Monday, April 30, 2007

Analysis: Spurs 96, Nugs 89 (Game 4)

- A game that Denver had to have, but was ultimately denied by classic late-game Spurs' defense & by a classic late-game shot-making legend. Though the Spurs' defense was a little subpar by their measures, they ratcheted it up a notch in the last minutes of the game to come up with some big stops. Also, Denver's 16 TOs hurt their slight margin of error vs. the Spurs.

- Melo was making tough shots all game. Either with hands in his face or doubles draped over him, Melo found ways to connect--11/18 for 29 pts. Love his decisiveness on his moves and like I said before, this is the quickest I've ever seen him. But he did have 6 TOs, 4 of which were offensive fouls where he seemed to force the issue. Iverson also hit some tough shots, but also like Game 2 he missed a handful of close-in shots--22 pts, but on 9/25. But the Nugs got very little from their bench. The Spurs bench outscored the Nugs badly for 4th straight game--32 to 8. The Spurs' bench is outscoring the Nugs' bench by 24.5 ppg.

- Spurs sprinkled in some zone, which is smart vs. the Nugs, try to keep them out of the lane, make them jumpshooters. Without much input from Kleiza or Smith (2 pts combined), the Nugs continued to shoot poorly from outside--2/16 from 3pt tonite, 16/57 (28%) for the series. Blake did hit a big shot late but he missed a couple of others badly, and in general, is an outside liability who you can help off of often.

- Was not a super defensive game overall for the Spurs--the Nugs did shoot 47.4%. They let way too much go in the painted area, and were giving up baseline way too often. Duncan made a few mistakes he normally doesn't, usually on the baseline. But they also did a good job forcing Melo into 4 offensive fouls, a few because of timely doubles. And even though Melo had 29, Bowen was right there challenging nearly every attempt. Parker also did a great job moving his feet to stay in front of Iverson on a few crucial late game possessions.

- Manu had a handful of perfect feeds to Duncan for some easy buckets in the 3rd which helped chip away the Nugs' lead. But he had a couple of misguided passes that led directly to Denver points (4 TOs overall). But you really can't complain with his overall play--18, 6 assts, 5 rebs, & 5 stls ain't too shabby. Parker did his usual deep penetration with his patented corkscrew finishes--7/11 for Tony, and a big drive & kick to Big Shot Bob for the back-breaking 3pt.

- Nene has stepped his game up to the next level in this series. He continued to guard Duncan as well as you can ask, and he once again finished in the lane on offense (18 pts, 7 rbs). You can see improvement in his footwork, and he has shown glimpses of a developing post game. Camby had himself a great all-around game patrolling the lane. Marcus was changing, blocking (5), helping on Tim & Parker, and some straight-up defense on Duncan. Camby also had a couple of big follow-up shots which padded his rebound total of 17.

- Probably a little too late for the Nugs, but they have to get something from Smith & Kleiza. Been repeating this since the series preview, and the Nugs really need their shooting & extra scoring punch if they want to extend the Spurs. These guys are the 2 best 3pt shooters on the Nugs & they are a combined 1/18 for the series.

Bulls 92, Heat 79 (Game 4)

- Was not expecting a sweep in this series. Probably should not have been because the Heat should've held on for at least a Game 3 win & had a chance before falling apart late vs. the Bulls. But it would not have mattered had the Heat won at home, they were not ultimately winning the series--the Bulls were clearly the better team on both ends of the floor. Wade was rather rusty which hurt his finishing ability and a non-factor at the defensive end. The Heat also needed their supporting cast to step up like last year, and the secondary crew was highly disappointing besides Posey & Walker.

- Bulls just collasped on Wade anytime he got below the foul line. Wade did a very good job creating opportunities for his teammates. Wade just did not have that extra gear this series to consistently finish off the shots he usually gets. He also hurt the Heat with some very untimely turnovers today, just like Game 3. Just some bad unforced errors all series.

- Deng was again an impossible guard for the Heat with 22 pts & 12 rebs. Gordon could not really find the range on his shot but he did get to the line 10 times for 24 pts. Big Ben was actually a nice offensive spark with a stunning 7/8 from the line & some putbacks for 11 pts.

- Hopefully now Skiles can get credit as one of the better coaches in the NBA. The Bulls have been one of the best defensive teams in the league for the last few years. Still think he was robbed of Coach-of-the-Year in '05; what he did in '05 was more impressive to me that what D'Antoni did.

- Heat actually won the rebound battle for the 1st time in the series & held the Bulls to 38% overall. But once again the Heat were severely hurt by their free throw shooting and turnovers. The Heat had 17 TOs to only 5 for the Bulls, and that extra 12 possessions was apparent in the 12 more shot attempts for the Bulls. This afforded the Bulls to shoot 38% to Miami's 43%, but still the Bulls made one more shot than the Heat (32 to 31).

-The free throw line played a decisive role again--the Heat were 13/27, while the Bulls were 19/24. We know we can't expect too much from Shaq, but he was awful all series (9/27) & 0/7 today. While Ben Wallace stepped up suprisingly well the last 2 games--10/14, 7/8 today. Miami only shot 61.5 % from the FT line for the series.

- The Heat just never got enough consistent input from their supporting cast that was so key last year. Jason Williams, Ed Jones, & Payton were total non-entities. Haslem was alright today, but overall had a subpar series--average 7.5 pts & 5.3 rbs , well below his season averages of 10 & 8. One guy who was a consistent contributor was James Posey. The Heat seemed to played much better when he was on the floor instead of Jones, and James averaged nearly 8 pts & 8 rbs per, not too mention 18 rebs on Sunday.

- No secret the Heat are at a crossroads. Zo, Payton, & Ed Jones might have all played their last NBA game. Miami needs to figure out what to do with their PG spot. JWilliams was nothing special this year, he's going into the last year of his deal, & he is going on 31/32. Even with JWill around, the Heat are going to need a back-up PG, preferably a young one to groom. The Heat could also use a back-up big in anticipation of Zo's retirement & that Shaq will probably miss 20-25 games next year from injury or self-imposed rest. Also the wing spot might need some depth since both Jones & Posey could be gone. So you can see the Heat have a lot of areas to address. But one major stumbling block is the Heat have most their money tied up in 2 players for the next few years, and have very little wiggle room to sign free agents (just the MLE this year to use).

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Nets 102, Raptors 81 (Game 4)

-Basically could just rehash the Game 3 recap. Eerily similar to Game 3. Vince once again comes out aggressive early & threw up 15 pts in the 1st quarter. And the Nets were steamrolling again and the Raps never got within single-digits after the 1st quarter.

-Kidd was a force tonite (17,13 assts & 8 rbs), and has been one of the best playoff performers so far. Like how he is looking for his points more and it paid off tonite from the outside--5/6 from 3pt. Had a couple of sweet alley-oop feeds to Vince. Vince had another great game at home with 27, 7 rbs, 7 assts, and 5/8 from 3pt. When he attacks early, it helps set up better looks from outside & allows him to use his underrated passing ability.

-The Nets' offense the last 2 games has looked as good as I've seen all year. And I think it can directly be correlated to Vince's aggressiveness. The one major issue I saw about this year's Nets, is they couldn't string a total 48 minutes of consistent offense together. They would play well for a quarter, a half, but then would bog down in the other half. Especially had problems executing in the 4th quarter, something that killed them last year vs. the Heat. Another thing that is an underrated factor, is their improved 3pt. shooting this year--they were 14/27 today, pushing them to 37% for the series. A big reason for the 3pt.% increase is because the emergence of Boci Nachbar. Nachbar continued his strong play with 11 pts, 3/4 from 3pt.

- One underrated factor in this series is the Nets' defense. They have held the Raps to roughly 42% for the series, and have not allowed the Raps to shoot above 44% once. They have collapsed around the painted area, daring the Raps' PGs to shoot, and this sagging allows for easier help on Bosh. Also, the highly underappreciated defensive play of Jason Collins has been huge vs. Bosh. I think the one thing that has been always overlooked about the circa 2000s Nets, is they have always had a good defensive team going back to the days of Bryon Scott. Though they did dip into the middle-o-pack this year, but they are still capable of being very good.

- Really nothing positive to say about the Raptors' Game 4 performance. For the second game in a row, the Raps' offense looked lost. Some of this definitely has to be blamed on poor outside shooting--the Raps are shooting 29% from 3pt for the series. This encourages the Nets to keep on sagging, which chokes off opportunities for Ford & Bosh. And even when Bosh has room to operate he still seems to be tentative on his moves.

-Been very unimpressed with the Raps' effort on the defensive end as well. Just too many missed assignments, bad communication, and sloppy on help rotations; I mentioned in my preview they would miss Garbajosa's presence, and he would help cut down on some of these aforementioned team defensive problems.

- The Raps have to find someway to free Bosh from all the defensive pressure. I thought starting Bargnani tonite was a good move, so to spread the floor more, but it really had no effect. Not really sure what they can do besides trying to hit their outside shots, which would in turn open the floor for both Bosh & Ford. For the Nets, just tell Vince to keep on drivin.

Suns 113, Lakers 100 (Game 4)

- Nash was scary good today, 23 assists. He came out of the gate very determined, flying thru the Lakers defense, shredding it apart. James Jones gave a nice little spark with 11 pts (3/4 on 3pts). Marion was another Sun who was extremely active on both ends of the floor. Key to the Suns' good offensive rebounding day with 5 (11 total) and was a great utility man on defense guarding Kobe & Odom. Amare's sort of good--27 & 21. Hit his jumpers again & finished with his usual ferocity.

- If the Lakers were going to have any chance at a comeback, it was wiped away with a horseshit charge call on Kwame. Lakers were making a little push, and that high school-level call blew it. A self-inflicted rally killer happened in the 3rd: Smush Parker made a Smush Parker-type of decision and threw up a 3pt shot early in the shot clock while Odom had a hot hand & Lakers could have possibly cut the game to 6 pts.

- Where were the post-ups, especially for Odom. I understand the Lakers post-up threats aren't 100%, but as long as they're able to be on the floor, why wouldn't you run a ton of stuff down there? The Lakers went to Odom at the start of the 3rd, and he scored nicely. But his low post touches came few & far between. And it's not just the scoring ability of the Lakers bigs, it's ability to pass out of the post that Odom, Walton, & Bynum have. Never thought the Lakers offense got into a consistent groove. Kobe gonna do Kobe stuff, but he forced some stuff, and the Suns were sending multiple guys at him, so you have to mix in a fair amount of post-ups, especially with the Suns' shaky interior defense.

- Lakers switching of the pick/rolls did not work quite as well as did in Game 3. Also could not find a way to close up lanes for Nash to operate. LA had some over-doubling/over-helping issues, something that plagued LA last year. The Lakers can't afford to let the Suns win the battles in areas they are not good at: the Suns were +5 on the boards, went to the FT line 14 more times, & were -7 on TOs. Luke Walton made a bunch of uncharacteristic bad plays today--Luke had 7 TOs, while Kobe had 6.

- Suns did some things in this game that they are not known for. They won the rebound battle by 5, and they hit off. glass relatively well (11). Another unlikely area where the Suns prospered---getting to the free throw line 31 times. Though the one area where the Suns continue to struggle (at least for them) in this series is at the 3pt. line--they were only 7/23 today & 35% for the series, which ain't bad but well below the 40% season average.

- Lakers can't go long stretches where they avoid going thru the post. I think this really cost them from getting a good offensive flow in the 2nd & 3rd quarters. As good as Kobe can get, the Suns load up their perimeter defense waiting for him to go one-on-one, and as many tough shots as he can make, he also will force a bunch.

Spurs 96, Nugs 91 (Game 3)

- Game 3 was a showcase for typical Spurs defense--Nugs shot 43%. They really ratcheted up the intensity in the 2nd quarter by closing off the lane. Shading Iverson & Melo into help, especially forcing them toward the baseline knowing Duncan is waiting at the rim. They were doubling Melo fairly option & even mixed in some zone on occasion. Duncan was his usual understated defensive force inside as the backline anchor changing & blocking shots (5 blks). Timmy also pounded the off. glass with 7 to add to his 6 def. boards.

- Maybe the most important sequence of the game came at the end of the 3rd. Nugs had taken the lead, but the Spurs responded with a flurry of 3s from Horry & Finley. Horry made a big steal that immediately led to a 3pt. to push the Spurs' lead to 5 with about 1 minute left in the 3rd. Big Shot Bob brought a nice spark off the pine with 10, 6 rebs & 2 big 3s in the 2nd half. Mike Finley continued his strong play ..5/7 from 3pt for 16 pts & 5 rebs. Has really been an underrated factor in this series (9/19 from 3pt. for the series).

- Parker had a nice overall effort. The usual deep penetration was there, but what was really encouraging was Parker stroked his jumper as well as I've seen. If he can consistently hit it, he makes the Spurs very dangerous because the defense is going to continuely give him open looks. Also, Parker was able to stay in front of Iverson as well as you can expect. Manu also put constant pressure on the Nugs on both ends. Manu drove the lane with his usual reckless abandon & was rewarded with 11 free throws (10/11) which led to 19 pts, 7 rebs, & 5 assts.

- Melo had 28, but it wasn't a hard fought 28. The Spurs were sending doubles early & often at Melo, usually leaving Blake to prove that he can shoot. Melo hit the glass hard once again--12, 6 off. Nene continued to be a reliable 3rd option for the Nugs by finishing in the painted area with authority--18 pts, 7/11 on mostly layups & dunks. Have to give credit to Nene & Camby for doing another solid job on Duncan--Timmy shot 9/21--Denver's bigs are defending him as well as you can expect. JR Smith finally added something to the mix with 12 pts, something that needs to continue every game for the Nugs to have a chance. Even with JR's 12 pts, the Spurs' bench once again badly outscored the Nugs' bench--33 to 12, the Spurs are outscoring them 99 to 25 for the series.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Pistons 97, Magic 93 (Game 4)

- Pistons did just enough to win. They let the Magic stick around in the 4th, make them feel good about themselves, then sort of realized they wanted a week of rest than rather playing another meaningless game. Detroit spread the wealth for the 4th game in a row--the starting 5 all finished in double figures. Orlando's young bigs kept the the Magic around in the 4th quarter. Both Darko & Dwight were physical presences in the painted area, and they were impressive vs. one of the tougher frontlines in the NBA. Dwight just simply powered his way to 29 & 17, but still had issues at the free throw line (9/17).

- Orlando has to be pleased with the way Darko performed vs. his old squad. Once again Darko scored double figures today (14) & added 5 off. rebs. He was very assertive all series & showcased his varied post game. Darko scored in double figures in every game and averaged 12 ppg on 59% for the series. The Magic are going to have to make a tough call on re-signing him.

-Orlando's 1st order of business this off-season is trying to find some scoring. They desparately need to find a dynamic scorer on the perimeter to play off of Dwight. In the draft or free agency, they need to go after the best scoring wing player available. This team's defense was actually pretty solid, and their rebounding is well taken care of with Dwight around. But need to focus on cutting down their turnovers & improving their foul shooting for next season; both areas would be helped by Dwight improving in these areas. Tough call on Darko. Not sure what I would do. His price is likely to be heftier after this recent playoff performance. And the Magic are possibly going to need the money to lure a big-time wing player to fill their scoring void. Also, can Darko co-exist with Dwight long-term? Darko can go high-post a lot, but Darko is actually more polished than Dwight right now on the block. Do they re-sign Grant? Only if he comes cheap, and is willing to take a reduced role or be a reserve. Lots of options to mull over for the Magic front office this summer, but they should be in pretty good shape for another playoff berth as long as Dwight keeps developing his skill set.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Friday Nite Roundup

RAPS/NETS (Game 3): Nets 102, Raps 89
- Nets control this game wire-to-wire, never really challenged by the Raps. One of the better offensive performances by NJ all year because they were consistent thru-out, no lulls.

- Well, the light bulb went off for Vince (at least tonite). He was machine--37 on 15/23 & 5 asst. Started off the bat determined to attack, and good things followed. The Raps could not stop him. And there was not obvious seams in the defense, Vince just snaked his way to some sweet contorted finishs.

- TJ Ford was the only Rap who was able to make this game respectable. Single-handedly kept the Raps alive in the 3rd with his outside shooting. The Nets were giving him ton of space, constantly going underneath pick/rolls, and he was responding (Ford had 27 on 11/22 & 8 assts). The other Rap PG, Calderon, was also given a lot of room and he responded well--12 pts on 6/6--but uncharacterisitically coughed up the ball 6 times.

- The Nets took Bosh totally out of the game. The tag-team of Moore & Collins continued their strong effort on Bosh for the series. Also, Kidd was always lurking near Bosh, making it difficult for him to find lanes. Kidd was able to help so easy because the gameplan is to sag off Ford. Especially with Bosh setting up shop at the high post close to Ford, it often made Kidd's job easier.

- The Nets got out & ran pretty well, and it helps when your point guard can rebound so well & start the break by himself. Kidd had another super all-around game--16, 19 assts, 12 rebs, & 3 stls. Like how he even looked for his own points a little more tonite. This one thing that I think Kidd has not done enough this year--too unselfish for a guy who can finish with both hands & punish most opposing 1s inside.

- Raps have to get Bosh going. In both losses, the Nets have contained him pretty well. They should set him up closer to the blocks, get him away from Ford up high because it allows Kidd to help so easy. Put him on a side paired up with Ant Parker, the best Rap shooter. Sam has to do something to get Bosh into better positions.

MAVS/WARRIORS (Game 3): Mavs 109, Warriors 91
- Can we rescind Dirk's MVP? I'm considering retroactively switching my pick to Duncan. Yeah, he had 20 & 12, but he could be much more of a force in this series especially since the Warriors have no one close to match up with him. He just doesn't fight for post position. If any defender puts up any bit of slight resistance, Dirk will just accept it.

- Avery's getting badly outcoached by Nellie. The 2nd game out of 3 where the Dallas offense was totally discombobulated. It's like they don't have a solid gameplan to go at the Warriors; the Mavs look lost out there. Avery, Dirk has a distinct height advantage--get his ass in the post. Yes, GS will probably send doubles periodically, so you design alignments to expose the shifting defense. I don't care what the Warriors are doing, there is no way the Mavs should look this bad for 2 games. They are too good, one of the best offenses in the league. This team needs to attack the painted area vs. the Warriors. But this is the one minor flaw of this team, they can't adjust out of their jumpshot mentality. And another underrated fact that is hurting the Mavs: they are shooting 11/50 from 3pt. for the series. The Mavs shot 38% for the year, 4th best in NBA.

- Basically all the Warriors ate up the Mavs. Jason Richardson led the way with 30 on 12/19, mixing up some mid-range posts with outside bombs (4/10). Andris Biedrins got the start and used his athleticism to cause havoc in the lane with strong finishs & 10 boards.

-What's somewhat interesting is that the Warriors only shot 6/23 from 3pt. I felt they would have to rip it up from deep to have a chance, but they have been able to hang by only shooting 27.4% from 3pt for the series. But maybe the Mavs only shooting 22% might help them out.

-Warriors have to be commended for winning the overall board battle by 2. They have done a good job not getting totally destroyed on the boards in this series considering they were dead last in the reg. season & Dallas happened to be one of the best. But G.S. did give up too many off. boards again (17), but it was tempered by Dallas giving up too many as well.

- The Mavs just need to settle down, take their time, and be aggressive on offense. It would be nice if they attempted to post Dirk up some & look to play off him. Warriors should just keep slingin-n-flingin.

Lakers 95, Suns 89 (Game 3)

- Suns came out smoking in the 1st, looking like this would be a repeat performance of Game 2. But the Lakers' defense did a near 180 to start the 2nd quarter--they were a completely different defensive team, like the they were secretly replaced by the Spurs after the 1st quarter. This game was almost 2 games in one--the 1st quarter as one & the next 3 as another.

-If you look at the Suns' 48% shooting for the game you would think the Lakers maybe were not that special on defense. But those numbers are skewed by the 1st quarter. The Suns put up 31 pts on 12/17 (4/5 from 3pt) in the 1st, while the the next 3 quarters they only put up 58 pts on 24/58 (41.3%) & 5/17 (29.4%) from 3pt.

- Lakers' defense was hedging hard on the high pick/rolls, pushing the dribbler up toward the timeline. They were switching, doubling, & changing shots in the interior--never quite seen this type of effort from the Lakers all year. I felt Odom did a tremendous all-around job guarding the pick/rolls, helping in the paint & scrambling every place.

- See the things that happen when you go thru the post & painted area vs. the Suns. Big part of Kobe's 45 was swirling drives thru the paint & he got 13 FTAs for his aggressiveness. How bout Kwame. We were thoroughly unimpressed with his Game 1 play, and called for Phil to play Bynum more. But Kwame put a terrific effort on both ends. On offense, he resembled his highly efficient self of last year's playoffs, where he looked like an all-star. His size helped him to 19 on 8/14 & his defensive effort was admirable--he helped Odom protect the lane & his attention on the pick/rolls was much improved.

- Suns got absolutely mauled on the boards--outrebounded by 9, gave up 19 off. rebs (Suns had a 60% def. reb. pct, which is terrible). We've mentioned the Suns' rebound woes plenty of times, and how this could be a fatal flaw along with their interior defense which prevents getting out of the West.

- Thought the Lakers could have went to Odom a little bit more on the block. Hopefully this series will put to end the ridiculous campaign for Marion as Def. Player of the Year. Again he is solid overall, but he ain't exactly putting the clamps on Odom. Marion's on-the-ball defense in the post is nothing special, not just because what Odom can do vs. him, this happens a lot when Marion has to guard true 4s. So if you're a Marion-for-DPOY, you can officially put that misguided campaign to bed now.

- Amare's jumper was not missing much. Amare's & Barbosa's outside shooting was the only thing that was keeping the Suns' offense alive after the 1st quarter. The Lakers contained Barbosa somewhat--he still hit jumpers (5/11 from 3pt), but he was not a single-man fast break like Game 2. The Lakers cut down on fast break pts as a whole, which is obviously huge vs. Suns. Nash did have 13 assists, but he seemed as disoriented as I've ever seen him (besides the recent Spurs game) trying to attack a defense. Maybe a reason for his 5 TOs.

- Lakers probably could have won this game by 15 but they got undisciplined in the last 7 minutes of the 4th. Kobe started to get too cutesy getting dribble happy and they failed to go thru the post for about 4-5 minutes & that just happened to coincide with a dry spell. They finally broke out with about 3 mins left by Kobe attacking the paint, and the one time they went down low, guess what, Odom gets a easy bucket with 1:45 left.

- For Game 4, Same thing as always for the Lakers--milk the post-ups, and mix in Kobe for variety. Attack the painted area all day. And hope the defense can have a repeat performance, which is questionable. Suns have to shore up their interior defense & board work. Yeah, not easy for them to do.

NBA on Facebook Fun

I filled out my NBA playoff bracket on Facebook this year, within the NBA Bracket-Ball and Trivia Challenge group (Facebook acct required).

People can upload photos and other sundry images within the group, and as you might imagine, it's a little bit of a free-for-all. How about a little Friday frivolity with a rundown of some of the more entertaining images I've found there. Most of these are uncredited, so if I've taken something that someone in the NBA blogosphere has created, please let me know and I'll gladly give credit where it's due.

OK, let's get going. One of my favorite emerging stories of the 2007 playoffs is the sheer splendor of the Baron Davis beard, which some seem to believe resembles that of Leonidas from 300 (from

I had the pleasure of attending a playoff game at Air Canada Centre in 2001 and was really impressed by the atmosphere - one of the best in the NBA, for sure, with fans who were passionate and loyal.

And I continue to be impressed at how rabid the Raptors fan base is (link found via True Hoop). Their presence on Facebook is consistent with their intensity elsewhere - tons of Raps-related images, including many of the most creative. Here are three I liked:

The Yao pose is totally what makes this one work:

I'm going to hell for this, but can't resist:

This one - the Detroit Prez combo - is so dumb and such bad PhotoShop work that it makes me laugh every time:

These three are each ridiculous in their own ways, and I don't really know how to comment otherwise:

Dallas fans can only hope that they'll be wearing this T-shirt in June...:

...and not starring in this DVD (again):

OK, enough. Have a good weekend.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Mavs 112, Warriors 99 (Game 2)

- For about the 1st 30 mins of the game, the impossible idea of GS stealing this series was starting to become a realistic possiblity. It seemed like the Mavs & Dallas crowd were beginning to realize this in the 3rd quarter while the Warriors would not go away. The Mavs were starting to pull away slowly in later stages of the 3rd, then Baron got tossed and the Warriors began to fall apart the rest of the game.

- I'm sure some people will point to the fact that Avery went back to his normal lineup as the reason for the win, but that is an easy, simplistic conclusion. I thought the controversy over the lineup change was overrated at the time. That really was not the issue, it was that the Mavs' offense executed poorly in Game 1, especially Howard missing easy shots, Stackhouse not scring at all, & Dirk had no sense of urgency. The Mavs' poor showing had very little to do with that Damp & Diop played sparingly, it had more to do with the big offensive guns not showing up or simply missing shots more than usual.

-The first place the Mavs' bigger lineup should make a difference is on the boards, but the they were roughly the same on the boards as Game 1 (+5 in Game 1, +7 tonite), and their offensive rebounding was actually better in Game 1 (38%) than in Game 2 (31.5%). The other area where Damp & Diop should make a difference is defensively. But the Warriors actually shot the ball better than in Game 1, although they were cold from 3pt. Again, the lineup change was overrated, the Mavs should be able to handle the Warriors even if they go with Dirk at center.

-The real reason the Mavs were successful tonite was the same guys who played in the downsized lineup in Game 1 just executed/ shot the ball better tonite. They also finished near the rim much better. Josh Howard was 8/13 tonite as opposed to 8/21 in Game 1. Howard had a great overall game as well, was all over the floor on defense--Josh ended with 22, 11 rebs, 3 assts, 5 stls, & 2 blks. JTerry was banging jumpers from everywhere besides the 3pt line (1/7), he finished with 28 pts on 12/23. Stack went from 0 pts in Game 1 to 17, 8 rebs, 4 asst & 11/13 from the FTline. These 4 main guys shot a combined 30/60 after shooting a combined 18/52 in Game 1.

- The Mavs were also obviously helped by Dirk's return to normal--23 pts on 7/15--and got to the line 11 times which is about right. But even with this nice production, I just did not feel satisfied with Dirk's game. To me, he needs to get his rear down on the block much more in this series. I understand that the Warriors will look to double him some, but the Mavs can work off those doubles. Send cutters down the lane because the Warriors have no deterrent in lane when Biedrins is out.

- Warriors can't afford to turn the ball over that much (24) vs. a team as superior as the Mavs. I also don't think they can be succesful only hitting 4/20 from 3pt. The 3pt. is so vital to the Warriors' attack because they need the extra point per possession to up the point total since their defense & rebounding will always be at a disadvantage. Although the Warriors did another admirable job not totally getting mauled on the boards in Game 2, actually doing a somewhat better job on their defensive boards.

- Steve Jackson was an offensive juggernaut that the Mavs had no answer for. Steve Jackson was chucking up shots without much discretion but they finding their mark--30 pts on 9/16, 3/7 from 3pt. But maybe the most memorable part of Jackson's Game 2 performance was during the 2nd half scuffle. The funny part was Jackson was on the other side of the floor with his back turned toward the bench when the pushing began. Then he turned around & in a split second said to himself, "Wait, there is a skirmish and I'm not in the middle of it? Well, I have to rectify this situation.". Then he promptly sprinted over and placed himself right into the frontline of the fray, picking up a tech in the process. After that moment, Jackson's "unstable" knob in his brain was now pinned in the red area. So after Baron got tossed, I had a strong feeling Jackson wouldn't be far behind & would try to top Baron's ejection. Surely enough, a few minutes later he gets tossed and not surprisingly can't leave the floor peacefully like Baron did. You really have to feel for recently fired Rick Carlisle considering he had to deal with Jackson & Artest at the same time--those two guys had a big hand in ruining two promising seasons of Pacer bball. Let's say I won't be surprised if Steve has another incident in this series.

- The Warriors defense came back to reality in Game 2 (Dall shot 47.3%). I expect this to be the case the rest of the series, so G.S. is going to have to rev up their offense to their usual proportions; the Warriors have not hit 100 in 2 games, and it's imperative they get above that if they want any chance. Also, Harrington has to shake out of his funk. Warriors really need his offense & outside shooting from the 5 spot, especially since Avery is going to play Diop & Damp more. They need Harrington to take the Mavs' bigs away from the painted area, so all their weapons can go one-on-one easier.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Spurs 97, Nugs 88 (Game 2)

- The Nugs missed a lot of lay-ups, a big reason had to do with Duncan. But the whole Spurs' defense did a nice job challenging shots and held the Nugs to 39% from the floor. But the Nugs did make things interesting down the stretch thanks to Iverson making some filthy shots.

- Duncan redeemed himself as expected with a strong showing on both ends of the floor. Found a way to draw some fouls on the Nugs' bigs & was able to create some space between himself & Nene, so he could not use his strength to re-route Timmy as much.

- Parker did a much better job getting deep in the lane, you knew it was only a matter of time before the Spurs took advantage of Blake. Though Parker did not finish with impunity, because Camby was still a factor and Parker only shot 6/15--Tony is only shooting 40% for the series well below his reg. season average.

- Melo off on his jumper today (8/21), some of it had to do with the Spurs defense: they sent doubles earlier tonite, which was a good move because Melo was going so quick on his moves in Game 1. But he did do some damage getting some 2nd chance pts. off his 6 off. rebs & kept the Nugs close by scoring 11 of the Nugs' 19 3rd quarter pts. Just been impressed with Melo's activity so far--he looks as quick as I ever seen him.

- Iverson was penetrating well but couldn't seem to finish close-in, again a lot to do with Timmy. Pretty amazing that Iverson did not get to the line at all. It was not from a lack of trying--he was driving well all nite, and seemed to be getting knocked around some, but no whistles went his way. Even though he was fairly successful at creating space for himeself, his shot was off the mark like Melo's--AI shot 9/25, Melo & AI combined for 17/46 after shooting 21/40 in Game 1.

- Nene did a nice job finishing in the paint. HIs offensive game has taken a step forward this year, and he could actually be worth his contract in the future. Camby was much the same defensive presence that Duncan was. Camby had 3 blocks & altered numerous others (definitely effected Parker a few times), and he teamed with Nene to actually do a fairly solid job on Duncan when in post-up situations. The Nugs quietly did another solid job on the defensive end--the Spurs shot 43.8% after shooting 42% in Game 1.

- Early on Manu looked like he would struggle once again, but he came alive in the 2nd half with 15 of 17 pts. He mixed up his jumpers with some of his patented whirling-dervish forays to the bucket. Manu's Argentine sidekick, Fab Oberto, once again provided a nice lift off the bench with 8 pts & 10 rebs. Did his usual good job of finding the open space. Mike Finley quietly was a factor for the Spurs for the 2nd game in a row (14 & 7).

- One minor issue that sprang up again for the Spurs was giving up a few too many off. rebounds--14 for a 70.8% def. reb. pct, wasn't as bad as Game 1's 58%, but still could do a little bit better job.

- Like I said before, the Nugs are going to have to get some scoring punch off their bench to push the Spurs to the max. The Nugs' bench only scored 7 pts to S.A.'s 30pts; the Spurs outscored them 36-6 in Game 1. You can't expect much from Najera, but JR Smith & Kleiza have to step up because too much scoring pressure is on Melo & AI. Expect the Spurs to double Melo & AI on occasion, and should do it on the catch before they can get into their moves.

Halberstam NBA Must-Reads

Lots has been written about the great David Halberstam following his untimely passing.

I thought that this comment from George Esper, a Vietnam-era colleague, probably summed up Halberstam's "real-world" importance as well as any:
"The bottom line was that David was more honest with the American public than their own government."

But this is a basketball blog, so our tribute will focus on Halberstam's work in producing two of the greatest NBA-related books ever written, Breaks of the Game (1981) and Playing For Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made (1999).

These are not only absolute must-reads for the NBA fan, but they're probably the starting point for any new and/or young fan interesting in reading about the NBA.

To get a taste, head to the web site for the New Yorker, which is re-running a brilliant and delightful piece from 1998, "Jordan's Moment", which is essentially an excerpt from Playing for Keeps.

The excerpt focused on the glorious coda of Jordan's career at the end of Game 6 in the 1998 Finals (I like to pretend that the Wizards era never happened). My favorite things about Halberstam's work are the telling details which he unearths via his thorough research.

Remember back to the end of Game 6, when Chicago was down 86-85 and MJ came over to strip the ball from Karl Malone. Did that come out of the ether? Nope. Chapel Hill.
    Buzz Peterson, Jordan’s close friend and college roommate, was watching Game Six with his wife, Jan, at their home, in Boone, North Carolina. In the final minute of the game, Jan turned to him and said, “They’re going to lose.” But Peterson, who had played with Jordan in countless real games and in practice games when the winning team was the first to reach eleven and Jordan’s team was behind 10–8, knew all too well that moments like this were what he lived for: with his team behind, he would predict victory to his teammates and then take over the last part of the game. Peterson told his wife, “Don’t be too sure. Michael’s got one more good shot at it.” Just then Jordan made his driving layup to bring the Bulls within a point. The key play, Peterson felt, was going to come on the next defensive sequence, when Utah came down court with the ball. Peterson was certain that he could track Jordan’s thinking: he would know that Utah would go to Malone, hoping for a basket, or, at least, two foul shots. He had seen his friend so often in the past in this same role, encouraged by Dean Smith, the North Carolina coach, to play the defensive rover. Peterson thought that Michael, knowing the likely Utah offense every bit as well as Malone and Stockton, would try to make a move on Malone.
Those of us aged enough to recall MJ's Carolina days will remember how Dean Smith encouraged Michael to sometimes break the fundamentals of team defense and play a predatory centerfield when the opportunity arose - something that stayed with Jordan all the way to the end of his NBA career.

And how about that famous follow-through on the game-winning shot? Well, here's what was said in the time-out before the final sequence:
    During the Chicago time-out, [Phil] Jackson and Jordan talked about what kind of shot he might take, and Jackson reminded him that his legs were tired and it was affecting his jump shot. “I’ve got my second wind now,” Jordan answered. “If you have to go for the jumper, you’ve got to follow through better,” Jackson said. “You haven’t been following through.”
Of course, I'm burying the lead here a little bit, because Breaks of the Game is nothing short of the signature NBA book of all time. In following the 1979-80 Portland Trail Blazers, Halberstam offered an in-depth portrait of how race, money and ego affect the fabric of a professional sports franchise.

Halberstam picked a fascinating subject in this team. The 1977 Blazers were not just NBA champions, but seen by many observers as the epitome of unselfish basketball. But by 1979-80, they were unravelling, and the book revolves around fascinating characters such as Dr. Jack Ramsay (really the center of the book as the coach trying to navigate the tenuous waters to hold his team together), Bill Walton (the 1977 hero now in San Diego after an acrimonious split with the Blazers which essentially brought down the franchise), Maurice Lucas (a proud and bright man upset with his contract) and Billy Ray Bates (a late-season callup from the CBA who gets a taste of glory).

Flipping through my copy of Breaks, it's hard to find a concise excerpt because the brilliance of the book is in its depth and nuance. Most every Blazer is portrayed with a thorough bio of several pages. But here's my stab - an excerpt of Halberstam's portrait of Maurice Lucas, star power forward of the '77 Blazers, and team leader in '79-80:
    It was, Ramsay knew, always going to be a test of wills with Luke. Of the blacks on the team, he was by far the most political and also the most willing to test authority, any authority. Some of the other blacks, Ron Brewer and T.R. Dunn, for example, had grown up in the South and had gone to southern schools; there was, some coaches thought, a lack of assertiveness to their play, something the coaches suspected could be traced back to their childhoods, to that region where, despite significant social change, authority still belonged to whites and blacks remained tentative about expressing their feelings openly, whether in politics or sports. But there was no problem like that with Maurice Lucas, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, late of the Hill district of the ghetto. Sometimes the Portland front office, talking about a particular player in college or on another team, used the phrase, and to them it was a positive: obedient kid. Obedient kid. Maurice Lucas was most demonstrably not an obedient kid. He was very black, very articulate, very political, a strong and independent man sprung from circumstances that could also create great insecurity. There was about him a constant sense of challenge; everything was a struggle, and everything was a potential confrontation, a struggle for turf and position. It was in part what had made him at his best so exceptional an athlete. He liked the clash of will. He was at once an intensely proud black man, justifiably angry about the injustice around him, and a superb and subtle con artist, a man who had in effect invented himself and his persona -- Luke the Intimidator. When he was making demands, when he talked about race being an issue at point, it was sometimes hard to tell which Maurice Lucas was talking -- the Lucas who genuinely believed he was a victim of such obvious American racism, or the Lucas who knew that his cause was more dramatic if he deliberately cloaked it in himself. Indeed, it was not possible at certain times to tell if he himself knew. (He was capable of complaining that Portland would never pay a black superstar what it would pay a white superstar, which was possibly correct, and, in the next breath, of complaining about the fact that Mychal Thompson, a rookie, who was also, it happened, black, had made twice as much in his rookie year as Luke made, then in his third year in Portland.)
If you're an NBA fan and haven't read these books, go get both and read them now.

[Update - November 1, 2010: Welcome to those of you finding this piece anew. Unfortunately, we are here to mark another untimely passing, as Maurice Lucas died on Sunday at the age of 58. Re-reading this, I'm mainly struck by the thought that Lucas, as portrayed by Halberstam, sounds like a classic rich character from the works of August Wilson, the late Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, who set all of his plays in Pittsburgh's Hill District. - MH]

One last thing: Jay Aych only included my first-round picks in his playoff preview. For the record, here are the rest of the playoff picks I entered into my NBA bracket:

Conf Semis
Mavericks over Rockets in 7 (wouldn't be shocked if HOU pulled the upset)
Spurs over Suns in 5 (SAS knows exactly how to beat PHX)

Conf Finals
Spurs over Mavericks in 7 (hopefully another classic between these two juggernauts)

Conf Semis
Bulls over Pistons in 7 (I don't believe Flip can get it done)
Cavs over Raptors in 6 (CLE takes advantage of great draw)

Conf Finals
Bulls over Cavs in 5 (Bulls slightly better on both ends; Cavs need better guards)

Spurs over Bulls in 5 (Dynasty: 4 titles in 9 years; Timmy back on top)

Alright, enjoy the big Game 2's tonight.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Tuesday Nite Recap & Analysis

BULLS/HEAT (Game 1): Bulls 107, Heat 89
- The Bulls were stroking tonite. Gordon & Deng could not miss--both guys were 11/19 overall--and the Bulls as a whole shot a sizzling 55% overall, 11/17 from 3pt. They are a team that lives by the jumper, and they lived the gated-community high-life tonite.

- Gordon came out on fire early and kept up the touch all nite to end with 27 (5/8 from 3pt.), 7 rbs, 5 assts. Not sure there is another guy in the league (besides maybe Kobe) when they get hot, they get as lethally hot as Ben can; he gets NBA JAM hot. Deng started to heat up in the 2nd half, particularly the 4th quarter where he was draining mid-range jumpers from all over--Loul ended with 26, 6 assts, 5 rbs. & 2 stls. Noce continued his strong play vs. the Heat (10 & 5 rbs, 3/4 from 3pt), he was an immediate spark off the bench & scored the last 7 pts of the 1st quarter to push the lead to 10.

- Can't remember Shaq ever being this careless with the ball before (7 TOs), the ball was slipping out of his hand all nite, and he was generally not strong with the ball. He also failed to finish off point-blanks shot more than usual; Shaq looked his age tonite.

- Wade looks like he does not have sufficient energy to do things he needs/likes to do. Once again in the mid-part of the game he looked gassed. Did come to life early in the 4th, and looked like he might heat up like Game 1, but it did not materialize. Wade ended with 21 & 7 assts.

- Really nothing good you can say about Miami, they were a collective disappointment. After watching this game, you wonder if they can even win a game. Wade got going early in the 4th off the bounce & it seemed that Miami might repeat the late-game rally of Game 1. But Bulls fended the run off by drilling jumpshot, after jumpshot--mostly Deng doing the damage.

- Riles has to consider starting Posey instead of Ed Jones. Posey, Kapono, & Walker each had 11 pts, and brought much more to table than JWilliams, Jones, or Haslem. Jones & JWill have been non-existent for 2 games. Posey has done a solid job all-around when on the floor, and Riles might have to consider running more curls/screens for Kapono. The Heat made a nice little run in the 2nd quarter when Kapono & Posey got hot. The one good thing that Heat have going for them going back home is that Chicago ain't that great of a road team this year.

RAPS/NETS (Game 2): Raptors 89, Nets 83
- Raps had to sweat this one out until the last second to avoid 0-2 hole. Pretty tight game thru-out, TJ Ford turned it on in the 2nd half igniting the Raps offense, even hitting an unexpected 3pt late in the game.

- Both teams shot 31/76 from the field. The decisive difference might have been the free throw line--Nets shot just 14 (11/14), Raps shot 25 (21/25). Vince's lack of aggression sure did not help the Nets' cause. The Nets also piled up too many turnovers early that never let them build up a bigger lead in the 1st half when their defense was strong.

- Not sure if the light bulb will ever go off in Vince's head on what it takes to max his natural talents. Same thing as usual, looking for off-balance jumpers in Game 2. Even had Ford on the block on one play, and you'd think he would power into the lane, nope. Vintage Vince fadeaway. He got to the line 4 times. 4 times. While he continued to jack up 3s when he only hit 1/7, 8/24 overall.

- Seasoned vet Ant Parker was the player of the game. Had 26 on 8/13 (3/4), 8 rbs, & 4 stls, but he sort of does it in an quiet, understated way. And his defense on Vince was solid. It seemed like Bosh would have another shaky playoff showing after a lackluster 1st half. But Bosh finally settled down, became more assertive, and threw up 19 pts in the 2nd half to finish with 25 pts & 13 rbs. Little surprised at Calderon's play tonite, his decision making/shot selection was uncharacteristically suspect, and Sam made the wise choice by reasserting Ford in the 4th.

- Even though he couldn't connect on a 3 to possibly tie the game late, Boci Nachbar was huge off the bench providing key 3s (4/7) & some strong drives to finish with 17. The Nets' 3pt shooting has really improved from last year, and kept them in this game (10/23). Actually, Jason Collins had a pretty solid game doing the little things that keep him in the good graces of Coach Frank. Workmanlike-defense per usual, but was a little bit more potent on the boards than usual--4 off. boards, 6 overall.

- Maybe Larry Frank should consider making Jefferson his main option since the Raps don't have much at the 3, and Vince doesn't really want to make things happen, plus he has a capable defender on him. Jefferson was off the mark tonite but the Raps don't have a good matchup for him. I don't think the Nets can ultimately win this series if Vince is going to shy away from slashing. The Nets need for him to get into the painted area & attempt to get to the line.

SUNS/LAKERS (Game 2): Suns 126, Lakers 98
- Suns played well enough that Pat Burke saw minutes. That's really all you need to know. Suns got anything they wanted. Lakers had no clue on defense. Barbosa was unstoppable again. Nash was a maestro. The Lakers pretty much conceded the game in the middle of the 2nd quarter. Not sure there is much hope for the Lakers since you can't do much about repairing their defense & health concerns within a week

Monday, April 23, 2007

Monday Nite Recap & Analysis

ROCKETS/JAZZ (Game 2): Rockets 98, Jazz 90
- Physical game, though not that surprising. The Jazz shot the ball well early, but the Rockets chipped away at the lead in the 2nd quarter thanks to Yao & McGrady.

- Houston looked to establish Yao in the post early. His turnaround jumper was smooth and he mixed a sweet little step-thru finger roll for good measure. When he got in foul trouble in the middle of the 2nd quarter, TMac began to take control. Even though TMac's outside shot was way off all nite, he found a way to deliver off the dribble with either contorting lay-ins, nice feeds to teammates, or drawing fouls. TMac shot only 9/29, but he got to line which helped him accrue 31 pts. Tracy also added 1o rebs, 5 assts & 2 stls.

- Houston missed a ton of 3pts. (4/24), but they neutralized it by crushing the offensive glass (17). Chuck Hayes did the bulk of the damage (7 off.) with his unparalled hustle & underrated strength--Chuck even added some unexpected offense to the mix, 12pts & 12rbs for Chuck. Another key factor tempering the Rockets' bad shooting nite was they got to the foul line 38 times, 21 more attempts than the Jazz.

- Boozer put on the performance of this young playoff season so far. 41 pts on 17/30, 12 rbs & 6 assts--elbow jumpers, turnarounds, drives, spins, & straight finishes. Like how he looked to drive on Yao a few times. He was stroking the elbow jumper all game which is a key staple of the flex. Harpring uses the baseline screens/cuts of the flex so well, and found offense off of it--Matt scored 14 pts, same as his Game 1 total. Mentioned before that he is very underrated bench player, just brings a physical presence to both ends of the floor.

-Okur struggled once again on offense--shot 2/9, he's a combined 4/23 for the series--but he did a really admirable job on defense, and particularly defending Yao tough. Memo's physical play was a big reason that Yao shot an unlikely 9/24 & Memo ended with 10 rebs, 6 assts & 4 blks. Again, the Jazz played pretty solid technical defense vs. Houston (Rockets shot only 36%), but they severely lessen their effectiveness by fouling too much. But this Utah's major flaw all season--they led the league in fouls.

- The Jazz are going to need Okur to find his touch in Salt Lake. They also have to find a way to cut down on the foul margin. I think the Jazz are in good shape because they have played the Rockets pretty tough so far, and they are headed back home. And they need to get Kirilenko's head in the right place, and Sloan has to consider letting AK47 guard TMac for extended minutes.

PISTONS/MAGIC (Game 2): Pistons 98, Magic 90
- Not really sure what to make of this second game where Det. lets Orlando stick around til the end. I guess I'm going to stick with the line of reasoning that the Pistons aren't all that threatened by Orlando. And this team like to motivates itself by playin' the "No Respect" card, but they are the clear fav in this series, so they can't use that card.

- Billups took over in the 2nd half when the Pistons needed his steady guidance. Chauncey hit some from outside & added a few key drives to hold off the Magic--Billups had 21, 8 assts, & only 1 TO. Rip led the way with 22 and Tayshaun pitched in with 18 (3/3 from 3pt.). 2nd game in a row where all Pistons starters score in double figures. Detroit rotated their collection of quality bigs on Dwight, and frustrated him all nite.

- Hedo had a hot hand from the perimeter for the 2nd game in a row, 22 pts on 10/14. He became Orlando's go-to-guy in the 2nd half-- they started to run isos for him, but he was more effective when he was getting set up for his jumper. Darko once again was a solid presence in the lane. Displaying his nice little hook in the lane, he finished with 10 pts on 5/9, 6 rbs & 3 blks. Grant Hill squeezed out a vintage all-around game. He was very active on both ends of the floor & pitched in 21, 8 rebs, 4 assts & 9/13 FTs.

- All the Pistons have to do is stay focused to end this series quickly. But I expect the Magic to take one in O-Town with the way they hung tough in Detroit and Detroit's propensity to sleepwalk, like they did last year in Milwaukee for a game.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Sunday Recap & Analysis

SPURS/NUGS (Game 1): Nugs 95, Spurs 89
-As good as Iverson & Melo were tonite, I think Nene was the MVP for the Nugs. His defense on Duncan was superb & offensive board work was huge. The Nugs' defense was probably more impressive than their offense tonite. They took away Parker's & Duncan's strengthes, and were physical without fouling (Spurs only took 10 free throws). They also did not allow Parker to finish with his usual propensity.

- Nugs came out looking to be very aggressive off the dribble. Melo had the hot hand all game, and has much more room to operate this year with other options & shooters on the floor besides him. The Spurs had a real problem trying to contain Iverson. The Big 2 combined for 61 pts on 21/40 & both guys went 8/8 from the foul line. Both guys were quick on their moves not allowing the doubles to set up.

-In my playoff preview I mentioned the Nugs could make things interesting because I thought the Nugs had the bigs who could defend Duncan well. I thought Camby would get the majority of the assignment checking Duncan, since he's done a good job on him in the past. But George chose to go mostly with Nene, and it worked beautifully. Nene held his own, and it freed Camby to roam the baseline and help deter the drives that Parker loves (Camby had 10 rebs, 2 blks & 2 stls).

- Nene was quite a presence in the post. Did a great job holding up Duncan all game & was a monster on the offensive glass (8, 12 total). Denver contained Parker surprisingly well, he did not abuse Blake like I thought he would. Probably part of the reason for that nite was Camby was freed up to protect the rim.

- The Spurs' Big 3 had a woeful 1st half--a combined 7/33--and finished the game a combined 19/52. Manu could not find the range all day & Duncan was shut down by Nene. Parker's numbers were nice--19, 8 assts, 6 rebs, 2 stls--but it was a very quiet 19.

- Not only did the Nugs hold the Spurs to 42% shooting but they also won the board battle by 9, and really hurt the Spurs on the offensive glass--15 off. to only 21 def. boards for the Spurs.

- The Spurs have to do a better on the glass--a def. board pct. of 58% is awful; you want to be at least near 72%. Spurs are going to need to hit from the outside a little better as well. Nugs are going to have get something from JR Smith, and to lesser extent Kleiza. Those two are the only scoring options off the pine, and not sure the Nugs can rely strictly on Melo & AI for their points the rest of the series. The Nugs' bench only pitched in 6 pts compared to 36 from the Spurs.

MAVS/WARRIORS (Game 1): Warriors 97, Mavs 85

- I guess I am going to have to reassess my position on the Warriors; my esteemed Painted Area partner will definitely be rueing the fact that I didn't give much of a chance to G.S.

- This win had to do with Warriors' defense, believe it or not. They never allowed the Mavs, specifically Dirk, to get comfortable--the Mavs were held to 35% & 6/19 from 3pt. They aggressively double-teamed all over the court, and the Mavs did not respond well. Though the Warriors were getting shredded on the baseline, and were letting some easy drives down the gut, especially Dev Harris. But Dallas really never etsablished a well-planned line of attack on offense which played right into the Warriors' hand. Like the Suns, you have to attack the paint, because the Warriors' interior defense is non-existent.

- The Warriors' offense was not really that great. They shot 43% from the field, 33% from 3pt, and only put up 97 pts, which is pedestrian for them. It's sort of amazing they won this game, but their defense & solid job on the offensive glass helped their cause.

- Baron was a flat-out beast on offense bombing from deep & using his ample caboose to bull his way in-between--Davis went off for 33, 14 rebs, 8 assts, & 3 stls on 11/20 shooting (4/7 from 3pt.) Steve Jackson complimented Baron with some aggressiveness of his own--Jackson had 23, 5 rbs, 4 assts, 2 stls & was 3/7 from 3pt. land.

- I think Avery should get a fair amount of the blame for not calling more low block post-ups for Dirk. Totally perplexed why he was not trying to establish Dirk down low--I think I counted about maybe 5 times where Dirk tried to set up on the block. Some of the blame has to go the Mav guards for not working to get better post-entry passing angles (Something that has been a running theme for all teams this weekend). Mavs also did not helped themselves with a boatful of missed lay-ins--Josh Howard must missed 4-5 himself.

- Dev Harris drove the ball at will thru the lane, and was the one consistent offensive threat for the Mavs. Josh Howard had a pretty nice showing with 21, 13, & 3stl, but only 8/21. 4 points from the bench did not help the Mavs' cause, Stack was 0/6.

- Surprisingly, the Warriors kept the rebound battle close enough. Though giving up 19 off. rebs is usually bad, the Warriors tempered that with an unlikely 14 off. boards of their own. They did a good job of chasing down a fair amount of long rebounds usually coming from their 20 missed 3pts. If they can somehow continue to keep the rebound margin within a few, they could make this series even more interesting.

- For the Mavs, it would be nice if they would set Dirk up in the post. I know GS will probably double a fair amount, so Avery has to send cutters down the lane; Harris did this once nicely tonite. Just attack the paint in general.

SUNS/LAKERS (Game 1): Suns 95- Lakers 87

-Hate to go back to it, but the Lakers failed to pound the post to my liking. Everytime they went to Odom down low he got great looks. Walton was the same way. I know Kobe was hot, but he started to force things by the end of the 3rd & carried this over all thru the 4th. While very few post-ups for Odom or Walton were called. Also thought th Lakers allowed the Suns get back in the game in the 1st half of the 2nd quarter by ignoring their advantage in the post.

-I thought Phil had a very questionnable game. Walton should have been on the floor more in the 2nd half, he did play 33 mins, but he was having a great game & was making good things happen when on the floor--Luke ended with 10, 6 assts, & 6 rebs. Also, why he kept Kwame on the floor so long is beyond me. Kwame hands are awful & he was worthless today. While Bynum was 3/4 in 12 minutes. Phil did make a good call on going with Farmar, who had a very nice all around game. Thought he did an admirable job on Nash. Did a good job of shading Nash away from the middle of the floor.

- The 3rd quarter got wild where both offenses got anything they wanted, great back-n-forth action. Kobe continued his hot hand from the 1st half, and Barbosa was literally unstoppable on the run. Barbosa led the Suns with 26, and was the key to the Suns late 3rd quarter run.

- The Lakers' defense which was strugglingly mightily as of late, was actually solid today. Besides the explosive 3rd quarter, the Lakers did a nice job holding the Suns to 43% overall & 6/23 from deep. They made a few mistakes on over-doubling (something they did last year) but that is to be expected.

- The Suns' defense was alright, at least on the perimeter. The interior is still vulnerable & ripe for the picking. Thought they defended Kobe well--much like last year--he just was hitting ridiculous shots that only he can. By the 4th quarter, they knew Kobe was going to force things, and they sent more bodies at him.

- Here comes my familiar refrain carried over from last year: Lakers must continuely go into the post. Even as hot as Kobe got, he should not have to force things that much like he did in the 4th. Let Kobe work off the post if the doubles come on Odom. If things are not working down low, then Kobe can go into one-on-one mode. Phil has to consider playing Bynum much more & calling his number on the block; same goes for Walton.

CAVS/WIZ (Game 1): Cavs 97- Wiz 82

- Cavs kept this game closer than it needed to be because their offense could not get into any sort of rhythm; a common occurence this year. Did like how they looked for fast break opportunities more often and it helped get some momentum in the 2nd half. The Cavs went on a decisive run after Bron's ankle injury.

- Big Z put on a solid performance--16, 8 & 8/10 on FTs--and was key to the Cavs pulling away in the 4th. I thought Big Z was moving swifter than ever, and Coach Brown wisely understands the advantage he has with Z, especially with Etan Thomas on the floor--something they should exploit all series. Larry Hughes looked to push the tempo in the 2nd half which led to 27 pts.

- Not really sure how the Wiz can make adjustments to challenge. Jamison dropped 28 and Hayes had 18, which is pretty much is well as you can ask for. If the Cavs can just get solid consistency & continuity to the offense the next 3 games they should end up with a sweep.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Saturday Recap

BULLS/HEAT (Game 1): Bulls 96- Heat 91
- Bulls seemingly in control all game were suddenly in trouble after Wade got back to '06 mode late in the 4th. They finally held Miami off to secure Game 1. Not sure how the Bulls should feel about the win. Hinrich was in foul trouble, but so was Shaq & Wade.

- But the Bulls could never pull away from Miami because of their jumpshot-centric offense. They hit well from the field in the 3rd, but they went a little cold in the 4th, and this allowed the Heat to chip away. All this jumpshoting also keeps them off the foul line where they can pick up easy points.

- Noce was a great spark off the bench with 17 pts. He mixes up jumpshot-happy Bulls' offense with his helter-skelter drives. Deng was the man for the Bulls with 33 & 8 on his usual efficient shooting (14/22). He could be the go-to -guy his series since the Heat seem to have no matchup for him. Gordon hepled out with 24, 11, & 7 rbs. But he did mix in some terribly forced shots & a handful of TOs.

-Big Ben did solid job on Shaq pushing him out of deep position & maybe most important selling a couple fouls on Shaq that were dubious. But even more important than Big Ben's defense was rookie Thabo Sefolosha defense on Wade. His length gave Wade fits & really shut down his effective in the mid-part of the game.

- Heat came with the right gameplan to establish Shaq in the low block. And Shaq was pretty dominant early finishing in the painted area. But he eventually was sidetracked by foul trouble, and he really never regained his early game production. And maybe he never should have been in foul trouble since 2 of the fouls were bogus.

- Wade came out pretty effective, but he really hit a wall in the mid-part of the game. A fair amount had to do with Sefolosha's long-limbed defense, but it also looked like Wade was out of gas. He definitely was lacking his normal explosion all game, he was severely lacking on defense. And seemed to have some issues handling the ball. But then he went into '06 mode in the 4th. Hitting crazy shots off the glass & was the key for cutting the game to 1.

- Ant Walker did a pretty solid job--drilled his outside shots, and drew some fouls off the bounce. Although the rest of the supporting cast left a lot to be desired. Their aging vets were non-existant--Payton is done, Ed Jones & Alonzo were unproductive.

- The Heat have to keep trying to pound the ball into Shaq early & often. It might be a good idea that Shaq avoid going for charges. Riley has to figure out the right andedote for Deng. Maybe play Posey more or even go with Haslem or Walker on Deng since you don't have to worry about PJ Brown that much on offense. Bulls need as much Nocioni as they can get because his drives bring much needed variety to the offense.

NETS/RAPS (Game 1): Nets 96- Raps 91
- Nets almost got done in by their patented shaky late-game execution--almost. Thought I was witnessing another NJ late-game collapse but Boci Nachbar stuck a huge 3pter. to stop a Raps' rally & push the game to a 4-point difference.

-Kidd had a tremendous floor game. Led some nice transition plays usually finding Jefferson--one bounce pass in particular that led to a 3-point play had eyes. He helped spark a big 8-0 run in the 3rd after the Raps had a 9-0 run to start the 3rd. What makes Kidd so effective in transition is his rebounding ability which allows him to just get the ball & go in one motion--Kidd had 10 rebs, to go along with 8 pts, 15 assts, 2 stls & only 2 TOs.

- Not too surprised that Vince fell back into "fadeaway jumpshot mode". Vince ended up shooting 5/19, But he did sort of redeem himself by making a few drives late & hit some key free throws. Jefferson took up Carter's slack by emerging as the #1 option--Richard was huge with 28 on 11/21 shooting. He could be the wild card in this series since the Raps SF position is shaky with Garbajosa on the shelf. Wasn't sure how healty RJ would be, but he looked pretty effective in the open floor to me. Boci Nachbar also gave the Nets a huge punch off the bench not only with some timely shooting but with his underrated finishing ability. Thought this guy should have been getting more burn this year after watching him in the Worlds this summer & he has really stepped up all year. What caught me off guard while watching him play for Slovenia was how athletic he was.

- Bosh looked indecisive in his offensive moves all game long. I think this aided the Nets' bigs to challenge his shots easier. The Nets' defense as a whole was pretty good, and were successful with mixing up their looks. Went underneath pick/rolls on Ford, Ford did hit some jumpers (8/13 for 21 pts), but sagging off him is the right formula.

- Only reason that the Raps were close was because of the play of battle-tested Euroleague vets. Ant Parker stroked some huge 3pts. in the 2nd half, and Calderon was the impetus for their 4th quarter run. Parker finished with 16 (4/7 from 3pt.), 9 rebs, & 3 stls. Calderon was super productive in only 21 minutes--13 pts, 8 assts, 1 TO, & 2 big 3pts. Their production should not be surprising since both are no strangers to going deep into playoffs situations oversees--Calderon with the Spanish National Team & Parker leading Maccabi to multiple Euroleague titles.

- In Game 2, the Raps have to get Bosh in good scoring positions, and he has to be more forceful with his moves. Maybe a little more Calderon would do the trick as well--he's just seems to spark the offense better than Ford sometimes. For Nets it's no secret that they will hope that Vince decides to drive the ball with aggression And just keep their focus on being consistent offensively down the stretch.

ROCKETS/JAZZ (Game 1): Rockets 84- Jazz 75
- Rockets were having a hell of a time trying to find their collective shooting touch in the 1st half. While the Jazz were getting plently of looks that they wanted; the Jazz defense was somewhat outplaying the vaunted Rockets' defense in the 1st half. But the fortunes started to reverse in the 2nd half. The Rockets started take over in the 3rd when they started clicking from the outside, especially McGrady. It coincided with their defense locking down Utah--the Jazz were held to 33 pts in the half, & 11 pts in the 3rd.

- I was sort of surprised Yao had 28 pts at game's end. Felt like he was struggling a bit, but he went 12/14 from the line, and that can fool you into thinking he's having a quiet game. Actually he made more of an impression on the defensive end. Intereseting strategy to put Yao on Boozer a lot, but it was a effective move. Boozer was often forced away from the basket & he was having to arc his shot up higher than usual which might have played a factor in an un-Boozer-like 4/17 from the field. Also, the Rockets put the clamps down on Memo as well--the Jazz frontline shot a combined 6/31 overall.

- The only Jazz starter who played well was Deron Williams with 15, 9 rbs, 9 assts, & 3 stls. Like I've mentioned before love his cool demeanor, and the way he runs the Jazz offense. Didn't shoot the long ball well, but he did every else right. Harpring was the only other Jazz of note. Brought his usual toughness of the pine for 14 & 8. One of the more underrated bench players in the league.

- The Jazz have to find a way to get Kirilenko involved. Most importantly, Sloan has to be prepared to put him on TMac because he's his best option. Fisher can't be asked to check him. Put Fisher on Battier, or just plan to play Harpring more to guard Battier. Boozer has to look to use the dribble if Yao continues to check him.

PISTONS/MAGIC (GAME 1): Pistons 100- Magic 92:
- Orlando stuck around all game and made this a lot more intriguing than expected. Who knows, if the Magic didn't miss 18 free throws & turn the ball over 21 times, they might of pulled off a shocker.

- The 21 TOs are not really surprising--the Magic are one of the worst in the NBA. Not surprising the Pistons only turned it over 11 times--best in the NBA at taking care of ball. Shooting 18/36 from the foul line is not really acceptable. The biggest culprit of Orlando's woes, was Dwight. This is not surprising to me since I'm well acquainted with Dwight's foibles with TOs & FTs from my fantasy team; the TOs just got out of hand this year. But you sort of live with it since he brings in the rebs, blocks & shooting %--Dwight had 13, 19 rebs, & 3 blks in Game 1.

- Hedo was the hot hand for the Magic, and was raining tough jumpers all day. And how bout Darko. Darko came out with some fire vs. his old squad. His aggressiveness paid off for 14 pts on 5/6 and a nice presence in the painted area.

- Not really sure I can explain why the Pistons didn't win with ease. I guess letting the Magic shoot 58% from the floor & putting them on the line 36 times was not a good idea. But while watching the game it seemed like Detroit was playing pretty good defense. The Pistons had all starters in double figures, and both Billups & Rip put up 22 pts. Chauncey was his usual steady, heady self--dropped 11 dimes.

- Have to appreciate the effort from Orlando. If they could just cut down on the turnovers maybe they could steal a game or two.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Western Conference 1st Round Preview

(1) Dallas vs. (8) Golden State:
A lot of folks excited for this series thinking that the high-octane Warriors have a shot at making this series competitive. I am not one of them. Don't care what G.S.'s record is vs. the Mavs of late. It's the playoffs and Nellie's teams always look a lot better in the reg. season.

Let's see, the Warriors are dead last in rebounding, the Mavs are one of the best board teams. Stunning, but Nellie's Warriors are not very good defensively, while the Mavs are one of the best in the league. Also, the Warriors cause a lot of turnovers (which actually makes their defense look slightly better), but the Mavs happen to be very good at keeping turnovers down. And on top of that, it's the playoffs where you're naturally more careful with the ball.

So basically if the Warriors can't get stops, or protect their def. glass, or cause the volume of turnovers they're use to, how are they suppose to run like they want? Who's gonna check Dirk? Harrington could maybe do an alright job on him, but they have no else to help if Al can't.

The one thing that gives me a little pause that the Warriors might extend to 6 games, is Harrington at the 5 spot. He can cause major matchup problems because he's a legit 3pt. threat. Could keep Damp & Diop off the floor. The Warriors can spread you, and have multiple slashers to play off the shooting. Similar to defending the Suns, I would try to get them off the 3pt line, discourage the extra point per possession, let them drive, and consider fouling them more often--the Warriors only shoot around 70% as a team.

The Warriors are going to try to replicate the Suns' playoff success. But the Suns have done that by being a deadly efficient offense. And even though the Warriors score a lot of points like the Suns, they are nowhere near as efficient. They don't shoot anywhere near as well from the foul line, 3pt. line or overall like the Suns do. Plus, they are even worst at rebounding & defense than even the Suns, something that has been the downfall of the Suns' playoff runs. The only way the Warriors can make this interesting is if they go berserk from 3pt. land.

(2) Suns vs. (7) Lakers:
Rematch of a classic 1st round series. The difference this year the Suns have Amare & Kurt Thomas available, while the Lakers are the ones dealing with injuries. Even with Amare & Kurt around, the Lakers have to look to attack the post early & often. The Suns' interior defense is still shaky and has been a major sorespot the last 2 years in the playoffs. Lakers brutalized the Suns last year down low with multiple guys, won't be able to manhandle the Suns in the painted area like last year, but have a feeling they can still be fairly successful. And what's good for the Lakers, post-ups are naturally built into their offensive scheme, and they also have a plethora of guys adept at posting: Odom, Walton, Bynum, Brown, & Kobe.

Went over the Suns rebounding concerns here, but they luck out in the 1st round playing the Lakers, who are no great shakes themselves. Another area where the Suns luck out is that they actually go into the series with the better defense for once. The Lakers were woefully inconsistent all year on defense. And lately they've been hurting without the help of Kwame's interior presence.

On defense, the Lakers must concentrate on getting the Suns off the 3pt. line as much as possible. Try to limit their 3pt. attempts to 15 per, and try to force the Suns into mid-range jumpers. If you have to sacrifice shots in the 8 ft to 21 ft range, you live with it. Also getting back in transition is huge vs. Phoenix.

The Suns actually did a solid job on Kobe last year. They always had multiple guys near him & they generally scramble well on the perimeter. But they must do a much better job in the interior where they got absolutely destroyed. With Amare & Kurt around it probably won't be quite as bad.

For the Lakers to compete they have to do what they did last year--pound the post. Phil has to run Kobe down low more often. And they have to get back to impede fast break points. And get the Suns off the 3pt line. Get some meaningful minutes from any of their points. Basically, the Lakers need a lot of things to work out perfectly to challenge in this series. But LA does have Kobe, and I expect that to be good enough for 2 wins. And if they could just tighten up their defense, they could make a series of it.

(3) Spurs vs. (6) Nuggets:
Think this series will a little closer than some expect. Spurs had struggles vs. the Kings in the last year's 1st because they caused some matchup problems for the Spurs. The Nugs matchup somewhat well with the Spurs. The main reason I think the Nugs could make this a tough series for the Spurs, is that no one guards Duncan better in my mind than Camby. Obviously won't shut down Tim, but I think Camby can make him work for his points as much as anyone. The Nugs can also throw another capable big at him in Nene. Also, Najera in limited minutes can be a nuisance & be physical with his 6 fouls to send the 65% foul-shooting Duncan to the line.

Even though the Nugs have Camby, Nene, & Najera up front, the Spurs are clearly a better overall defensive unit. This has a lot to do with how porous the Nugs' perimeter defense is. I really see no way they are going to be able to contain Parker. Blake? Please. Iverson? Sorry, his defense ain't special outside of steals. Also, not sure how they will bother Manu much either. While on the opposite end, Bowen can check Melo pretty well (though Melo could hurt him on the block), and Manu & Parker are underrated defenders. Plus, I expect a fair amount of sagging man to cut off lanes for Iverson & Melo and to force the Nugs to prove they can hit outside shots. Pop preaches the virtues of transition defense as much as any coach, which is key vs. the Nugs.

What allowed the Clips to dispose of the Nugs so easily last year? Basically, outside shooting, or Denver's complete lack of it (The Nugs were the easiest playoff team to defend). The circumstances are not quite as dire this year because Iverson helps relieve some double, triple-team pressure off Melo. But also the addition of JR Smith & mid-season emergence of Linas Kleiza have improved the outside options. The Nugs' 3pt% for the season is barely better than last year, but Kleiza has come on the 2nd half of the season & JR Smith has proven his acumen. These guys must hit their outside shots to take pressure off Melo & AI. If these guys can't provide some long-distance relief, then this series might not be that close after all.

We all know how good Iverson & Melo are offensively, but I think the Spurs have the defenders & scheme to keep them in check. But on the other end, I just think Parker is going to shred the Nugs apart & easily find himself in the painted area. I think Karl is going to have to go to a Iverson-Smith backcourt more often because it gives the Nugs a better chance on defense & the ability to spread the floor better on offense. JR Smith very well could be the key to the Nugs fortunes. But no matter how well he plays, it won't be enough, because the Spurs are still the Spurs.

(4) Rockets vs. (5) Jazz
One of the best defensive teams (Hou) vs. one of the best offensive teams (Utah). Also, two of the better rebounding teams. Interesting matchup issues in this series. First off, the Rockets will have their hands full dealing with Boozer. Houston's biggest flaw is trying to defend the 4 spot where they give up too much size & athleticism. On one hand Yao can work Okur over in the post, but Okur can cause problems himself by being able to drag Yao out to the perimeter. Interested to see if Kirilenko can regain some of his past defensive prowess because I assume he will get plenty of minutes assigned to TMac.

Utah does have a distinct advantage at the point with Deron. Deron carries himself like a 10-year vet and really understands how to use screens & runs the Sloan's flex offense with precision. Though one thing that the Jazz don't do well (same as last year) is shoot the long-ball well (2nd worst in the league). This is where I see Van Gundy packing in the Rockets' defense in on occasion, because a good flex offense is reliant on spacing. While the Rockets have proven plenty capable of sticking it from deep with guys like Battier, Alston, & reserve sharpshooter, Luther Head.

Along as McGrady's back holds up & Yao is relatively healthy, Houston should be able to produce enough offense to neutralize the Jazz's efficient offense. The rebound battle should be a wash. And the Rockets have the upper hand on the defensive end over the gritty but foul-happy Jazz defense.
M Haubs' Playoff Picks

First Round
Mavericks over Warriors in 6 (Jay Aych is a Warriors hater)
Rockets over Jazz in 5 (HOU is a 60-win-quality team with both superstars)
Spurs over Nuggets in 6 (both teams playing well heading into playoffs)
Suns over Lakers in 5 (injuries have killed LAL's once-promising season)

Eastern Conference 1st Round Preview

(1) Detroit vs. (8) Orlando:
I have a good feeling this is the 1st round series that gets buried on NBATV. Not much to expound on here, series should be a formality where the Pistons breeze. Detroit is the most balanced team in the East, and their defense has not suffered with the loss of Big Ben.

Orlando's biggest issue is their lack of offensive firepower. Dwight is nice, but he's still fairly raw, and they have no one who can create much offense on the perimeter. Sort of reminds me of last year's Memphis team that got swept by Dallas. Plus, Detroit has the luxury of throwing a variety of capable big bodies at the one offensive threat that Orlando has.

The Magic also have had issues with turnovers all season--Orl is one of the worst in the NBA, while Detroit is one of the best at taking care of the ball. Detroit will probably sleepwalk thru one game on the road like they did last year vs. the Bucks so the Magic can steal one game.

(2) Cleveland vs. (7) Washington :
Obviously will not have the juice of last year's 1st round matchup. Kinda hard generating any interest toward this series. If Gil's injury happened 2 weeks earlier than it did, the Wiz ain't in the playoffs--there are probably 3-4 Eastern teams sitting at home who are currently better than the Wiz.

The Cavs have a distinct advantage on the defensive end & on the boards: the Cavs are a Top 5 defensive & rebound team, while the Wiz are bottom of the barrel in both categories. And the one distinct advantage the Wiz had over the Cavs was their potent offense, and that has been decimated. Caron Butler's status could play a factor in the Wiz maybe winnng an extra game, but even if Caron is relatively healthy there is no real chance for the Wiz winning this series. I think the Wizards will take one game where I expect the Cavs to bog down offensively & Jamison to heat up at the right time.

(3) Toronto vs. (6) New Jersey :
Expect this series to go the distance. The Nets are playing well of late & their bench has increasely gotten better thru-out the season. The key for the Nets will be--can Mikki Moore & other bigs contain Bosh? If they can do a solid job, I think this could tip the series in NJ's favor. The Nets need Vince to be aggressive off the dribble from the start of the series. In last year's opening round he came out in "fadeaway jumpshot mode" and made the Pacers' defensive focus easier.

PG matchup is intriguing. Something that I think Larry Frank doesn't do enough, and really needs to happen in this series, is run more post-ups for Kidd. Kidd can post-up any point in the league, and especially can go to work on Ford. As good as TJ played in the reg. season, the playoffs are where weaknesses are exposed and I expect to see TJ sagged off, go underneath pick/rolls on, and posted on the defensive end.

One underreported fact that could come into play--the Raps are one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA. Though they luck out a little since NJ is middle-o-pack themselves. Raps could very well miss the all-around defense of Garbajosa, and Bargnani not being in quality shape does not help the Raps' frontline depth. But the Raps' backcourt bench is an underrated bunch, and Calderon, MoPete, & Juan Dixon all are capable of playing a big role. This series could come down to who's bench plays better. And this year's Nets' bench has helped remedy the outside shooting woes of last year.

Wavering back-n-forth on the winner, my initial choice is the Nets, but one factor is holding me back. That factor is the Nets' tendency for poor late-game execution. It killed them last year in Games 3-5 vs. the Heat, and seemed to carry over to this year where they could have easily (even with the injuries) won 6-8 more games if not for shoddy offensive execution & dubious turnovers in the 4th quarter. If the Nets can make smart decisions down the stretch they should pull out series, but that's a big if.

Miami (4) vs. Chicago (5):
Boy, the Bulls got screwed by the new playoff format. Not only do they play the Heat in the 1st, they have to play the Pistons if they win. Rematch of unexpected competitive series from last year's 1st round.

We all know about Chicago's defensive prowess, but the Heat aren't too bad themselves. Actually, the Heat defense has been somewhat underappreciated the last 2 years. One difference from last year, I think the Bulls can guard Shaq one-on-one better & more often with Big Ben around. Also, the Bulls have a guy in Hinrich who happens to guard Wade as good as anyone. Miami's perimeter defense had issues with the Bulls last year, but Riley did happen to light a fire just in time for the Heat take the Bulls in 6. Also, expect the Bulls to try & get Shaq in a lot of pick/rolls where it's doubtful he will show hard on the guards.

Problem with judging this series is trying to figure out how healthy are the Heat? Obviously Wade's health is a major issue, but Payton's status is of some concern and Haslem is not 100%. But the Bulls have some issues as well with Nocioni. He was huge last year vs. the Bulls, and he allowed the Bulls to go smaller & get good offensive production from the PF spot.

It's imperative that the Heat get the same type of outside shooting from their supporting cast that they got last year. Posey & JWill had career years from 3pt. and Walker had one of his best years of his career. And this year the automatic Kapono gets added to the mix. Even with Big Ben around, the Bulls will still have to help on Shaq, and this is where the Heat shooters come into play. Although JWill & Walker have not shot the long ball well this year.

If Wade can't get comfortable getting in the lane & drawing fouls as usual, the Heat are in trouble. If he can physically take some lumps that will certainly come from a Skiles' coached squad, then the Heat could be in good shape. Right now it's just real hard to judge how Wade will respond since he just came back. Another series where I waver on picking the winner, but I think Wade will be effective enough to pull the Heat thru.
M Haubs' Playoff Picks
First Round
Pistons over Magic in 5 (Magic fizzled in second half)
Bulls over Heat in 6 (too much adversity for MIA to overcome this yr - bad matchup for them, too)
Raptors over Nets in 5 (rabid Raps fans get revenge for Vince)
Cavs over the Wizznutzz in 5 (no Gil, no love)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

NBA Regular Season Review

First things first: congratulations to the long-suffering Warriors fans, one of the great fan bases in the league, for their team's first playoff bid in 13 years.

I'm an idiot for writing the other day that they hadn't been held under 110 since Mar. 20. I incorrectly read a game log that listed winning score first.

Now, that said, G.S. *was* only held under 110 twice in those last 13 games, and both times it was the mighty Spurs who did the trick. And they averaged an eye-popping 116.2 over those games.

Even more impressive than that number was the graphic that FSN Bay Area showed near the end of Wednesday's game: since March 12 (a span of 17 games in which they went 13-4), the Warriors played the toughest schedule in the NBA. I really can't wait for the Cuban-Nellie grudge match to get going.

Let's look back at The Painted Area's season predictions for a sec. I had something of a miracle finish to my picks for Season Win Over/Unders. Here were my recommended picks, with actual team wins in parens:

ATL Under 28.5 (30 - L)
CLE Over 49.5 (50 - W)
GOL Over 37 (42 - W)
HOU Over 46.5 (52 - W)
NOK Under 40.5 (39 - W)
NYK Over 31 (33 - W)
ORL Over 38.5 (40 - W)

6-1 overall, though with 4 of those W's by the skin of my teeth. Why am I not more excited? Well, what if I told you that the start of the NBA season correlated roughly with the onset of the ridiculous online gambling ban that Congress passed - do you understand what I'm saying? Sigh.

Still, at least I handily outpicked Bill Simmons, who went 4-6 with his O/U prognostications... though I guess that doesn't make me any better than the Sports Gal....

As far as our predictions overall... well, Jay Aych is my main man, but he let his pride in his shared North Country heritage with Rick Carlisle get the best of him with that pick of the Pacers to be the top seed in the East. But overall, I don't think we did half-bad.

Yes, overall this was a subpar season by NBA standards, mainly due to the volume of injuries to key players (see below). But let's not lose perspective here: the average NBA game is still a quantum leap more watchable than the average college affair because of the vast differences in basketball IQ and pure skill and talent. The Mavs-Suns classic played on the eve of March Madness was simply a different universe of basketball than the tournament games that followed.

Listen, I enjoy Kevin Durant as much as anybody, but I just couldn't watch those Texas games for too long - it drove me batty to see they had no discernible plan or systematic approach to get Durant the ball, and had guards with absolutely no idea how to run a team.

By contrast, we have Stevie Nash and the Suns in the league, who made the whole season worthwhile despite the injuries - they were exhilirating to watch en route to 110.2 ppg on remarkable shooting percentages of 49.4% FG, 40% 3PT, 80.8% FT. And they were part of my three favorite games of the year:
1. The best basketball game in the month of March: the 129-127 2OT classic win over Dallas on the eve of the tournament.
2. The 161-157 2OT classic over Jersey in the Swamp.
3. The 101-99 loss to Dallas which ended on a game-tying Nash-Amare alley-oop in the halfcourt P-n-R following by a Dirk buzzer-beater.

Beyond that, it was a welcome trend that there was more offense around the league this year - 8 teams over 100 ppg as opposed to 5 last year. Also, Atlanta was the lowest-scoring team at 93.7 - there were six teams below that number last season.

Golden State and Denver really revved up their running games - let's hope this trend continues (are you listening to me, Cleveland???).

As much as I think people are going overboard in bemoaning the regular season, there's no denying that injuries put a damper on the whole damn season. SI's Ian Thomsen did a nice roundup of the season, where he offered the All-Shaun Livingston Teams, as in guys who missed at least 25% of their team's games:

    First Team
    C Shaquille O'Neal, Heat
    F Lamar Odom, Lakers
    F Paul Pierce, Celtics
    G Ray Allen, Sonics
    G Dwyane Wade, Heat

    Second Team
    C Yao Ming, Rockets
    F Pau Gasol, Grizzlies
    F Rashard Lewis, Sonics
    G Joe Johnson, Hawks
    G Michael Redd, Bucks

    Third Team
    C Nenad Krstic, Nets
    F Kenyon Martin, Nuggets
    F Peja Stojakovic, Hornets
    G Jamal Crawford, Knicks
    G Sam Cassell, Clippers

    Honorable Mention: David Lee, David West, Trevor Ariza, Kwame Brown, Quentin Richardson, Brevin Knight, Tony Allen, Speedy Claxton, Luke Walton, Kyle Lowry, Joel Przybilla.
Pretty staggering - that's 9 of the top 31 ranked players on the PER leaders, with Chris Paul and Baron Davis barely playing enough games to miss this list.

Given all of this, I think that the single most amazing stat of the year was turned in by STAT (Standing Tall and Talented) himself: 82 games played by Amare Stoudemire. And those 82 were played quite well, to boot.

Congrats to Amare, and one big crow sandwich served to M. Haubs for writing this in his season preview:
"I hate to be a hater, but I must say that I'm pessimistic that a player who is so athletic can come all the way back after microfracture surgery. I wonder - if Amare can't come back - if we'll start to ask why the hell anyone would agree to the procedure. It just don't seem to work, y'know. Hope I'm wrong."
All in all, I'm quite happy to admit that I was indeed wrong.

Here's a quick rundown of The Painted Area's picks for postseason awards. Check out these links for in-depth analysis, deeper lists, all-rookie and all-defense teams from Jay Aych:
Awards, Pt. I: Rookie/All-Rookie Teams, Coach
Awards, Pt. II: Sixth Man, Defensive Player/All-Defense Teams
Awards, Pt. III: MVP, All-NBA Teams, Most Improved
Also: M. Haubs' analysis of the MVP race/All-NBA teams

1. Nowitzki
2. Duncan
3. Nash
4. Bryant
5. James


T. Parker
C. Anthony
A. Stoudemire
J. Howard

1. Duncan
2. Bowen
3. Camby
4. Battier
5. Okafor

1. Roy
2. Gay
3. Bargnani

1. Mitchell
2. Van Gundy
3. A. Johnson

1. Ginobili
2. Barbosa
3. Maggette

1. K. Martin
2. M. Ellis
3. Calderon

1. Nowitzki
2. Duncan
3. Nash
4. Bryant
5. James



1. Duncan
2t. Bowen
2t. Battier
4. Camby
5. Hinrich

1. Roy
2. Bargnani
3. Gay

1. Van Gundy
2. Mitchell
3. A. Johnson

1. Barbosa
2. Ginobili
3. Stackhouse

1. K. Martin
2. M. Ellis
3. Jefferson

Finally, I'm giving it my best Johnny Drama exclamation as my Jimmy Goldsteins outlasted Jay Aych's LarryMerchantMarines to claim the title in the fantasy league Chucky Brown Was Here. After edging Jay Aych by a scant half game in the regular season, and then leaving a certain smiling Cheesehead in my wake in the semis, I held off Jay Aych 5-4 in the finals, thanks in no small part to long-range shooting of one Walter Herrmann. Thank you Fabio!

OK, enough of this nonsense, it's PLAYOFF TIME, baby - the greatest sporting event in the world is about to commence. Let's get it on.