Wednesday, May 21, 2008

'08 Western Conf. Finals Preview

Lakers (1) vs. Spurs (3):
Easily the toughest defensive squad the Lakers have faced after going vs. two middling def. teams in the first two rounds. On the other hand, this is the toughest offensive team the Spurs have faced so far.

The Lakers have been successful getting out in the open floor in the first two rounds. But the Spurs historically are tremendous in transition defense, so this element of the Lakers' attack could be muted in this series. Something to watch for.

Lakers can drill shots on the perimeter and have been killing it from deep thru 10 playoff games--40% from 3pt. But if there is one thing the Spurs pride themselves on, it's guarding the 3pt. line. Though their 35.7% 3pt. defense does not look like anything special, S.A. is only allowing 14 3pt. attempts per game. And this really illustrates what they do better than any team--they get you off the 3pt. line and encourage mid-range jumpers. This task could be trickier vs. the Lakers, though, because Odom might need to be doubled sometimes, and Kobe will always draw extra attention. This battle of the 3pt. line could be a key subplot of this series.

The Lakers' mediocre defensive rebounding from the reg. season has carried over into the playoffs and really became a glaring weakness that Utah exposed. But the good news for LA is that, though the Spurs are a superb defensive rebounding team, they tend to be a lackluster offensive rebounding unit--although Thomas & Oberto have to be located when a shot goes up because both can be dangerous on the off. glass.

It will be interesting to see how much Phil chooses to double-team Duncan. With Gasol, the Lakers will not have to double constantly, but Pau will need help a decent amount of the time. I still think the Lakers' failure to double-team Tim in 2003 cost them the series. Phil has been more willing to double the last few years, and I expect he saw how effective N.O.'s doubling was for a good chunk of the series. Make the Spurs prove they can hit their outside shots every game.

The Lakers need to use their size advantage at the 3-spot to attack Manu when he's on defense. When Walton is in the game Phil has to look to post him (fulcrum of Triangle) vs. Manu. Also, Odom creates a really tough matchup for the Spurs. He's the type of forward that can give issues for Thomas & Oberto.

As much as the Lakers presumably have the advantage in the Odom-Thomas/Oberto matchup, the Spurs look to have the upper hand at the PG spot. Fisher is a smart, tough defender, but he will have his hands full containing Parker in the open floor & on screen/rolls. Would like to see Kobe on Parker for limited stretches to try to mess up Tony's rhythm. Kobe will probably get the call to check Manu, but I could even see Odom getting a few minutes on Manu while Vlade can guard Thomas or Oberto.

The Spurs do have elements of their defense that match up well with what the Lakers like to do: great transition defense, great 3pt. defense, and arguably the best defender vs. Kobe in Bruce Bowen. Even with all that, LA's offense is just deadly right now, and even too powerful for the vaunted S.A. defensive attack in my estimation. The Lakers' length, versatility, multiple shooters, depth, & all-around passing makes for an awesome offense. Plus, having Kobe around & homecourt kinda helps even more.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

'08 Eastern Conf. Finals Preview

Boston (1) vs. Detroit (2):
The showdown for Eastern supremacy we have been waiting for since mid-season. Two of the best defensive squads in the East, who protect the painted area & 3pt. line with equal vigor. Two veteran ballclubs with coaches who have the rep of being shaky in pressure situations. My partner thinks this series could very well hinge on which coach screws up less. And he could very well be right.

It's not so much Boston's ineptitude on the road in the playoffs that bothers me, it's that their offense is no great shakes either at home or away. They're a solid offensive bunch, but not great. Pierce can still make things happen (as evidenced by Game 7), and KG can be a load on the block. But too many times KG will pass up golden opportunities to score, while teams pay minimal attention to Perkins & close to none to Rondo. And Allen is now strictly a perimeter shooter at this point in his career, clearly lacking his former explosiveness.

Right now it's a no-brainer that Pierce is Boston's go-to-guy, given Allen's inability to get by his defender off the dribble & KG's proclivity to pass up good scoring opportunites. If Tayshaun can contain Pierce, this could be a rough series for the Celts because we know Sheed can match KG, & Hamilton is just a bigger, better version of Allen at this point.

Look for the Celts to iso, ball screen, & post Pierce. Thought the Celts did not get KG the ball on the block enough vs. the Cavs, & even with Sheed defending, KG needs touches. KG loves the left block where he will want to turn right shoulder for a jumper. Allen will come wrapping around screens (much the same as his counterpart Hamilton). Will see if the Pistons double/shadow Ray off of screens like the Cavs.

Detroit's first order of business will be to expose Rondo on both ends of the floor. Look for Chauncey to post-up often, and see if the Celts need to send help for Rondo. And on the other end, imagine the Pistons will take the Cavs' approach of giving Rondo no respect & have Rondo's defender as a de facto free safety.

Rondo needs to actually have the ball in his hands more. The defense has to pay more attention when he has the ball as opposed when he's off the ball. It's difficult for him to be the post-entry passer for KG because his defender sloughs off into KG's lap, basically sandwiching KG. Trying to hide Rondo on the weakside corner did not work that well vs. the Cavs--West paid Rajon absolutely no mind, and was often lingering on the other side of the paint on the ballside while Rondo was in the weakside corner. The key to the series might be: Can Rondo make the Pistons pay for constantly leaving him?

Pistons match up very favorably with the Celts. Sheed can basically neutralize KG, if he really wants to. You can't ask for a better perimeter defender in the East Conf. than Tayshaun to check Pierce. And as long as Billups is healthy, the Pistons have the advantage in the backcourt. The benches are basically a wash, but I do give the Celts a slight edge.

The Celts do have an edge with an extra home game, but right now it seems that the Pistons are more capable of winning a game on the road than Boston. Just think Detroit is a more capable & varied offensive unit, while the difference between the teams' defense is nominal. Just think Detroit's offense will have an easier time scoring vs. Boston's defense than vice versa.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Celtics-Cavs Thoughts

Just a few thoughts off of yesterday's LeBron v Pierce thriller at the "Garden":

- Why on earth were the Cavs double-teaming KG in the 4th quarter yesterday? I thought that Ben Wallace was doing a pretty good job on him straight up (though I can't argue that Big Ben probably shouldn't have been on the floor at all). More important, don't you have to make him prove that he's going to attack and score against 1-on-1 coverage before bringing a double? Especially for a guy who is not only a very good passer, but a guy who is thought to be looking to play pass-first in those situations?

- LeBron was obviously fantastic yesterday, but it hurts me as a fan of the game to hear these postgame comments: "I don't have to reinvent anything; I think I just need to fine-tune some things. I think I've added some pieces to my game."

Young fella: you need a post game. You need to reinvent your game so that the number of three-pointers goes way down and the number of post touches goes way up. You should be completely unstoppable on the block because no one can contain you 1-on-1 and you'd be a devastating passer against the double-team.

Honestly, it is staggering how good LeBron's numbers are at his age, considering that he doesn't take full advantage of his physical gifts on the low blocks and that he's not in a fast-breaking offense. It's even more staggering to imagine what his numbers could be.

- I posted recently that I thought the Cavs should have made a run for D'Antoni. I realize that this was something of a pipe dream, and that the Cavs personnel is not currently suited to play "seven seconds or less" basketball - I took a little heat for both of those points in the comments.

Here is a slightly amended version of what I posted as a response in the comments. I felt like I wanted to get this "on the record", so to speak, in the main portion of the blog:
A lot of people are fixating on the D'Antoni aspect of my post, but really my point was about LeBron.

The Cavs are trying to build a team in the model of the Spurs, when I believe the skills of their star player dictate that they should be building a team in the model of the Showtime Lakers, a team that won with dominant fast-breaking offense and good defense.

Again, I believe that LeBron is potentially the greatest fast-break finisher in history, and that it's crazy not to take advantage of this skill.

Does Cleveland's current personnel work with a fast-breaking offense? Sure doesn't.

But, despite the fact that they've won 4 playoff series in the last 2 years, this is still a team that's won just 50 and 45 games in the last two years.

Personnel can be changed, and Cleveland's needs to be adjusted, if not overhauled, anyway. Might as well try to find some fast-breakers now. The clock counting down to 2010 is ticking.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Conf. Semis: Thinking of D'Antoni, J.R., Stockton and Rashard

Here are the people I'm thinking of as I watch each of the four Conference Semifinal series:


You know, we've said it in this space before, the Chuckster alludes to it about five times a night, and you saw it for yourself last summer with Team USA: LeBron James filling the lane on the fast break is about as physically unstoppable as Shaq was down on the low block in his prime.

As much talk as there is about whether D'Antoni is the best fit in Chicago or Toronto or New York or Dallas, doesn't he actually make the most sense in Cleveland? Is there any team that *needs* to be relentlessly fast breaking more than the Cavs?

Yeah, sure, they'd still need the right point guard to make it go, but when you have possibly the greatest fast-break finisher in basketball history, I say you've got a pretty decent building block to start with.

How many PPG would LeBron average out on the break, at a faster pace? 35? More? You'd have to think the numbers and the fun style of play might help keep him away from the Brooklyn Hovas down the road, no? Although, quality of supporting cast will probably still be more important, questions about whether there was enough D to win in the D'Antoni style could arise, and who knows if the whole thing isn't essentially fait accompli already, no matter what.

In any event, it would be pretty ballsy for Danny Ferry to emulate the Joe Dumars Carlisle-for-L. Brown swap by canning Mike Brown for D'Antoni even after the Cavs' recent success, but I think it'd actually be a good move for his franchise, both short-term and long-term, if he did it.


People have suspected all season that the Spurs' role players might finally be just a bit too old and too slow, and it sure seems like it might be a fatal flaw in the Hornets series. As I watch, I can't help but think that J.R. Smith is just the type of guy that San Antonio needs. Of course, S.A. had Smith in its grasp in 2006, but a trade for Brent Barry was consummated just minutes too late to beat the deadline.

J.R. Smith was the winner of my personal Monta Ellis Award for the explosive young talent who I really enjoyed watching down the stretch of the season. He's had well-documented issues with maturity, but at age 22, Smith seems to be on the road to putting things together.

Smith, with tremendous athleticism and unlimited shooting range at 6-6/220, gave the Nuggets a huge energy boost off the bench in their playoff push at the end of the season, as he averaged 16.5 ppg on 49% FG in just 22 mpg in the last 14 games.

J.R. was one the best players on the floor in two key games in the final week of the season - at Golden State on Apr. 10 (24 pts in 26 min) and vs. Houston on Apr. 13 (23 pts in 25 min).

In fact, for the entire season, Smith ranked a fairly staggering 7th in the entire NBA in per-minute scoring. He seems on the cusp of becoming an efficient 20-25 ppg scorer a la Monta.

Smith certainly still needs to prove he can be a focused and consistent contributor over the course of an entire season, but he sure seems to provide exactly the type of athleticism and youth that San Antonio needs to remain a championship contender going forward.

Are things starting to turn for a franchise whose stunning run of sustained success over the last two decades has been fueled by a combination of lottery luck (Robinson/Duncan) and incredibly shrewd management?

It's probably too soon to go that far, as the Spurs do have cap flexibility coming up, and they do have an infusion of youth coming to the frontcourt in Ian Mahinmi (21), who had a strong season in the D-League, and Tiago Splitter (23), who was recently named to the All-Euroleague First Team.

But as their supporting players are dotted with thirtysomethings like Barry (36), Horry (37), Bowen (36), Finley (34), Thomas (35), Oberto (32) and Vaughn (32), it sure seems like S.A. could desperately use three players who have fallen through their grasp for various reasons in Smith (22), Udrih (25) and Scola (28).

And once again, the Barry-for-Smith near-trade reminds us again that age is perhaps the most underrated number in all of basketball. What looks like a fair trade one year becomes lopsided very quickly as a old player declines and a young player develops, as we've learned with Chandler-for-Wallace (essentially), Kidd-for-Bynum (nearly), and Kidd-for-Harris (give it a year or two).


Of course, New Orleans actually did have J.R. Smith on its roster for his first two seasons, until his maturity issues became too much for Byron Scott to handle. As spectacular as N.O. has looked in these playoffs, I wonder if they too will ultimately regret giving up on Smith too soon.

The Hornets are certainly set up to be a top franchise for the next several years, but one wonders if the question following this team will be: do they have enough to beat the Lakers? It seems like everyone in the West is going to need a fully loaded team to compete with the juggernaut that L.A. has compiled, and it seems now like Smith would be a great backcourt mate going forward with CP3, and would fill the hole at the 2, which is N.O.'s weak spot currently.

And man, I'd just like to see it as a fan: CP3-to-J.R. would be damn near the most exciting alley-oop tandem in the league.

I'm sure it was unsalvageable in N.O. given the way player feuds with Byron seem to progress, but still the moral of the story is: don't give on young players too soon!

P.S. I can't let this one go without a special shout-out to John Paxson for dealing J.R. Smith to Denver for Howard Eisley and two second-round picks in 2006. This deal did clear the cap room to sign Adrian Griffin, it should be noted.


The 1988 Conference Semifinal series between the Lakers and the Jazz is a personal favorite of mine. It was a seven-game battle in which the upstart Jazz challenged the defending champion Lakers from start to finish.

Kareem recently alluded to this series in his blog, and here's how it went: Utah stole Game 2 at The Forum and then took a 2-1 lead at the Salt Palace, before the Lakers dug down for a road win in Game 4 and then took the tense, decisive Game 5 - which had multiple lead changes down the stretch - back in L.A. Utah won in a blowout in Game 6, and then L.A. used its homecourt advantage to finally outlast the Jazz in Game 7, and continue on its march to a repeat title.

All that was fine, but the reason I remember the series especially fondly is that it was when I first discovered the revelation that was John Stockton.

Try to imagine, if you can, 1988. Obviously, no internet, no League Pass, the playoffs did not yet have blanket TV coverage, no fair warning that a potential all-time great was in our midst, as John Hollinger has given us repeatedly with Chris Paul.

All John Stockton was to me was a number in the USA Today. He sat there at the top of the assist leaders all season, ending the year with a whopping league-leading number of 13.8.

It was just Stockton's first year as a starter, even though it was his fourth season in the league. His assist numbers had jumped from 8.2 the previous season (I did not yet understand the telling nature of per-minute production as a future predictor). He was just a kid from Gonzaga. C'mon, something had to be funny with his numbers. It all seemed to be a fluke. He couldn't really be this good.

Then came the Lakers series and the revelation: yes he could. As a young player, Stockton had the ability to dart up and down the court and control a game from the middle of the floor, in many ways similar to CP3 today. And, as it became clear over the course of the series - as he went toe-to-toe with Magic Johnson at the peak of Earv's career - John Stockton was potentially all-time-great good.

Take a look at the series highlights here:

The Game 5 highlights start at around the 3:15 mark. Check out Stockton's full-court assist to put the Jazz ahead in the late stages of that game, a precursor to the greatest pass I've ever seen, his full-court assist over MJ to the Mailman to put Utah ahead late in Game 4 of the 1997 Finals.

What made the whole revelation especially delicious was just being a kid on the East Coast, staying up late into the night and feeling like I was discovering this exceptional player who people hadn't heard of - and didn't realize just how good he was.

Just imagine if you'd never really had a chance to see Chris Paul play until these playoffs. You really wouldn't have believed the hype until you'd seen it yourself. That's the closest comparison I can make to seeing John Stockton go up against the champion Lakers in 1988.


Living in Seattle, I have long thought Rashard Lewis to be a soft player, not fit to be a top player who could help carry a team through the grind of the playoffs.

The numbers have generally backed up these sentiments. Lewis made the playoffs three times during his nine years in Seattle and his stats declined sharply twice (2002 and 2005), although they did go up significantly as a 20-year-old in 2000, though I'd note that he was a player with much less responsibility on his shoulders that season.

Reg. Season: 19 min, 8.2 pts, 4.1 reb, .486 FG
Playoffs: 31 min, 15.4 pts, 6.2 reb, .441 FG
(Sonics lost 3-2 to Jazz)

Reg. Season: 36 min, 16.8 pts, 7.0 reb, .468 FG
Playoffs: 26 min, 12.7 pts, 3.7 reb, .375 FG
(Sonics lost 3-2 to Spurs; Lewis was hurt midway through Game 3 and missed the rest of the series)

Reg. Season: 38 min, 20.5 pts, 5.5 reb, .462 FG
Playoffs: 39 min, 16.9 pts, 5.4 reb, .406 FG
(Sonics defeated Kings 4-1, and lost 4-2 to Spurs; Lewis missed Games 4, 5, and 6 of the Spurs series - Seattle still managed to win Game 4 101-89 and barely lost Game 6 (98-96) to the eventual NBA Champs despite Rashard's absence)

So far in the 2008 postseason, Rashard's numbers have been solid: 20.8/7.5/.445 in 41 mpg after a regular season of 18.2/5.4/.455 in 38 mpg.

Certainly, Lewis was fantastic in Game 3 with 33 points on 11-15 FG and 5-6 3PT. However, he was particularly horrendous down the stretch of Game 2 (20 pts on 6-21 overall), when Orlando blew perhaps its best chance to steal a game in Detroit.

Can Rashard step up for his team when the going gets tough in the playoffs? It's something that he still needs to prove. It's something that may determine if Orlando steps up to become a championship contender over the duration of his mega-contract. And the beauty of the playoffs is that it's something we'll see answered before our eyes in due time.

Monday, May 05, 2008

2nd Round Preview--Bost-Clev

Celtics (1) vs. Cavs (4):

Celtics definitely showed some chinks in the armor in the 1st round. For whatever reason, they had issues playing on the road vs. a sub-.500 team. A little odd since they were terrific on the road in the reg. season. I would have said that Cleveland had close to no chance of getting past the Celts two weeks ago. But with Atlanta extending the Celts to the limit, and the Cavs playing defense close to last year's level, I think the Cavs can make this thing competitive.

Sure they will treat Bron like Joe Johnson--look to trap/double him up high often & early in the possession either on isos or pick/roll. The difference in this series is the Cavs have better outside shooters they can surround Bron with than the Hawks could surround Joe with. Celts might lay off on the pick/roll sometimes (like the Wiz) and allow the jumper coming off the screen for Bron to mix things up.

Simply, if Delonte, Wally & Gibson can consistently hit their outside looks, the Cavs have a shot at knocking off the Celts. If they're subpar, can't see how Cavs have a chance. A good omen for the Cavs is Gibson & West both shot 50% from deep vs. the Wiz.

Said this many times before, but it would nice if Coach Brown would utilize the great passing skills of Big Z. Run some offense thru him & let some guys make some cuts--you know it would not hurt the Cavs to get some off-the-ball movement every now & then. I say this before every series concerning the Cavs but I doubt it ever will materialize.

Garnett should have plenty of freedom to roam on the defensive end thanks to being matched up with Wallace or Varejao most of the time. Celtics' weakside help is as good as any in the NBA, and they always seem to be in the right place. Pierce will get main duty on Bron with Tony Allen & Posey bringing aid off the pine. Celts will bring off-kilter looks that seem like a hybrid of man & zone that are very effective, and especially could be vs. Bron.

Cavs are a great offensive rebounding team, everyone on the frontline is dangerous on the off. glass including LeBron. Though Boston had no issues with their def. glass in the reg. season, they struggled keeping the Hawks off the off. glass--Celts were under 70% def. reb pct, not good. Keep an eye on this battle.

It seems the Cavs are regaining the defensive chops of last season back that carried them to the Finals. As good as this Celts team is defensively, I could see 2 games in the series (probably in Clev) where Bron just does what he do & that's good enough for victory. It's a given Bron will be forced to give up the ball a ton & his driving lanes should impeded. So this series could hinge on how well Bron's support staff drill their open opportunities.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

2nd Round Preview--LAL-UTAH

Lakers (1) vs. Jazz (4):

Battle of the two best offenses in the NBA. Two of the most unique offenses in the league that are heavily reliant on passing--Lakers with their Triangle & Utah with their Flex/Motion variations. The Lakers looked scary good on offense vs. the Nugs, while the Jazz had a rough go vs. Houston. Although that might have something to do with the difference in defenses the teams had to face in the 1st round.

Jazz are a tough cover because they run your whole team thru a parade of screens and have multiple options & counters on each possession. No team utilizes more off-the-ball movement & off-ball screens than Utah. They will shoot cutters down the lane often--Brewer does a great job of this--and also sneaking along the baseline. Watch for the constant screening across the baseline (flex cut/screens)--Harpring is a master down there drawing fouls or pinning his man for quick post-ups.

Deron will run the pick/roll with Booze, and with the way Deron is shooting, choosing how to defend him is a chore. Think Phil should put Kobe on Deron for short stints to see what he can do. Deron will also use the UCLA cut where he will pass the ball to the side than rub off the high post man & cut toward the basket for either a lay-in or seal into a quick post-up.

Think they need to call some more straight post-ups for Boozer outside of their motion/flex continuity action; just traditional post-up play for Boozer to utilize his tremendous footwork & see if Odom can handle him down low. Not enough Boozer post-ups were called in the Rockets series.

If Kirilenko & Brewer can do a decent job of hitting their jumpers, the Jazz have a great shot at winning this series, because those two will be given space to help on Booze & Deron. Okur & Korver need to shoot the ball a little better than they did in the 1st round. Look for Okur to pop up to the opposite side while Deron runs off a ball screen & looks to hit Memo for a long jumper.

Some are saying that the Jazz have no one to guard Kobe. But what team does have a good answer for Kobe anyways? Brewer & Kirilenko are about as good a tandem to check Kobe as you can find in the league, outside maybe Bowen or Battier, and they did an admirable job hounding McGrady.

Kobe-Pau pick/roll has turned into a very tough cover, and something outside the Triangle that Jax will & should go to. Gasol gives them another multi-talented big who fits seamlessly in the Triangle thanks to his passing skills. Odom & Walton can also post, and are both skillful passers out of the post. Then they let Kobe iso on the opposite elbow like Jordan. LA has endless options on offense.

One Laker flaw that could be magnified in this series is their rebounding. The Jazz are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league, and the Lakers were a middling def. rebounding team during the reg. season. The one negative from the Nugs series was LA got hurt on the boards +6 per game. They did a crappy job keeping Denver off the off. glass--Nugs grabbed 16.5 off rpg that led to just a 65.5% def. reb pct. for LA. Something to keep an eye on.

Lakers are just simply a scary offensive unit. Great size at every position, multiple shooters, the best depth in the NBA, and have the ultimate closer--no, not Kyra Sedgwick--Kobe. Lakers' size matches up well with the Jazz as well. Plus, the Jazz are a very shaky road team and they're gonna have to steal one in LA to advance, and if Lakers take one in Utah, can't foresee any way they win 2 games in Staples.

2nd Round Preview--New Orl-San Ant

Hornets (2) vs. Spurs (3):

The upstart Hornets line up pretty even with the defending champs. Both are very close on offense, defense, & the boards. The series could come down to which team defends the pick/roll better. Both point guards will be challenged to hit jumpers, especially coming off of ball screens. And it might simply come down to which PG does a better job at hitting his perimeter shot.

With Paul, imagine S.A. will encourage the jump shot, going underneath picks & having Duncan laying off in the lane (Don't anticipate too many alley-oops to Tyson in the series with Timmy likely sloughed off in paint). Maybe some quick, token hedging to see if they can get Paul to pick up his dribble, but don't foresee too many hard doubles on Paul. Like we mentioned in Mavs-Hornets preview, a heavy dose of doubling & trapping on Paul is not advised. Nobody is better at splitting/squirming away from double on the high screen than Paul. Likely to see Bowen doing defensive duty on Paul, but maybe less than he did with Nash, since Pop might want his length to challenge Peja.

The Hornets like to start West at the high-post area. He will work there in the pick-n-pop game or they tend to iso him at the elbows. He can hit out to 18 feet, but also possesses a very sneaky & dangerous pull-up game--he'd rather pull-up than go all the way to the basket. Will also look to face-up out of his post-ups & uses left hand well. Thomas & Oberto will be called upon to defend away from the interior in this series. Though they should have good practice for this since Amare presented similar issues.

Bonzi could be the X-factor for N.O. in the series. He creates a bad matchup for either Bowen, Manu or Finley, being able to overpower any guy on the block (See '06 Spurs-Kings series for reference). Spurs might have to counter with some more minutes for Udoka. Likely to see Peja's number called sometimes for post-ups on Bowen or Manu as well.

Chandler will be called upon to defend Timmy one-on-one on the low block. Can he stay out of foul trouble? Tyson has improved on his foul-prone Chicago ways, but Duncan has a knack of getting even the savviest defender into foul trouble. Spurs have to look to attack Tyson early with Tim or Tony/Manu taking it right at him & into his body. The more minutes that guys like H. Armstrong & Ely have to play, the better for the Spurs.

Hornets will be able to handle Spurs' pick/roll game considerably better than the Suns. I think Pop understands this well, and expect to see more post-up action for Duncan this series. The Spurs will put the onus on the Chandler to try to guard Tim one-on-one, and see if he can be as effective as Shaq was handling Tim on the block in the 1st round.

As always the Spurs will need Bowen, Finley, Thomas, Barry, & Udoka to provide timely shooting and auxiliary offensive support around the Big 3. Parker & Manu will have to consistently hit their jumpers coming off the high screen to keep the defense honest. Maybe Duncan's most underrated job in this series is to keep Chandler off the offensive glass.

Spurs have a knack for disrupting the best offenses in the game. They've done it to the Suns multiple times, and the Suns have/had one of the deadliest pick-n-rolls of all-time. If they can make Nash look pedestrian when they have to, a guy who might be a tougher guard in a pick/roll situation than Paul, than I feel confident they can contain Paul well enough.

The Hornets are loosely like the Suns: a point guard who gets sprung loose by the high screen & who is a master with the dribble. And they have a PF who likes to initiate his offense in the high post. The one factor in New Orleans' favor is they are a better defensive unit than the Suns.

The Spurs game plan & execute better than anyone on the defensive end in the playoffs. Here is a team that has found a way to contain the best offensive team in the NBA 3 of the last 4 years. A team that has found ways to frustrate a MVP-caliber point guard who is probably an even tougher cover in the pick/roll than Paul because of Nash's shooting prowess. They find ways to take the opposition out of what they want to run offensively better than any team, and that's why I give the Spurs a slight edge in this series.

Friday, May 02, 2008

2nd Round Preview--Detroit-Orlando

Pistons (2) vs. Magic (3):

Pistons can't dick around at all this series, because Orlando can beat them straight-up. Detroit does not have the room for error to float in this series like they did vs. the Sixers. Flip better have his boys locked in early otherwise he'll need to sharpen up his job interviewing skills for the summer.

Orlando loves to chuck up the long bombs--they attempted nearly 30 3 pts. per game vs the Raps. What comes in handy for the Pistons is they historically guard the 3pt line as well as anyone in the NBA. A good thing for Detroit is that Sheed can handle Dwight without constant help. Sheed is kinda light for a center but he positions himself well vs. Dwight, and allows his teammates to stay at home on the perimeter shooters.

You would think Tayshaun is a great matchup vs. Hedo, but the Turk has given the Pistons issues when they met in the reg. season. Detroit had difficulties figuring out how to handle the high screen with Hedo handling the ball. Will see if the Pistons can curtail Hedo in screen/roll action, and if Tay can harass Hedo like he did with Iggy.

Expect a healthy dose of Billups on the block to force doubles. Chauncey needs to regain his mojo after a subpar 1st round series; he can dominate his matchup if he's on his game. If Dwight is guarding Sheed expect Det. to get the high screen working more with Sheed dragging D-How away.

Detroit needs to consider some some Hack-a-Howard in the series. Make Dwight earn his points from the foul line (shot 58% vs. Raps). Not sure you have to foul him off the ball, but if he's in great position to score--drill him. They have some depth upfront, and they even have Theo Ratliff as their designated defensive presence with expendable fouls.

Feel the Pistons can do a decent job containing Dwight, but think Hedo could be a bigger problem for them in this series. Detroit has a decided advantage in the backcourt, and needs to win that battle every night because Orlando is obviously dangerous on their frontline.