- This game started out similar to Game 1 with the Nets looking really sharp early, but this time the Heat weathered the early storm and righted the ship in the 2nd quarter. Miami got another great contribution from their secondary players and did just enough to hold off the Nets in the 4th quarter.

- After a shoddy start, the Heat turned in a smooth performance offensively the rest of the game. The Heat shot a tremendous 56% from the floor and dominated the points/paint battle 62-40. They did it again without Shaq having a dominating performance (Shaq being in foul trouble again helps as well). Wade had another terrific floor game where he drew the attention of the NJ defense and created good looks for the Heat role players. Walker came thru again in this series with 23 pts., 7 rebs., and a big 4/9 from 3pt. land. Shaq & Wade got aid from other role players as well: Haslem did the garbage work again with 10 rebs., & 8 pts., and also Williams, Payton, & Mourning all scored in double figures.

- For the third game in a row, the Nets had a great chance to win in the 4th but just could not get over the hump. At least in Game 5 the Nets did not really do anything egregious to sabotage the game like in Games 3 & 4 with costly turnovers in the 4th. You can not fault the New Jersey offense for their effort--the Nets shot 54.1% and ran out to 22 fast break points. Carter capped off his playoff run with another strong showing of 33 pts., 7 rebs., 5 assts., but he still fell in love with the 3pt. line too much (1/7). Jefferson was extremely active attacking the basket, especially in the 3rd quarter--Richard ended with 33 pts., 7 rebs., 5 assts., & 3/4 from deep. But Krstic could not get anything going (Nenad had 1 point) and an already thin Nets' bench did not offer much besides Lamond Murray. Nets really need to acquire some bench scoring over the summer to go along with a starting 4-man.

- I felt that the Miami role players would be a major key to the series, and they really performed well. The same performance needs to carryover into the Conference Finals to supplement Shaq & Wade so to compete with the Pistons. Whoops, I should have said the Pistons or the Cavs.

SUNS/CLIPS (Game 5): Suns 125-Clippers 118

- The Suns were indeed saved by Raja Bell. Not only was the desparation 3 at the end of the 1st OT huge, he also hit 4 other timely threes overall. I don't think you can fault Ewing for his defense, he was right on Bell, who had to sort of hitch up his normal shooting motion. The Clips could be regretting this game and Game 3 for a long time, if they can't win two games in a row.

- One important key for the Suns in Game 5, was that they kept the rebound margin relatively close--57-50. Although, the Suns gave up 20 off. rebs to the Clips, they got 14 off. rebs. of their own. Another mildly surprising fact for the Suns, was they really dominated the painted area--Suns' 56 points/paint to 36 for the Clips. Marion had a great overall game of 36 points and 20 rebs. (6 off.); no one dives to the basket better than Marion, that's how he gets the majority of his points & boards. The aforementioned Raja continued his timely 3 pt. shooting (5/7) and was a general nuisance on the defensive end (he also had 4 steals). Tim Thomas also continued his sharp shooting from deep (5/8).

- I think what ultimately cost the Clips this game was the stretch from roughly the middle of the 2nd quarter to the middle of the 3rd. The Clips looked pretty sharp early and had a lead of about 7 points (I believe it was 35-28) in the 2nd quarter. Then they just started getting sloppy on offense by taking ill-advised shots and not getting the ball into Brand enough. This let the Suns get back into the game --the Suns ended up outscoring the Clips 30-17 to end the 2nd quarter after the 35-28 Clip lead. The Suns then built up a 19 point lead in the middle of the 3rd thanks to the Clips still getting bad off. possessions. The Clips finally stemmed the tide late in the 3rd by doing what they should have been doing all along--getting the ball into Brand and Cassell making overall smart decisions. You just can't go away from Brand that much in this series even if they are aggressively doubling him--anytime the Clips' offense needed some rhythm established, Elton would either get a good shot off or get fouled. Elton ended with 33 pts., 15 rbs. (7 off.), 5 blocks and 13/17 on the line. Granted, Cassell hit some big shots during the game and ended with 32 pts., he also threw up alot of questionable shots and did not offer much in the way of defense. His shot at the end of regulation was not a good one--he took it to early and should have waited for the pick from Brand. Also, he made a blunder late in the game leaving Raja open at the top of the key, when he seemed to be going to double the ball when there was already two guys there. You just can't leave Bell in that situation, especially the way Bell has been shooting lately. Hey, I am probably the biggest proponent of Sam having the ball in pressure situations, but he was making some curious decisions in some spots Tuesday night. Coupled with the ill-advised shots for the Clips, were ill-advised turnovers (16) which alot of the time led to easy points for the Suns (15 fast break pts.). I stated before that you just can't have sloppy offensive possessions vs. the Suns--if you make smart decisions on offense, the Suns will usually let you shoot a good percentage.

- The Clippers shot only 40.8% overall, you would think the Suns should get alot of praise, but not really. I thought the Suns defense was decent by their standards, but I think the numbers had more to do with the Clips' poor decision making. The Suns defense did have a somewhat easier time doubling in the interior cause the Clips were not hitting their outside shots. The Clips were getting second chances (20 off. rebs.), they just missed alot of chip shots that usually fall. I thought the Clips' defense was solid again on Nash & the screens, but I just think they made some bad recognitions on doubles. I just think you can't come off of Bell & Tim Thomas right now very much, give up some good two-point looks, just stay on Thomas & Bell.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Monday Recap (May 15)

PISTONS/CAVS (Game 4): Cavs 74-Pistons 72

- Game 4 felt like I was transported back to the mid-1990s. It was an old-fashioned grind-it-out Eastern Conference battle, where tough defense on both sides led to not the most aesthetically pleasing offensive display. The Cavs have to be rather pleased with themselves to have won this game when Lebron did not shoot the ball well and the Pistons actually put in a good showing defensively.

- The Cavs' defense has been a pleasant surprise the last 2 games after not much was expected of them. In Game 4, The Cavs did a great job holding the Pistons to 33.3% from the floor and only 4/15 from 3pt. land. While neither teams' offense was pretty, Cleveland got just enough of a push from their supporting cast to help Bron's uneven night. Once again, Varejao brought a great spark off the bench and played off of Lebron wonderfully again on offense. Anderson pitched in 10 pts., 6 rebs., and a huge charge taken late in the 4th. Donyell added some key long-range bombs off of the defense collapsing on Bron (Marshall was 3/6 from 3pt.). Lebron struggled in some areas--8/23 overall & 10 TOs--but he did make some big shots down the stretch again and was hitting his teammates when doubled (9 assts.).

- Pistons' defense was not an issue (Cavs shot 42.6%), they did a very good job on Lebron and when you hold any team to 74 points that's not to shabby no matter how slow the pace of the game. Detroit's offense was a problem though. Rip was not bad with 30 pts. and Prince seemed to be the only Piston who could get any rhythm going offensively in the 2nd half. Tayshaun was the only reason that Detroit was in striking distance late in the game. Detroit gets to go back home now, where they have faired much better than they have on the road in this year's playoffs. If Cleveland can keep up their defensive effort, they could possibly make this series alot more interesting than anyone expected, especially the Pistons.

SPURS/MAVS (Game 4): Mavericks 123-Spurs 118

- Another great playoff game that once again produced a wildly entertaining 4th quarter (plus OT in Game 4). These last 2 games are the type of games that the Spurs always get and the Mavs always choke away. But I think you can say for certain these Mavs have taken that next step to the elite level because of Avery's influence.

- The Spurs came out of the gates super-aggressive and looked extremely determined to not let this series become 3-1. Parker was flying all around the court early looking to do his part to put the Mavs on their collective heels, like the Mavs had done to the Spurs the prior two games. Manu also continued where he left off in Game 3--he was flying around doing all the little things on both ends (he had 4 steals overall). Manu kept up his great play until he fouled out late in the 4th--he had 26 pts on 8/11, was 4/4 from 3pt, including 2 big threes early in the 4th. Duncan continued his all-star play in this series with 31 pts., 13 rebs., & 6 assts.

- Just as good as the Spurs' offense was, the Mavs were just as sweet. Jason Terry was simply amazing from the field. He was just hitting tough pull-up jumpers after another, seemingly from every spot on the floor. He ended with 32 pts. and an array of big shots down the stretch. Devin Harris continued his campaign for break-out performer of the playoffs with 18 pts. on 7/10 & 6 assts. The Spurs were sagging off him, daring him to shoot, but he was doing a good job of nailing his open looks. Once again Stackhouse brought alot of offensive support off the bench--26 pts. & 3/3 on 3pts. You also have to commend the play of the Dallas center position. Both Diop & Dampier did a pretty solid job on Duncan, and Damp nicely added 8 pts & 6 off. rebs. Dallas helped their cause with 13 off. boards.

- I know I am not saying anything surprising-- but the Spurs' defense is not like old Spurs defense. I am not really sure if it's cause they are not using their centers much, but even on the perimeter they are not quite the same. Dallas has really attacked the paint well in this series and has made the Spurs' defense look rather ordinary. They had similar problems in the paint vs. the Kings, but they were getting hurt by the Kings' strength, now they are getting hurt by the Mavs' speed. The Spurs were known for having probably the best interior defense outside of Detroit, but that's seems to have fallen by the wayside. I really think the Spurs miss the play of Rasho who was always underrated as a defender and specifically a good team defender in San Antonio's schemes. But it seems like he has been out of favor with Pop for awhile.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Sunday Recap (May 14)

HEAT/NETS (Game 4): Heat 102-Nets 92

- Once again the Nets had a great chance to win the game, but could not get good possessions on the offensive ends during crucial stretchs in the 4th quarter. As it looks now, the Heat will prevail in this series--so much for my prediction of the Nets in 7.

- One thing I did mention in the series preview that was necessary for Miami's success, was the play of their supporting cast. For the 3rd game in a row, they came through: Walker was huge from long-range (5/8 on 3s), especially in the 3rd and Haslem shot the ball great (8/11) for 20 points & 11 rebs. Wade was superb again drawing the intention of the New Jersey defense and opening up the game for the other Heat--Wade ended with 31 pts., 8 assts., & 7 rbs. The entire Heat squad shot 53% overall and most importantly 42% from 3pt. land. The Heat defense has definitely looked better since their poor showing in Game 1--holding the Nets to 43%. They look much more locked in mentally on the defensive end than they did in the Chicago series.

- Nets lost another tough game at home even though they got a solid showing from their Big 3 + 1(Krstic). Vince had a pretty good game with 26 pts. with some pretty nice drives sprinkled in. Although, he was not quite aggressive enough--he only shot 4 foul shots & was loitering on the perimeter too much (0/7 from 3pt). Kidd had his typical sharp floor game with a triple double (17 pts., 13 rbs., 12 assts.), but did not look comfortable shooting from the perimeter. I think this loss is even a little bit harder to swallow because Krstic had a great showing. He was hittng shots inside & out and really looked to be more assertive the whole game--Nenad was 9/16 for 20 pts. and he added 14 rebs (5 off.). The Nets also helped their offensive cause by grabbing 16 offensive boards and piled up 20 fast break points. You would assume with all these numbers going in the Nets' favor they could have pulled out this game at home; they just could not convert when it mattered, like in Game 3.

- One big stretch that derailed the Nets' chance of winning came with about 9 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter. They had cut the lead to 78-77 and had momentum on their side, but just could not push thru this barrier. The Nets had about 5 or 6 chances in a row to take the lead but squandered them with costly turnovers and questionable shot selection. The Heat never ended up giving up the lead the rest of the 4th.

SUNS/CLIPS (Game 4): Clippers 114-Suns 107

- Well, this game got back to what you expect from this series after an aberration of Game 3. The Clips got alot of easy looks and controlled the boards, while the Suns went back to jacking up 3s like crazy and their typical porous defense.

- Clippers did a better job of mixing up their offense a little better than in Game 3 by hitting some jumpers early. Cassell was partly to do with this by getting back to his clutch self--28 pts., 11 rbs., & 9 assts. I liked how Dunleavy started Maggette instead of Ross, and the Clips really never suffered defensively for it. Maggette was hot from the perimeter early as well, spreading the Suns' doubles in the interior. Maggette also used his expolsive hops to pound the defensive glass for the second game in a row--Corey ended with 18 pts., & 15 rebs. Elton did not let the double-teams bother him this game--he brought the noise with 30 points, 9 rebs. & 8 assts. The Clippers' defense was alright, not great, but they did do another good job of guarding the high screen/roll with Nash. Although, even though the Suns shot 10/36 from 3pt. land, I still feel that is too many attempts for the Suns--I think you have to discourage shots from 3 as much as possible, make them attempt as many 2-pointers as possible. The Suns got 10 extra points per possession from the 3s and you combine that with 17 fast break points, that is just too many easy, extra points for the Suns.

- The Suns' defense came back to reality on Sunday, especially a terrible 3rd quarter (both teams played zero defense in the 3rd). The Clippers shot 48.8% overall and they crushed the Suns on the glass 55-37--the Suns gave up 16 off. boards. The Suns' scrambling defense that worked well in Game 3 was thwarted by the Clips hitting from the perimeter.

- The Clippers need to keep this same gameplan going, especially getting Maggette's minutes up. But they still need to temper their def. rotations so to not allow so many 3pt. attempts. The Suns need to do a better job on getting the board margin closer and just hitting their open looks.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Saturday Recap (May 13)

PISTONS/CAVS (Game 3): Cavs 86-Pistons 77

- Impressive win by the Cavs considering the Pistons actually put up a steady effort for Game 3. After only scoring 53 points thru the first 3 quarters, the Cavs exploded for 33 points in the 4th quarter on the back of LeBron.

- The Cavs' defense has to be commended on their effort on Saturday. They held the Pistons to 39.7% from the floor and most important--they never really let Detroit go crazy from deep (Pistons hit 7 3pt. shots). The Cavs also forced the Pistons into 16 turnovers.

- Although, the Cavs offense was sputtering most of the day, especially from long-range, they came alive in the 4th. LeBron put up 15 of his 21 points in the 4th--he hit a couple big-time shots: the sweet finger-roll from about 10 feet away & a pull-up 3-pointer. Bron did not get a ton of help from his support personnel: Murray was alright, but Varejao did bring in usual infusion of energy with 16 pts on 6/7 shooting. Anderson does a wonderful job of playing off Lebron--Varejao has a knack for getting lost & finding the open space while Bron draws defenders. The Cavs also won the points in the paint battle (44-26) and they kept the free-throw disparity even (16-16 fta), something the Pistons seem to win every game.

SPURS/MAVS (Game 3): Mavs 104- Spurs 103

- The Mavs have to feel relieved that they held onto a game that they seemed in control of most of the game. The Spurs had to feel great at halftime to only be down 5 when in fact it felt like the Mavs totally dominated the 1st half. The 4th quarter was a classic back-in forth offensive affair, where each team seemed to match shot for shot.

- Devin Harris seems to be the #1 candidate for 2006 Playoffs break-out performer. Harris again wreaked havoc on the Spurs' defense with his speed--he ended up with 24 points & 10/11 from the line. Dirk got 27 points but he only shot 3/9 from the field--he went to the line 24 times. Cuban has nothing to complain about today since his Mavs got to the line 50 times to 32 for the Spurs. I am sure Pop is none to pleased with this and with the fact that the refs were pretty sketchy in general. How can there be a foul on Barry when he clearly did not trip Dirk on the sideline but no call was made when Parker was clearly tripped on the other end? That turned into a huge turnover cause the Spurs could have possibly pushed the lead to 4 points.

- For the early part of the game, Duncan seemed like he was the only Spur who could bring anything to the table offensively (Timmy ended with 35 pts. on 15/23, & 12 rbs.). But then Manu started to show signs of life again and he began to play his controlled-chaos style on both ends. He really added a big boost in the 2nd half by returning to his slashing ways on offense and made some big buckets in the 4th--Ginobili finished with 24 pts. & 10/11 fts. The problem for the Spurs is they did not get much else--Parker shot 6/16, and they again did not get anything from their 5 spot on either ends of the floor. Even though they lost, the Spurs have to feel semi-happy how their offense responded in the 2nd half after a pretty dismal 1st half.

- I thought the Spurs threw in a nice wrinkle in the 4th quarter by deciding to drive the ball to the basket instead of settling for jumpers when Dallas rotated off of Duncan. Now maybe in Game 4, they'll have more room to unleash some long-distance bombs. It would be nice to see Pop run some plays to get Barry & Finley open from outside, both guys have been pretty solid, they just need to be riden a little more often.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Friday Recap (May 12, 2006)

HEAT/NETS (Game 3): Heat 103-Nets 92

- Finally, a competitive game in this series. The shorthanded Nets could have pulled this game out if it were not for some costly turnovers at the end.

- The Heat role players came thru again on both ends of the floor. The Heat hit 9 3pt. shots overall--Walker was 4/9--and brought a defensive toughness to the table, holding the Nets to 43.5%. Mourning really makes the Heat defense more active when he's out on the floor, also Payton has surprisingly been still disruptive on defense for the entirety of the 2006 playoffs. Posey pitched in with 8 pts., 10 rebs., 2 3pt. & active defense to boot. I also thought Wade did a great job of creating shots for others when the Nets collapsed on him--he ended with 10 assists.

- Vince seemed to single-handedly keep the Nets in the game with 43 points. He continued to stay aggressive by attacking the basket and hitting a variety of tough shots. Although at the end of the game, he got too careless with the ball (he had 3 TOs in the last 5 minutes) and committed untimely turnovers on the high screen/rolls when the game was still close. What sort of hurt New Jersey was Krstic's cold streak from the perimeter; he could not buy a basket from outside. If he hits some of the open looks he got, like he usually does, the Nets maybe could have pulled the game out.

- I picked the Nets in 7 games, but now I think that could be in doubt with the suspension of Cliff Robinson. From now on let's just call him Uncle Spliffy. The Nets lose an important cog vs. Shaq--Uncle Spliffy could defend him well & he could draw him away from the paint on offense. The Nets bench was already thin to begin with, especially on the frontline, so the Nets have very little room for error the rest of the series. The Nets just need to keep attacking the paint & trying to get Shaq in foul trouble. But that might not be enough, as witnessed by Game 3, cause the Heat role players are looking solid.

SUNS/CLIPS (Game 3): Suns 94-Clippers 91

- I know this is very odd to say, but the Suns won this game by their play on the defensive end. This was not a pretty game to watch and really diverged from the first two games in Phoenix. Very rarely can you say that the Phoenix defense outplayed its offense, but that's just what they did.

- This was easily the best Suns' defensive effort of the playoffs. They were surprisingly doing a great job in the interior, not letting the Clips get the easy looks they wanted. They were doubling and sometimes triple-teaming Brand in the post, not giving him the shots that he wanted--Elton shot 7 for 17, after shooting nearly 75% in Games 1 & 2. Probably the most important improvement they made was shoring up their defensive glass--they only lost the overall rebound battle by 1 & held the Clippers to 8 off. rebs. D'Antoni made some good choices by going a little bigger with Tim Thomas (19 pts., 14 rbs.) and also by putting Marion on Cassell, who struggled to get going from the field (only 6 pts. for Sam).

- While neither teams' offense was particularly good, the Clips could get absolutely no rhythm offensively minus the Radmanovic barrage in the 4th quarter. The middle half of the game (2nd & 3rd) was extremely sloppy for both teams, but the Suns found a little success in the late stages of the 3rd; the Clips only managed 35 points total in the middle half. I think they struggled because they geared their entire gameplan to the post area (which I do think is the right thing to do), but they really did not have a counter when the Suns were totally committed to stopping that gameplan. The Clippers really never got anything going from the perimeter to offset the aggressive scrambling by the Suns' defense in the interior. And the Clips did not really move the ball around well after their post-ups were being denied. Cassell never got going (somewhat thanks to Marion), and Mobley was the only guy who hit some outside shots early before Vlad's 4th quarter display. The Clips hit 7 3pt. shots for the game--5 by Vlad & 2 by Cuttino. Also some sketchy turnovers in the 2nd half did not help matters--the Clips ended up with 15 TOs for the game.

- The Clippers' defense did there part by holding the Suns to 37.2% shooting and just 7 3pt. makes. You would obviously think if you could hold the Suns' offense to those numbers, you would walk away with a easy, lopsided victory. But the Suns' defense decided to show up for once. The one thing that did hurt the Clips' defense was the unnecessary fouls they gave up early in the 3rd & 4th quarters putting the Suns in the penalty early. Technically, the difference in the game came down to the free-throw line--the Suns hit 9 more than the Clips. The Clips actually made 3 more field goals than the Suns and they neutralized them from 3pt. land (Suns' 7 to Clips' 7). So the Clips are +6 right there, but then you add the 9+ Suns' free throws, you get your Suns +3 win. The Clips did do another good job of handling the high screen/roll for the second game in a row. They really hedged hard on Nash and made him take tough, contested shots all day.

- You really have to tip your hat to the Suns, because they don't usually win games in this fashion. I don't expect this to be a trend where the Suns win too many more games where they shoot under 40% & 7/27 from three. Even though the Suns did a good job of defending the post, the Clips still have to keep pounding it. But this time they need to incorporate more perimeter plays to keep the Suns guessing. Like I mentioned after Game 1, even more playing time for Radmanovic should help.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Wednesday Recap (May 10)

HEAT/NETS (Game 2): Heat 111-Nets 89

- This game turned out to be a mirror image of Game 1, except with the Heat changing places with the Nets. The Heat got off to a rollicking start in the first quarter and never looked back the entire game, blowing the Nets off the court.

- Wade was particularly hot out of the gates, even from long-distance, and he continued to attack the Nets' defense for the rest of the game--he finished with 31 pts, 6 assts. & 5 rebs. Shaq also helped the Heat cause by staying out of foul trouble for most of the game, and ending up with 21 points (although he was 3/10 from the line). Another big key was the success from the 3pt. line--the Heat shot 11/20--this is something that needs to continue the rest of the series from the Heat support staff. The Heat did do a better job defensively by holding the Nets to 40% shooting and only 26 pts/paint. I liked how Riles went with Mourning more to give the Heat a little more activity on the defensive end.

- The Nets seemed like they were content with a split after the Heat got off to a huge start. They really played like they did not want to injure themselves and just wanted to get on a plane back to New Jersey as quickly as possible (Sort of ironic since I don't think anybody should be in a hurry to get to New Jersey). Their defense was pretty uninspired letting Wade tear them apart & the entire Heat shoot 52.7% from the floor. They also gave up 48 points/paint & got outrebounded 38-30. The one minor brightspot for the Nets was that Carter had another solid showing (22 pts., 5 assts., 5 rebs.) and took the ball at the basket (11/12 fts).

SUNS/CLIPPERS (Game 2): Clippers 122- Suns 97

- Well, I thought the rebounding differential would be a big factor on this series, but this was just ridiculous. The Suns got outrebounded by 31, and basically let the Clippers go get half of every shot they missed, converting them into easy second chance points.

- The Suns kept up their bargain of not caring about defense once again. They let the Clippers shoot 54.4%, get 58 pts/paint, & gobble up 19 offensive rebs. when they could only get a total of 21 def. rebs. That means they basically had a defensive rebounding percentage of 50%, which is beyond awful, you should be somewhere in the 70s in the NBA. The Clippers again pretty much got what ever they wanted about 12 feet & in. It seemed like Dunleavy decided to post up every player in his rotation. Even though Brand had 27 pts on 10/16 (Elton is shooting an absurd 73.6% after 2 games), they really did not go to him as much this game--the Suns were aggressively double-teaming him most of the game. Instead of Elton, Mobley was the one they were milking, and he delivered--he abused the Suns on the post, on his way to 23 pts. & 8 rebs. Kaman also took advantage of his size in Game 2 by converting point-blank shots for 14 pts. & snaring 16 rebs. Cassell (23 pts.) & Radmanovic (10 pts., 9 rbs.) chipped into the Clip offensive party which ended with 6 Clips in double figures.

- The Clippers' defense looked like they finally made the transition from facing the absolute worst perimeter shooting team in Denver to probably the absolute best. I thought they handled the high screen/roll better and their double teams were not as haphazard. Although, the Suns were just missing alot of shots they usually hit, which aided the Clips effort. The Clips still could have done a better job discouraging the 3pt. shot more. The Suns hit 9 overall, which I still feel is too many--I feel you need to sacrifice some easy two-pointers in exchange for totally shutting down the 3pt. line at all costs.

- I don't think the Suns can do much about their defense at this point, especially the interior, but they can do a better job on their defensive boards. If they are going to let the Clips shoot a high percentage, they can't be giving up so many second chances on the glass--it means too many extra & successful possessions for the Clips. The Suns did do a better job vs. the Lakers late in the series after giving up off. rebounds in the early games. So it is something that I feel can be improved upon to a degree, even with their small size.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Tuesday Recap (May 9)

PISTONS/CAVS (Game 2): Pistons 97- Cavs 91

- You have to hand it to the Cavs for sticking around in the 2nd half to make things interesting. This game looked like it was headed the way of Game 1 with another Detroit blowout, but the Cavs tightened up some softspots defensively to make the Pistons sweat a little in the 4th quarter.

- The Pistons broke the game open in the 2nd quarter by turning the notches up on defense and stroking the long ball once again (Cavs held to 36 pts in 1st half). They were doing a good job of shading Lebron away from the middle, funneling him into help--Lebron only had 7 points on the 1st half. They also held the Cavs to 2 points in the span of about 6 minutes in the quarter. But as Detroit is wont to do, they took their foot of the gas and let the Cavs get back into the action. They did this in the Milwaukee series where they let their effort & concentration wane, especially defensively. It will not cost them in this series, but in the Conference finals & Finals, it might bite them.

- Cleveland's 2nd half performance has to be a good shot to their confidence going back home. After a hot 1st half for Detroit, the Cavs help cool them off in the 2nd--Detroit ended shooting 41.2% overall. Cleveland also controlled the boards by outrebounding the Pistons 51-38, 13 offensive boards helped their cause as well after they recorded 16 off. rebs in Game 1. But they need to get a better effort from Hughes & Murray in Cleveland, who have been underachieveing for 2 games. The Cavs' bigs did a solid job in aiding Lebron--Gooden 17 pts. on 7/9, 8rbs; Varejao another solid effort with 10 pts., 8 rbs.; Ilgauskas with 10 pts. & 8rbs. I think the Cavs need to play Marshall & Damon Jones as much as possible and try a modified version of what the Suns do: with 2-3 shooters always on the 3pt. line & Lebron up high like Nash. See if Lebron can drive-n-kick like Nash does, making the Pistons defense stretch out a little more. It's worth a shot.

SPURS/MAVS (Game 2): Mavs 113-Spurs 91

- Avery Johnson pulled a wild-card out of his deck in the name of Devin Harris (20 pts) and the call paid off tenfold. Harris put constant pressure on the Spurs with his speed & penetration, reducing the Spurs' defense to resemble the Washington Wizards. A great move by Avery, but I expect Coach Pop to make some adjustments by maybe inserting Finley in the starting line-up to bring more speed.

- It just wasn't Harris making a difference, Josh Howard had a huge impact on the game as well. Howard was simply awesome with 27 pts., 9 rebs(4 off.) & 11/11 from the foul line, and just causing a matchup nightmare for Horry. When you have the cross-match of Bowen on Dirk, it forces on the Spurs' bigs onto Howard, and he has too much speed for Big Shot Bob. This is where I could see putting Finley in place of Horry a wily move by Pop. I love how Howard attacks the offensive glass as good as any wing player in the league (Bonzi & Patterson are the others); Howard's extremely long arms do help his cause. Also, Stackhouse put in another good offensive spark off the bench with 19 points, 3/4 from the 3pt. line. All in all, the Mavs came into the game determined to push tempo and they executed that gameplan flawlessly. Expect the same gameplan to continue for Dallas.

- Well at least Duncan looks like the plantar fasciitis is not bothering him. He had another all-star performance on both ends and drawing fouls early again--Tim had 28 pts. on 8/10. It was the lack of support he got from the supporting cast that was troubling. Manu has really struggled to get any sort of rhythm in the series and it really seems that the Dallas defense has him figured out so far. Dallas has done a pretty good job cutting off driving lanes for Manu & Parker, which is key to competing in this series. Brent Barry had a decent game and he seemed to be getting hot in the 2nd half but the Spurs could not get involved enough. I thought Pop should have tried to free Barry off some screens in 3rd & 4th when the Spurs needed some threes to break thru Dallas' 14-15 point cushion that the Spurs could never overcome. I feel Pop needs to try to run some plays freeing his 3 pt. shooters in the next games to open up lanes for Parker & Ginobili.

- The Mavs should keep this tempo up and take the penetration to the Spurs' defense. The Spurs need to try to get their 3pt shooting back on track like it was early in the 1st round; they need to bring a different element besides just Duncan's post ups.