Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Point-Counterpoint Part 2

Doc B -- kelly dwyer says magic in 6

J-Hova --cavs in 5. Who guards LeBron? It's very underappreciated how many good shots he gets for teammates. Varejo can guard Rashard, LeBron on Hedo and I'll let Z go one on one with Howard with complete faith that he doesn't have enough shots in his arsenal to carry them.

Doc B -- one person never guards lebron. but the teams that do the best on him crowd him at the 3-point line, and force him to drive into tall shotblockers. That's how the Magic play defense anyways, they're exceptionally good at it, and Howard is the best shot-blocker there is.

I don't think Varejao can guard Lewis either, while Courtney Lee and Rafer Alston can definitely make life difficult for Mo and Delonte. I think this is the worst matchup in the league for the Cavs. LeBron will shut down whomever he's guarding, for sure, but whether it's Hedo or Rashard, the other one will go off. The Cavs don't have one post defender nearly as big or skilled as Perkins, and they're really going to struggle to keep Howard off the boards.

If the Magic shoot like they can and LeBron isn't hitting his jumper consistently, this could be a very long series, or a relatively short one, but in the Magic's favor.

J Hova --
So are you going on the record saying Magic?
Have you seen the Cavs play in the playoffs? Redick is still starting for Orlando, LeBron driving will create open shots for Delonte and Mo, their offense is pretty simple.

Doc B --
I'm not going on the record picking Magic, I'm actually leaning towards Cavs in 7, just because of LeBron, and because i don't trust Dwight yet.

But a couple problems with the 3 things you said.

1) The Cavs have looked great, no doubt, but the Pistons and Hawks are some pretty terrible measuring sticks. Here's the first real test.

2) Redick isn't still starting for Orlando.

3) This is actually one of the things that pushes me towards the Magic. Because of Howard as the back line of defense, the Magic perimeter defenders don't need to help off of shooters. They can stay glued, and when LeBron penetrates and kicks, those shooters aren't open like they are against every other team in the league.

The counter-argument would be that the Cavs will just take Ilgauskus, plant him 18 feet from the hoop, and have him knock down open jumpers all day off LeBron penetration and Howard help. But that means that Z can't get tired and start missing shots, and can't get in foul trouble guarding Howard either. He made his first 7 or 8 shots when the Lakers played the Cavs this year, and in the interview between the 1st and 2nd quarters, PJax said he wasn't worried, because big guys can't shoot late in the game. He was right.

J-Hova -- Cavs in 5
Doc B -- Cavs in 7

Monday, May 18, 2009


J-Hova and I had a little back-and-forth over e-mail today, about the upcoming Lakers-Nuggets series. Since this is pretty much the only way he contributes to the blog anymore, we thought we'd share it. We'll do the same for Magic-Cavs tomorrow. Enjoy.

J-Hova -- I'm going to start this off with two statements. One, Denver will win this series in 6. Two, if you get all statty and geeky like you think you're KD or Daryl Morey I will take a train (buses are for peasants) to DC and give you a swirley.

Doc B -- Denver won't win in 6. The Lakers match up much better with the Nuggets than they did with the Rockets. If you were making a list of how to beat the Lakers, this is how it would go:

1) Quick point guard who can destroy Derek Fisher off the dribble and force the sometimes-lazy Lakers big men to stay attentive at all times on D. Aaron Brooks? Absolutely. Chauncey Billups? He's much better than Brooks overall, but he's not blowing by anybody these days.

2) Shut-down wing defender to put on Kobe. Battier and, to a lesser degree, Artest? Check. Dahntay Jones? He played great against CP3, but that was also a function of Nene and K-Mart trapping the heck out of CP3 on every screen and roll, forcing him to give it up to...Tyson Chandler? Kobe doesn't use the screen and roll the way CP3 does, and he actually thrives against over-aggressive, hyperactive defenders like Jones. I expect DJ to spend a lot of time on the bench in foul trouble. He's not big, strong, or smart enough to deal with KB.

3) Elite, physical defender with great footwork to limit Gasol in the lane. Chuck Hayes? Absolutely. K-Mart? Maybe, but he got destroyed by Dirk last round.

Lakers in 7. Discuss.

J-Hova --

1. Chauncey was routinely blowing by Kidd when he wanted to and Kidd is still 3x the defender Fisher is. I know the media says it's just quick point guards, but it's any point guard. Their PG defense is atrocious. Chauncey Billups is to Aaron Brooks what Drew Brees is to the other Aaron Brooks. The fact that Brooks was able to put up the numbers he did in the LA series isn't a testament to his vast improvement, its a testament to how bad Fisher's defense is.

2. You know my feelings on Dahntay. That being said, his basketball IQ is about a tenth of Battier's. Still, he's the most irritating perimeter defender since Bruce Bowen with the constant clapping, obnoxiousness, and cheap shots. And as much as you love your boy, you can't tell me Kobe doesn't react like a petulant 13 year old when challenged in such a manner. I think we'll be seeing a lot of articles about Dahntay defending Battier in college and Dahntay being the closest thing to Battier this week, which will fuel Kobe even more to take this team on one-on-all. He may be getting older, but I still don't believe he's matured, he's just got better teammates. The amount of time he spent outside of the triangle this series throwing up contested 23 footers was unreal.

3. I think the Lakers big men are a bunch of bitches. They got punked by Garnett, Powe and Perkins last year, and Nene, KMart and the Birdman will do any and everything to get under their skin. I have legitimately no statistical evidence to back this up, just my eyes from watching LO hide throughout last year's finals and Gasol attacking the basket about as strong as I do. You can tell me LO loves that kind of stuff. All I know is last year, in the finals, he didn't. I don't care about how he reacted in mid January, I care about mid May.

4. Who stops Carmelo? Trevor Ariza? I saw LeBron light up a young Trevor Ariza for 52 points in high school, so I think he still sucks at defense. Yeah I'm going back six years.

5. This is a classic matchup of size vs. athleticism. I think athleticism wins out. How do you guard Chauncey, JR Smith, Carmelo, KMart and Nene? Bynum still isn't in shape enough to get up and down the floor with those guys, so I think his impact will be marginal.


Doc B --
1) Great "other Aaron Brooks" reference. I loved that guy. Fisher's defense is awful, there's no arguing that. But there's also no arguing that Brooks is much, much quicker than Billups. Not only that, but Brooks was told by Adelman to create the Rockets offense off the dribble, by beating Fisher. He did that. Can Billups do it? I don't think so. I also don't think that Kidd is 3x the defender that Fisher is, I think they are about as terrible as each other. Also, not to get too "statty" on you, but this was pretty easy to look up. Chauncey didn't seem to "blow by" Kidd as much as you say. He only attempted 6 shots in the paint in the entire 5-game series against the Mavs, including a combined 1 shot attempt (which he missed) in games 1 and 2.

On another note, the Mavs' bigs don't defend as well as the Lakers do against opposing point guards. You saw that on display in Game 5 and Game 7, where Brooks missed every shot he had at the rim (look it up). Bynum and Gasol, when awake, are very tough to drive on, especially with the Lakers' strong-side zone scheme.

2) Does Kobe have a tendency to try and destroy annoying cheap-shot defenders 1-on-1? Yes. Does he take his team out of the offense when he does that too much? Kind of. It's more complex than you make it out to be.

It's bad for the Lakers when Kobe tries to do this AND the other team plays great helpside defense, discouraging Kobe from driving, and encouraging him to toss up contested 20-footers. But if the defender plays up in Kobe's grill, and Kobe can just go by him without too much trouble, then he can dish out to shooters on the wing, Gasol at the high post, or Bynum down low.

Not only that, but there's an important difference between the way Battier defends Kobe and the way everyone else does. Battier takes advantage of Kobe's arrogance the way nobody else does. He tempts Kobe to take shots that Kobe believes that he can make easily, but the percentages show that they are less likely to go in. A young, proud, aggressive, small defender like Jones doesn't have the discipline or the study habits to do that. He's going to fall for the pump fakes, he's going to foul out on the wing, and he's going to be on the bench 4 minutes into the first quarter with 2 points and 2 fouls. This actually might not be that bad for the Nuggets, because it means J.R. Smith plays more, and he has better size to deal with Kobe, and is a much, much better offensive player than Jones. But we all know Smith's negatives, which I would be willing to bet drastically increase the longer he is in the game. But we can get into that later.

3) This is a sad cliche about the Lakers big men that just isn't true. Pau is 7 feet tall, but he's no heavier than 235. He's not built to bang down low, he's not good at it, and he understandably gets destroyed when he tries. LO, same thing. These guys aren't supposed to be guarding Kendrick Perkins, or bodying him up in the paint. They're not built for that. But Pau has a serious length and footwork advantage on K-Mart, just like Dirk did, and you saw how that worked out for the Nuggets/Dirk. And Dirk has that same bullsht "soft" reputation that you ascribe to Pau. The Nuggets big men, while decent individual defenders, don't have the footwork or experience to match Pau down low, and Nene has struggled a lot with Bynum in the past. He has the Boozer "afraid to get my shot blocked" disease. If Bynum gets in foul trouble, maybe we have a different story.

On the offensive end, I don't see K-Mart creating anything against Pau, or Nene doing much on his own against Bynum or LO. K-Mart can't do anything on offense that isn't handed to him on a silver platter, Birdman is obviously a 0 on that end, and, while I could see Nene maybe getting 10-15, I don't think that's enough.

4) Carmelo is really interesting to me. He played worse against the Lakers this season than he did against any other team in the league (or something like that). Averaged 14.5 points on 33% shooting. Admittedly, this has been a different Melo in the playoffs, but he hasn't really been guarded by a decent defender yet, and certainly not by a decent defensive team. Last year, Luke Walton and VladRad, with the help of the bigs standing behind them, essentially shut him down, and Ariza is an infinitely better defender than both those guys. Did you see what he did to Artest? While Artest isn't the scorer that Melo is, he has an even greater strength advantage than Melo does. It'll be fun to see.

5) I'm not really sure what you mean by this last point, but I'm not sure one of the things you say is as cut and dry as you seem to think. Are the Nuggets actually more athletic than the Lakers? Chauncey is less athletic than Shannon Brown, who I will bet a lot of money gets serious minutes off the bench this series, probably about 25/game. And he's played extremely well in the last 20 games. Kobe loses athleticism to JR Smith I guess (but he's a lot better) the same way Melo loses athleticism to Ariza (but is a lot better player). And the front-court. I guess K-Mart can jump high and run fast, but Pau is an incredibly athletic guy. He leads the break sometimes, he can step out and shoot a jumper, and he'll be great on the block. I think you'll be surprised how rarely he gets beat down the floor. Birdman and Nene vs. LO and Bynum? Pretty much a wash I think.

How much stock do you put in the matchups/quality of opponent the teams have had so far? How much do you think it matters that the Lakers have played their best game for about 10 quarters in the entire playoffs, while the Nuggets have been at their absolute best in what seems like every game? What about the coaching matchup? And homecourt advantage?

What about the fact that the Nuggets haven't been so good on the road in the playoffs? Or about the extended time off hurting their admittedly incredible momentum? Do you think the fact that you're shorter than I am necessarily means that you know less about basketball, or do you think the two facts are separate?

J-Hova --

1. Your stat doesn't take into account the amount of assists Chauncey had from getting into the lane and kicking out for open jumpers and threes. HIs AIPTOTS (Assists in Paint to Open Three Shooters) was 6.3x higher per game against Dallas than New Orleans. As for Kidd and Fisher being comparable defenders, Kidd has 4 inches, 30 pounds and 3 domestic abuse charges on Fisher. I rest my case.

2. Dahntay is 28 years old, has been in the league 2 years less than Battier, and is a solid 6'6". He's not that young, he's not that small. He is going to annoy the crap out of Kobe, and Kobe is going to take himself out of the game yapping like a moron, trying to show him up, and not feeding Bynum (Nene has no prayer against him if he played like he did in the first half last night).

3. I agree that Pau isn't a banger, he's a soft Spaniard. But the thing you are missing is that his range isn't like Dirk's. Dirk presents such a matchup difficulty because he can knock down three's and deep two's consistently. Pau cannot. He has to make a living in the paint, and when he gets tossed around, he plays worse. You will notice that he ranks among the top three in lack of production for EGPBTAWLT (Europeans Getting Punk'd By Thuggish American With Lips Tattoo). It's not like he can say "Oh I won't go inside, just pop 20 footers and get my points that way, he's not a good enough shooter on a consistent basis.

4. I think Carmelo will eat Ariza's lunch. His stats are deflated because he was in a tiff with Karl one game and only played 10 minutes. Carmelo will average 25 and 8 in this series. You can't possibly be serious saying Ariza's defense on Artest is comparable to him trying to defend Melo. Artest is arguably the least efficient scorer in the league. His offensive game is atrocious.

I'll promise to not put Dahntay in the same sentence as Kobe if you promise to never put Shannon Brown and Chauncey Billups in the same sentence. Ever.

Here's what I think about matchups. I think Chuck Hayes is 6'6". I think the Lakers lost two games to a Rockets team that was without Yao Ming, Dikembe Mutombo, and Tracy McGrady. I think the Mavericks would have beat the Rockets in 6. I don't know what Shane Battier was talking about in his press conference, but Josh Howard played in the Denver Dallas series and was pretty effective in game 4.

I don't think that it's a bragging point to say the Lakers have only played 10 good quarters. I think its pathetic and makes me wonder if Phil is still the same motivator as he used to be. To me, he looks like he's burnt out or stoned pretty much every game. For a team that is running into a Nuggets team playing at an unbelievably high level and then waiting for LeBron James, I'd like to see more than 10 quarters of quality basketball. I think this team has an on/off switch, but the problem is I'm not sure their on switch is that much higher than the Nuggets or Cavs.

Thanks for pointing out that an argument is more complex than I make it. Inherently, every argument is more complex than one makes it. In an argument, one person argues one side, and the other argues another side. So every single argument is more complex than one makes it. Do you follow that?

As for the short comment, all I will say is my nubby little fingers were BBMing with your ex girlfriend all night last night. Can you deal with that?

Doc B --
1) Size doesn't make the defender, but you know that. As for how often Chauncey blew by JKidd and kicked out for open jumpers, I don't think it was too often. That's not the offense the Nuggets run, and that's not how Chauncey gets his assists. These are facts. He's not Chris Paul, or Aaron Brooks.

For fun, I decided to look back at the Nuggets-Lakers regular season matchups, to see just how much of a problem Chauncey was for the Lakers. Turns out, not so bad. (Keep in mind, I'm not arguing that he's worse than Fisher, or even the same. He's better, I just think Fisher does a better job on him than he did on Brooks, and will be able to keep Chauncey from winning games by himself)

Game 1 (Nov 21): 15 points on 6-12 shooting, 9 assists (Laker win)
Game 2 (Feb 27): 22 points on 8-15 shooting, 6 assists (Nuggets win, unquestionably the worst game the Lakers played all year. 2nd night of a back-to-back, in Denver, shot 29% as a team, almost setting a record. I'll stop the excuses now)
Game 3 (April 9): 17 points on 4-11 shooting, 8 assists (Laker win)

Pretty good, but not great, I'd say.

2) Sorry, when I said age, I meant experience. Didn't mean to confuse you. He's inexperienced, and he has no idea how to handle Kobe's post game. Has Kobe ever "taken himself out of the game" before that you've seen? Ever? Once? Didn't think so. And he's certainly not going to do it because of Dahntay Jones, no matter what high school he went to. I'm also not sure that Kobe takes DJ seriously enough to make a point about beating him, and play 1-on-1 basketball the way he very infrequently still sometimes does.

3) "Makes a living in the paint" is another sad cliche. Yes, Pau gets most of his points there, but you have to look at how those points come about. They aren't drop-step dunks. It's jump hooks, short 10-foot jumpers, beating people to a spot with footwork and getting a shot over them with length. And he's a surprisingly effective 10-17 foot jump-shooter. In addition, he's reacted a ton better to getting "tossed around" this season. See the Celtics game at Boston, the Cavs game, and Game 7 against the Rockets if you don't believe me.

4) I didn't say Ariza's defense on Artest was comparable to him trying to defend Melo, what I said was that he handled Artest's strength well, which is an advantage that Melo will have over him as well. I'm still waiting for responses to my points that A) Melo has really struggled this season and in last year's playoffs against stud defenders like Luke Walton and Vladimir Radmanovic. And we both know Ariza is worlds better than those 2. Is it a different Melo these playoffs? Maybe, but he hasn't face a good defender or defensive team yet, like I said before.

Oh, and was the game he was "in a tiff with Karl and played only 10 minutes" the game he played 41 minutes (shot 4-17), the one he played 32 minutes (his best game of the season against the Lakers, 23 points), the one he played 31 minutes (shot 5-19), or the one he played 38 minutes (shot 5-15)? Just wondering.

5) In terms of Chancey vs. Shannon Brown and Kobe vs. DJ, here's what I'll say: Shannon Brown will do a better job on Chauncey than DJ will do on Kobe. Period.

Chuck Hayes might be 6'6, but he is unbelievably strong, has great footwork, and good length. He's widely known as one of the best post defenders in the league. Do your research. Even your boy Bill Simmons knows that, and he referred to it when he found out about advanced statistics approximately 3 years after the rest of the world (end nerdy BS rant).

None of the rest of your points about matchups are relevant to actual "matchups", which are the things I pointed out in my first e-mail. Josh Howard played 6 minutes in Game 2, the Mavs should have won Game 3 (when he did play) and did win Game 4 (when he did play). So the series very feasibly could have been 2-2 heading back to Denver instead of 3-1, and that's without a key player playing in one of the Mavs losses. Would he have made the difference? Probably not, but it is interesting.

The Rockets were better without T-Mac this year, we know that. And it throws a team off when you gameplan for a series around one guy and one style, and then that guy leaves, and the team completely and totally changes how they play. Throw in the fact that the Rockets play hard every play, that they have the matchup problems for the Lakers I pointed out originally, and the Lakers' flip-the-switch tendencies, and you have your Game 4 and first half of game 6 blowouts.

I wasn't bragging about the Lakers having played 10 good quarters, I was simply pointing out that while the Nuggets seem to have reached their ceiling, the Lakers have only approached theirs a couple times.

Phil has never been a "motivator" -- he thinks that stuff is stupid. His pre-game speeches are not like that.

I don't want to make you feel bad about what you said about "complex arguments." Suffice it to say that when one makes good arguments, they present everything they can think of, and try to respond to the counter-argument before it is made. Just because someone argues one side and someone argues another doesn't mean that each can't be complex.

What about rest/momentum? If I were a Nuggets fan, I would be upset about the amount of time they got off. This team was playing very very well, and I don't think they needed the rest. If I were them, I would have wanted to keep playing, right away. Now what happens if they come out in LA for Game 1, their shots aren't falling (which they haven't been early, esp. on the road), the Lakers jump out to one of their trademark early leads, Dahntay gets in foul trouble, J.R. starts jacking up 40-foot 3s (and missing them), and K-Mart loses his cool? Are they still riding high?

Sorry it took me so long to respond, while you were plugging meaningluss numbers into your little Excel charts, I was doing bicep curls at the gym, looking a little more like Derek Fisher with every one.


J-Hova -- Nuggets in 6
Doc B -- Lakers in 7

Magic-Cavs coming tomorrow...

Friday, May 1, 2009

Just wanted to get this out there...

I'll do a complete 2nd round preview sometime in the next couple days, but I wanted to get this in writing when I thought of it.

Maybe this is me being a paranoid Lakers fan, maybe not. You can be the judge.

Yesterday, before Game 6 of the Rockets-Blazers series, Ron Artest made the controversial statement that Brandon Roy is the best player he's ever played against. Obviously this prompted some raised eyebrows, as Artest has gone against Kobe and LeBron many times before, and has Kobe waiting for him next series. While Brandon Roy is extremely good, and probably almost on Kobe's level this year, I don't think you'd find anyone who would argue that he's better than Kobe -- much less that he is currently better than Kobe ever was in his career.

At first I thought Ron-Ron was just being his crazy self, and didn't worry too much about it. Then I read this excellent post over at Dream Shake, which made a very strong case. Here's the important part about their argument about why Ron-Ron said what he did:
"But I think this is all about Ron's mindset heading into Game 6, and I love it.

Ron is always up for a challenge. He is always ready to challenge the best wing player that any team sports, and he never, ever backs down. I believe Ron is trying to get it in his head that Brandon Roy is the best player in the NBA, and not because it is true or not, but because it will challenge him to play his very best. Artest does not want to sell himself short; he wants to push himself to his highest ability, and if that means sounding idiotic on television, then so be it. He doesn't care what TNT or ESPN or anyone else thinks about him. He is focused on his opponent, and his opponent is Brandon Roy. For Ron to think anything less of Roy would make his job seem easier, and Artest doesn't want that. He doesn't want an excuse to give anything less than 100%, and by convincing himself that Brandon Roy is the best player out there, he knows that he will respond with the most effort possible."

So that seemed right to me. But Craig Sager (love that man) followed up with Ron tonight, after the Rockets beat the Blazers to win the series, and Ron affirmed his comment that Roy is the best player he's ever played against, even when asked specifically about Kobe. Now, Dream Shake's explanation no longer makes sense. There are now two options for Ron saying what he did.

The first, again, is that he's crazy. And, while exceedingly likely, I'm worried that's not what it is.

I'm worried that Ron Artest may be brilliant.

We all know that Kobe Bryant has an insatiable need to be the best, and for everyone to think he is the best. We also all know that the Lakers are a better team when he's not trying to prove that he's the best player in the world, but instead playing within the triangle offense (which he almost always does these days, at least relative to the way he used to play, don't get me wrong), and dominating like that (yes, it can be done. And he does it often).

But what's the one thing that can get him to revert to his 2005-2006 ways of not trusting his teammates, and can get him to create an individual battle that hurts the team's success? Challenge him.

Now, of course, Kobe usually wins these challenges, as he's in the group of the best players of all time. But is there a chance he gets into it with Artest, and scores 35 points, but doesn't get Odom and Vujacic and Shannon Brown and Andrew Bynum involved? Absolutely. And is there more of a chance that he does this after Ron Artest calls him out, and says Brandon Roy is better than he is? No question. You better believe that this soundbite is going to be played over and over and over and over again, and reporters are going to ask Kobe about it starting tomorrow, and continuing throughout the series.

Artest said to Sager, about Roy, "Nobody else has ever scored 40 on me." That was his explanation for why Roy is the best. Does that sound like a challenge to you?

Add to this the NYTimes article about how well Battier defends Kobe, and you've got a lot of stuff that's going on in Kobe's unbelievably competitive, driven, need-to-be-the-best head.

Do I think the Lakers will lose the series? No. I'm (spoiler alert) predicting them to win in 5 games. But am I exceedingly more paranoid than I was before I thought about this? Absolutely.

UPDATE: Maybe everything I said was wrong?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Eastern Conference Playoffs Preview

These are going to be shorter than the WC version, mostly due to a lack of time. Maybe that will make you happy, or maybe it will make you sad. In any case, here we go.

(1) Cavaliers vs. (8) Pistons

I just don't really see any possible way that the Pistons even compete in this series, let alone have a chance to win it. The Pistons are not a very good team, and one that often plays disinterested basketball. They have a bad coach, and no star to speak of. The Cavs are the exact opposite. They are a great team, one that is more consistently focused and determined on a night-in night-out basis than any other team in the League. They have a very good coach, who is self-aware enough to hand over the reins to a new offensive specialist this season, one who has brought the Cavs to the top of the heap in offensive efficiency, and made LeBron James even more deadly. Speaking of which, they have LeBron James.

I think the only way the Pistons take a game in this series is if they win Game 1.

Prediction: Cavs in 4

(4) Hawks vs. (5) Heat

Of all the series in both conferences, this may be the toughest of all for me to predict. I have watched a bunch of Heat games this year, given that Dwyane Wade was on my fantasy team (thanks for the 'ship, Flash), and not so many Hawks games. But, thanks to the fine efforts of KD at BDL, I have read a lot about them. Here's what I've come to.

The Hawks are actually pretty good. No, they don't have a shot at a championship, nor do they have any real chance to get past the Cavs in the 2nd round. But they are a good team. As the saying goes, these aren't your Daddy's Hawks. They aren't the 8-seed "fluke" from last year either. Josh Smith, Joe Johnson, and Al Horford are no longer unknown, but they may still be underrated and overlooked. These 3 are legitimately very good players, who come to play on almost every night. The team plays good defense, and it's a unique style, where they switch on literally everything. Joe Johnson is one of the smoothest scorers in the League, and Horford is a verified low-post presence and threat. As far as talent goes, this team definitely has more of it than the Heat do. In fact, this is just straight up a better team than Miami.

So I'm picking the Hawks to win, right?

Eh, not so fast. Yes, Dwyane Wade is that good. I think the Hawks defense might initially be a little more effective on him than most, as the switching can help negate his effectiveness coming off a Haslem screen&roll (although let's be honest, Wade is still getting to the rim). Beasley has helped of late, and Chalmers is clutch, and wise beyond his years. But the rest of the Heat team is pretty much trash.

So the question is, can D-Wade win this series by himself? My answer...

Almost. I just think that the Hawks 3+Bibby > Wade + Beasley/Chalmers. But this is a tossup.

Prediction: Hawks in 7

(3) Magic vs. (6) 76ers

Not a close, or interesting, series, as far as I can tell. The 76ers run last year was more a product of Detroit's failure than the 76ers ability, and the 76ers closed out this season about as poorly as a team can do it. Andre Iguodala still thinks he's a top-5 player in the League, when he might not be a top-25 player. Andre Miller is good, but he's not the kind of guy who gets you wins. And Sam Dalembert vs. Dwight Howard? Please.

I don't see this series being long, or fun. Actually watching the Magic play is kind of fun, so if you can enjoy that, go for it. But there won't be any competition.

Prediction: Magic in 4

(2) Celtics vs. (7) Bulls

The Garnett-injury gave me pause, briefly. But then I remembered that these are the Celtics, and these are the Bulls. The Bulls haven't beaten one good team in their recent "hot streak," and even without KG, the Celtics still qualify as that. The Bulls play terrible defense, and Vinny Del Negro might be the worst coach in the League, besides maybe Mike Dunleavy. I actually don't see one advantage for the Bulls.

For what it's worth, Starbury actually impressed me a little in a recent game. Didn't wow me, but didn't screw anything up either. And he's better at bringing the ball upcourt than Eddie House (although so am I, and I'd play for free. And I don't have a star tattooed on the side of my head).

I guess I could see Ben Gordon getting hot for one game, and shooting the Bulls to a win. Big Baby + Powe + Perkins is way easier for Noah and Brad Miller to match up with, and those two play poorly against KG, so the injury has to be a break for them.

I see the Celtics taking care of business pretty efficiently in this one though, maybe dropping one, max 2.

Prediction: Celtics in 5

I'll have second-round previews for you when appropriate, and might throw up some mid-round commentary if you're lucky. And if it's a weekend, and I have nothing better to do. Or a weekday. Maybe J-Hova will even throw some insights...

One More Day...

Eastern Conference 1st Round preview coming soon...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Western Conference Preview

(1) Lakers vs. (8) Jazz

I went back and forth numerous times on this matchup. At first I didn't want to play the Jazz at all. We pretty much own the Mavs and Hornets (6 straight over the Mavs, other than CP3 we match up exceedingly well with NO), and the Jazz (Harpring and Boozer especially) play an annoying physical brand of basketball. It wasn't that I was worried the Lakers wouldn't win the series, it's that I didn't see the need for them to enter the next round after a physical, contested series with bumps and bruises. It's a long postseason.

But after reading more, and watching the game Tuesday night, I'm pretty satisfied with the opponent. The Jazz are playing worse than any other team in the WC Playoffs right now, and they have absolutely no belief that they can win this series. Deron Williams said something after the game like "I'll have to get 30 and 15 for us to even have a chance" and Jerry Sloan said something like "It looks really bleak. They're better than we are."

A team with that mindset is exactly what you want for the first round. As long as the Lakers take care of business in the first couple games, and don't give the Jazz any hope, this one should be over quick.

And they will. Deron Williams blows by everyone on the Lakers (including Shannon Brown btw, let's get it out of our heads right now that ShanWow can stay in front of him), but that's no different than what he does against literally every single other team in the league. Search youtube for "Deron Williams crossover" or "Deron Williams Jason Terry" if you don't believe me. But that's beside the point. Boozer is too scared of getting his shot blocked to be an effective asset in the post for the Jazz, and Okur is Jason Kapono with a 7-footer's body. Neither can match up with Gasol, Odom, or Bynum on the defensive end (especially since Boozer is 6-8). And the Jazz have nobody who can guard Kobe. Their best bet is Harpring, but he usually has to sit down after the inevitable 3 fouls in 30 seconds that he picks up. Kobe can blow by him pretty easily anyways.

To wrap up, I don't see the Lakers having too much trouble. D-Will (probably the best crossover/the best PG at getting penetration in the league -- no exaggeration) will get his 28 and 13, but it won't be nearly enough. Maybe one blowout, two close-but-convincing wins, maybe a loss in Game 4 on the road, but the Lakers will close it out without too much trouble.

Prediction: Lakers in 5

(4) Blazers vs. (5) Rockets

Let me put this out there before I get going too quick. I love every single matchup in the West, including Lakers-Jazz (it promises to be entertaining to watch if you like efficient, effective offense, despite the inevitable parade to the free-throw line). I especially love this series.

There was a great point made over at The Painted Area. Remember that Brandon Roy shot from earlier in the season? The miracle, 30-foot, fadeaway 3 at the buzzer? Here's the entire, crazy, final sequence if you don't remember, didn't see it, or just want to watch it again. It also includes back-to-back should-be game-winners from Roy and Yao just moments earlier.

Anyways, if that shot doesn't go in, home court in this series is reversed. That matters, because the Blazers are a TERRIBLE road team. I think their record against Western Conference playoff teams on the road is something like 1-11. But they are a phenomenal home team, with one of the best crowds in the League. It's funny to me that a shot like that, so early in the season that T-Mac was still the Rockets go-to player, can have such drastic effects on a playoff series.

But enough reminiscing. To the matchup. I actually think that the Rockets match up decently well against the Blazers (who, for my money, are the 2nd-best team in the West). Battier can do a great job on Roy, and Yao clogs the middle enough so that the rest of the Rockets don't have to leave the Blazer shooters on penetration. Scola/Chuck Hayes are a decent matchup on Aldridge, and I don't see any reason that Steve Blake is a better option than Aaron Brooks.

There's a few reasons I think the Blazers will end up winning this hard-fought, well-matched series, though. The first is the home court advantage. I just don't see them losing in the Rose Garden, to a team as offensively challenged as the Rockets, in front of those fans. And even if they lose once, that is certainly the max. The second reason is the bench. For all the publicity that Jason Terry gets as a 6th man and that the "Bench Mob" on the Lakers gets, the Blazers, I think, have the best bench in basketball. They honestly go 10-deep, and all 10 can play. Travis Outlaw is an underrated contender for 6th man of the year (not that he'll win or deserves to, but he should be included in the conversation), and Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Rodriguez are spark plugs that push the pace. Channing Frye and Greg Oden (or Pryzbilla, whoever comes of the bench currently) are more-than-legitimate backup big men.

And the third reason I see the Blazers winning is that when things get tight, in the 4th quarter, the last 4 or 5 minutes, the Rockets don't have anyone to go to. Ron Artest is totally unreliable, Yao Ming turns the ball over too much and is easy to double team, and they don't have a guard that other teams respect. I see a lot of empty trips for the Rockets down the stretch, and that, combined with the other reasons, will have them going home in the first round.

Prediction: Blazers in 7

(3) Spurs vs. (6) Mavs

Another phenomenal series, from two teams that always seem to bring out the best in each other whenever they're matched up. That 2006 playoff series was one of the best in recent memory, and I see this one being another good matchup.

Reasons the Spurs can win: I think the Drew Gooden pickup was a good one for the Spurs, and one that nobody is really talking about. He can defend Dirk if he needs to, and let Duncan rest a little bit while guarding Dampier (if Pop would ever play them together). As pointed out by Skeets and Melas in the TBJ video, George Hill did a phenomenal job of sticking to Jason Terry earlier in the year, and could do it again (if Pop would give him the minutes). Then there's the serious issue of nobody on the Mavs being able to come close to staying in front of Tony Parker, or guarding Tim Duncan. I expect these two guys to go off, in every single game. Don't be surprised to see Parker average 30 and 7, and Duncan 26 and 13. It could, and IMO, probably will happen. And then there's Pop, who, despite what I think are some mis-steps this season (admittedly I don't know much, but I think Graydon of 48 Minutes of Hell agrees with me), is still one of the top-5 coaches in the game, no question.

Reasons the Mavs can win: No Manu. Josh Howard is back. The Mavs are playing better right now than they have all season. Duncan looks old (just like he does every year). Who can guard Jason Terry off the bench? They can win at SA (see Game 7, 2006 playoffs).

That last point leads into what I think is the most important. Most of what the Spurs have left is their mystique as an elite team. Duncan and Parker are among the best in the game, no doubt, but beyond that, the pickings get real slim. Real slim like a 65-year old Michael Finley and 6-8 center Matt Bonner slim. I just don't see how the Spurs are going to keep up with Nowitzki (having one of his better years), Terry (great all year, exploding at just the right time), Howard (finally back and healthy), and even Kidd, who isn't a potent scorer at all, but still sets the rest of the guys up nicely, and runs Rick Carlisle's offense well. He hits JET coming off those screens in just the right spot, at just the right time, and it's tough to stop.

With Manu, this series would be a toss-up, and I'd lean to the Spurs, just because of Duncan and Parker, and the Mavs difficulty staying in front of the Frenchman. Those two are reason enough for me to send this series to 7 games. But I think the Mavs will do it again. Just too much firepower with the triumverate of Howard, JET, and Dirk, no Manu, and they're not scared of SA. Not only that, but they really are playing their best basketball of the season right now.

Prediction: Mavs in 7

(2) Nuggets vs. (7) Hornets

This is the series in the West that I'm probably the least personally excited for, but that's not because it will lack close, competitive, fun games. I actually think these teams are very well-matched, and this series is going to go 6 or 7 games. I'll follow the same model from the Spurs/Mavs matchup, because I decided I like it.

Reasons the Nuggets can win: Melo. Let's start there. There is nobody, literally nobody, on the Hornets who can even come close to guarding him. His scoring has been down a little bit, but I've read multiple places that he's actually had his best season yet this year, in terms of an overall game. Without checking, I'd be willing to bet that his assists are at an all-time high, and his rebounding has been better this season too. But all that said, when it comes down to it, Melo is a scorer, and a damn-near unstoppable one at that. I don't see one Hornet he couldn't get any shot on the floor that he wanted against, and for the boys from the Bayou, thats a big problem.

There's also the Billups factor. Since I have been known to proclaim Billups over-rated, a lot of people have talked some smack this year, pointing out that it is Billups who has led to the Nuggets resurgence. And while Billups has been good, I'd argue that it was simply the fact that he's not Iverson that helped the Nuggets the most. Slowing down from one of the faster paces in the league to a middling pace has helped the Nuggets offensive efficiency tremendously. The fact that Billups slows the team down, gets it organized, and gets the ball to Melo, JR Smith, and Nene when they're open helps more than anything he's doing scoring-wise.

Billups has struggled in the playoffs recently though, and not just according to me. We'll see if he picks it up in this series, on this team, surrounded by these players.

The development of Nene/resurgence of Chris Anderson (Birdman) is another reason this team is the #2 seed in the West, and matches up well against NO. Nene is having a career year, with a PER somewhere around 19, and Birdman is 2nd in the league in blocks, even though he only plays 20 minutes/game. That is an astounding statistic on its own. But what it means for this series is that CP3 is going to have more trouble finishing at the rim than he might otherwise. With Nene and Birdman back there, blowing by Billups for layups is less appealing, and that could limit CP3.

Reasons the Hornets can win: CP3 and David West. This team lives and dies with CP3 and David West, and, as things go, that's not too bad a recipe. Every time I watch Deron Williams play, I'm convinced he's the best point guard in the league. But then I watch CP3, and I flip right back. He truly does things with the basketball that nobody else in the League can do, he goes places at times that nobody else can. He is an absolute thrill to watch, especially in-person, where, as David Foster Wallace might say, watching him play is almost a religious experience. He plays at a different speed than everyone else on the court, and he does anything he wants to, any time he wants to do it.

Then you could go into the return of Chandler and Peja from injury, the veteran experience added with Posey, and more, but to be frank, I just don't see it. Beyond CP3, and David West (a good, borderline-All Star second banana who makes shots and will get to the line, but whom I don't care to say too much more about), this team just doesn't have the talent. Peja should retire after this season, he can't move or shoot with his back in the seemingly-chronic condition it's in. James Posey is too old and slow to do much other than occasionally hit spot-up threes (he certainly can't guard Melo). Rasual Butler just isn't talented enough to start for a team that wants to go places in the playoffs. A lot of people are talking about the return of Chandler as a big factor, but I don't see it.
The reality is that he's not 100%, and even if he was, he wasn't having a very good season even before the injury. I mean, this team tried to trade him, if you remember. And not to receive anything much in return either.

Prediction: Nuggets in 7 (only because yes, CP3 is that good)

Eastern Conference Playoffs coming tonight/tomorrow...

Playoffs?! Playoffs?? PLAYOFFS!!!

Yup, I am that excited. The NBA is my favorite sport, and other than the first weekend of March Madness, the NBA Playoffs are my favorite sports event. So I think it's appropriate that now is the time for a return to the blogosphere. I'll be previewing each first-round series, and from then, every second, third, and fourth round series (yes, the Finals).

For now, enjoy this. If you're as into the NBA as I am, it will give you some serious chills.