Written by Michael Badger
Don’t Call It A Changing of the Guard. I understand why you would want to call it that. In the last month they have beaten the Mavericks, Lakers, and Spurs; the three teams that have represented the West this decade. As Kobe Bryant struggled in the fourth quarter, Kevin Durant shined. And as Greg Popovich reminded us, if they finish this run they will have defeated the winners of the 11 of the last 13 championships on their way to the title. I understand why you want to call it a changing of the guard.
I understand why you want to call it a passing of the torch. Their four best players are 23 and under, they all enjoy being together, and all enjoy playing together on the court. They have the one of the most explosive guards in the game, the most explosive 6th man in the league, the best shot blocker in basketball, and the best offensive player in the league. And they are all 23 and under. I understand why you would want to call it a passing of torch.
Kevin Durant may very well be the best player in basketball, and that alone may seem like a good enough reason. His offensive game is unparalleled, his ability to finish games at this point unmatched, and over the course of a month, his biggest flaw has faded into existence as he defended Kobe Bryant late in games. And while that many seem like a good enough reason, he still has the potential to improve greatly. I understand why you would you want to call it a changing of the guard.
But please don’t call it a changing of the guard.
Because in a year and half this group might not be together, and two years from now they will most likely be disbanded. Because Perkins makes big money and Ibaka is due for a payday. Because James Harden is a max deal player and Oklahoma City couldn’t support a three max deal player team before the lockout. Don’t call it a changing of the guard because they definitely can’t afford one after.
Don’t call it a passing of the torch because “high pick” and “down screen” are things you do to avoid one on one play in pick up ball. It’s not San Antonio’s European Dribble Drive Motion or Nelson and Hollins’ hybrids. It’s not Phil’s Triangle. It’s not Sloan’s 1-4 High. And it’s not even Larry Brown’s simplistic motion offense or Carlisle and Kidd’s schemes to get Dirk the ball. Don’t call it a passing of torch because it does seem like the limit of Scott Brook’s offensive creativity. Don’t call it a changing of the guard because Scott Brooks is still the coach.
You can call this team many things: young and explosive, exciting to watch, a group of good young guys who really like playing together, and Western Conference Champion.
Just don’t call this a changing of the guard.
In The Lane
LeBron or Durant. The actual Thunder-Heat matchup is really doomed for failure. Both teams play great defense and have a tendency look stagnant on offense. While both teams have been deemed superb fast break teams, neither plays with a particularly outstanding pace (especially Miami), and really only run off of turnovers and blocked shots (along with every collection of players assembled in a full court basketball game). Neither coach has developed a system in which their best players function together and play off each other, and while the Thunder actually commit to try and have an ability to play with each other, neither team really embodies the team concept. All of those factors will most likely combine for some stretches of ugly basketball in the coming weeks.
The more intriguing question going into this series was posed across the social networks after Kevin Durant sunk a Western Conference giant for the last time this season: Kevin Durant or LeBron James? Who do you want on your team? How about for one game? for one series? for one season? for the next three years? for the next ten years?
LeBron James responded quickly to Kevin Durant’s performance, delivering one the greatest playoff performances of all time one day after Durant and Oklahoma City were crowned Western Conference Champions, bringing hesitation to the collection of people who too quickly gifted the reins to Durant. And now we are left entering into game one of the NBA Finals asking the potentially unanswerable question, LeBron or Durant?
LeBron supporters are quick to point to the statistical edge over Durant he holds in most categories, while Durantulites retort with Durant’s late game performances, the same performances that have eluded LeBron over the past 2 years. LeBron’s defensive prowess was the one factor that seemed to always give him the edge over Durant, but given Durant’s late game defensive performances over the past month and LeBron’s slight overrating on that end of the court, it is hard to not call their work on the other end of the court anything but a draw.
Personally, my response takes the same form as the oft skewed response of Larry Bird when discussing LeBron and Kobe. If you want to win you go with Durant. His game does not require him to dominate the ball to be effective which has allowed his teammates to play more integral roles in their team’s success. On the other side LeBron and Wade’s inability to really play with each other and off of each other has been the major problem and remains a major problem for Miami. Durant naturally allowing more team play makes his teams more of threat deeper into the playoffs.
Not as important to winning, but more often praised and scrutinized, is Durant’s ability to finish games compared to LeBron’s inability to do so over the past two years. The fact of the matter is over the course of these playoffs Durant has proven that he is the guy you want to have in the waning moments of any close game. He does not shy away from the big moments, instead goes out of his way to take them on, and is building a track record of succeeding when doing so.
Quick Rant Defending LeBron: As much as I give him flack, he is one of four guys in the NBA who can carry a team long stretches of games and seasons. And this playoff run it is becoming obvious that he is being asked to do too much for Miami. With the inconsistency Wade has shown through these playoffs the only other consistent thing Miami has had going for them is the steady play of Chalmers and LeBron trying vigorously to make up the rest. He has done an amazing job making up the difference to this point but I doubt he has enough to carry this team to a championship. And he shouldn’t be blamed for that.
The first of five part series leading up to the 2012 Offseason. Written by Michael Badger.
The fast and furious lock out forced scheduled has created many interesting stories and scenarios during this season. But beyond the shortened training camp, increased progressive fatigue, out of shape players (or just Boris Diaw), more frequent injuries, the dip in quality of play because of these factors (or as we will realize next year the offense is getting really bad and the defense is getting insanely good), back to back playoff games, all of these factors really affecting the older teams (two of which are playing in the Conference Finals), and the Spurs proving that all of these factors are not really factors at all (including Boris Diaw being out of shape1), we are also getting an offseason that will start immediately after (or possibly during2) the conclusion of the NBA Playoffs.
Literally two days after the last possible day of the Finals (June 26th) is David Stern’s annual warm reception by the City of New York (technically New Jersey this time around) and the unofficial start of the NBA Offseason. Speaking of David Stern, New York, the NBA Draft, and conspiracy theories (somebody mentioned conspiracy theories, right?)…
The New Orleans Hornets – the team that was owned by the NBA for the past season and a team that was recently sold by the league to new ownership (less than two months ago) – has won the rights to the first pick in the NBA draft.3 In the era of shameless tanking there have been at least two times where the team that held the highest chance at the number one pick was clearly the most deserving of the number one pick. Both times the Charlotte Bobcats have been lotteried out of that pick. The first time is still the most comical to me. They were an expansion team. The team was literally made up of guys (led by Gerald Wallace) that the other 29 teams threw away from the end of their bench. They didn’t deserve to just have the number one pick outright? Really?
This time around almost makes me laugh as hard if only because it was obvious that Charlotte was by far the worst team in the NBA this year4 and almost equally as obvious (to me at least) that the commish was not going to let them land The Brow. There were just too many reasons for Charlotte not to get the pick – they are a horrible team, in a horrible market, with no coach, and a horrible front office of guys that David Stern does not like5 – and too many other teams that needed the boost to their organization – two of which most likely had the commissioner in their corner.6
But moving away from conspiracy theories that develop so often that you have to believe that some of them, if not all of them, are true, there were some other intriguing and, plainly put, hilarious developments from last night’s lottery and the upcoming draft. The Brooklyn Nets’ pick, traded to Portland (top 3 protected) for a Gerald Wallace rental on a team that had no chance of making the playoffs7, will go Portland. Meanwhile, the Warriors will retain their top seven protected pick that they traded to the Nets who then moved the pick to Utah for a year and half Deron Williams rental. Even more confusing the Nets, who at one point were looking at two lottery picks in this draft, have nothing because they feel that this draft is not that deep (me and about five other guys in the world agree), while Golden State worked so hard on retaining their pick – tanking their season when they were closing in on the eight seed and on an impressive winning streak; and desperately trying to make another move to get the pick back outright after the season was over8 – because they think this draft is very deep (along with the rest of the world).
Also funny, and significantly less confusing, there is a good chance Andre Drummond and Demarcus Cousins end up on the same team, at least for a moment.9 I don’t know what will be more entertaining, watching a near fourteen feet of height never get above the rim, placing prop bets on which one will care less on any giving night, placing futures bets which one will get Keith Smart fired, or watching Demarcus Cousins thoroughly outshine Drummond on the block while shooting 43% from the field and essentially killing any thoughts of potential anyone had about Drummond. People really think this is a deep draft?
I was trying to hit 1000 words but I honestly don’t know enough about this draft yet to really talk about it. I could talk about more conspiracy theories but I don’t want Mr. Stern to veto this blog post. I would hate to see this blog fall under the control of the Los Angeles Slumlord.10
Game Seven. Last night Boston prevailed in a game seven that was almost as ugly as their game seven loss in Los Angeles two years ago. The latter at least succeeded in giving us an unfiltered and thoroughly entertaining Metta World Peace (as Ron Artest1).
This time around the finish was significantly less fulfilling. After Andre Iguodala and the 76ers’ team defense thoroughly hampered Paul Pierce’s performance2 and led to a disqualifying charge with more than four minutes left and Philly only down three most people felt we were in for a dynamic finish. Instead Rajon Rondo made foot on the line two pointer and five feet behind the line prayer. Rajon Rondo – the guy who is has been maligned for his poor shooting since he came to the league, the guy who shoots 24.1% from three for his career, shot 23.8% from three this year, and is 5 for 20 in the playoffs from three – sunk the Philadelphia 76ers with his long range shooting last night.
It left an empty feeling in my stomach that I have felt far too often during this playoff run. It was the same feeling I felt when the Grizzlies found themselves down 3-1 despite thoroughly outplaying the Clippers for three games and three quarters. It was the same feeling I felt when the team oriented Pacers dropped three straight to a two man show that took turns isolating and running of high screens.
From a logical basketball standpoint that was not how it was supposed to happen. The better team should prevail. The team that played together and did not rely solely on individual success should prevail. And the team that played the close to perfect defense, and gave up the shot every coach in the world would have consented, should prevail.
Instead individual success seemed to trump team success for at least one more season.3 The tides seem to be turning though, and at some point in the near future I think basketball will make sense again.
In the Lane
All-Defensive Team.Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant play legitimate defense about 55% of the time throughout the course of the regular seaon. In Kobe Bryant’s case even when he does exert himself on defense he is past the point of being outstanding or even really good at that end of the court. I do not blame them for their lack of effort on that defensive end. They both have bad knees and need to conserve their bodies to be effective on the offensive end of the court, to be effective late in games, and to be effective in the post season. I do have a problem with rewarding their efforts (or lack thereof) with first and second team all defense honors.
More frustrating than those kept on the list are those left off the list. Andre Iguodala was the best defensive small forward in basketball this year4, and Kyle Lowry and Russell Westbrook are hands down the best defensive players at the point guard position. None of these players even sniffed the second team list.
The most comical and heavily noted blunder was the Defensive Player of the Year being relegated to the second team. Since the introduction of the DPOY award it is only the second time this has happened, and just like the first time it actually makes some sense.5 If Dwight Howard does not impose all the drama on the Orlando Magic organization this year he probably wins his fourth consecutive DPOY award. The coaches are known for being at odds with media on about every feasible topic so this can probably be seen as their backhanded rebuttal to Howard not getting the award he deserved.
Spurs-Thunder. Youth meets experience6, depth meets stardom7, and the team that laid out the blueprint for small market success meets the most recently imitated that success8. Then of course there is the epitome of great coaching meeting the epitome of overrated whatever you call what Scott Brooks and Mike Brown do. Also, there is one of the most fluent and effective offenses in the NBA meeting a very stagnant and ineffective in slow tempo and against good defense offense.
If you do not read the endnotes and do not understand sarcasm I believe the Spurs will quite handedly win this series. All of Oklahoma City’s flaws can be magnified against the Spurs and all of the Spurs supposed shortcomings can be proved to not exist. At the end of the day, these are too very good defenses that will more or less wash each other out and one offense being significantly better than the other. Spurs win in five or six.
Heat-Celtics. Disclaimer: This series means absolutely nothing. The winner of this series has less than a 20% chance of beating the winner of the Spurs-Thunder series (the Spurs) in the NBA Finals.
That being said this series goes one of two ways. 1)The Celtics continue to shock the world by being extremely resilient and refusing to let their last run die despite having their worst team since the big three were assembled. 2)The Heat handle the Celtics in five or six games looking as dominant as they did when they matched up last year.
The second is significantly more likely. The matchup just favors the Heat in almost every way imaginable. Miami is weak inside but Boston’s bigs seem content to just shoot jump shots and not attack the paint. Miami is missing Bosh and needs a big contribution from someone outside of LeBron and Wade, but with Avery Bradley down and the unnoticed consistency Mario Chalmers being defended by a hobbled Ray Allen I am pretty confident they will get that third contributor.
I am one of the few people that think Philadelphia would have provided a tougher matchup for Miami, but the fact of the matter is once Derrick Rose went down on the first Saturday of these playoffs the East became Miami’s to lose. Over a month later very little has changed.
For our regular readers (again all two of you) who have not noticed, I have a particular affinity for the 76ers, Doug Collins, and Andre Iguodala. I want to congratulate them on a very good run and hope they keep the majority of their core together and continue to play basketball the right way. Obviously, they need to figure a lot of things out offensively, but they have a young nucleus that is committed to their coach, committed to the team concept, and committed to defense. That is a good place to build from.
Nothing particular from this week but check out a couple of great videos I recently ran across. An old Michael Jordan interview by Pat Riley done right before the Bulls finished their series with Detroit in the 91 Playoffs. NBA - Where Timeless Happens.
written by Daniel Badger
Ladies & gentleman the Los Angeles Lakers have just lost in the 2nd Round of the playoffs for the 2nd straight year.
And all I’m hearing is trade Gasol, trade Bynum, trade both, and fire Mike Brown. I think we all agree that Mike Brown should get the boot but I have a problem with the trading of Gasol and/or Bynum.
This season it’s been more obvious than ever that the Lakers have the best PF-C duo in the league. Pau Gasol is still the most skilled PF on the block and the best passing PF in the league. Bynum is BY FAR the best offensive center in basketball, and great on the defensive end as well. In a league where good big guys are few and far between, the Lakers have 2 great ones.
Despite having this dominant force, Mike Brown and Kobe Bryant, decided to run the offense through Kobe Bryant this year. It started off well, Kobe was rejuvenated and looked liked the best scorer in the league. But after about a month, Kobe wasn’t tossin’ up 40 point games like old times anymore but was still shooting the ball at a very high rate. He led the league in FG attempts this year and earned praise from a lot for his supposed rebirth as a great scorer. Kobe was the only player of the top 5 scorers this season to shoot under 45% (he shot 43%). My question is why run through the offense through an aging, relatively inconsistent SG, when you have probably the two best, most efficient bigs in the NBA?
So who’s fault is this, it’s sufficient to say Mike Brown. He’s the coach. He calls the plays. He makes the offense. He decides who the main option is. But I’d like to give some blame to Kobe Bryant. We all knew from day one this was Kobe’s team, not Mike Brown’s team, and that Mike Brown was willing to do whatever Kobe desired to avoid confrontation and losing his job. Kobe took advantage, and hoisted up more shots per game than anyone in the league and more than he has since the 2005-2006 season.
Kobe is the guy everyone claims is a great winner and the guy understands what it takes to be a champion as much as anybody in the league today, but does he really understand? It’s not like this was difficult to see. At the end of most these Laker-Thunder games Charles’ Barkely complained about how the Lakers did not Bynum and Gasol anywhere close to enough touches and how the rest of the Lakers became spectators as Kobe shot tough jumper after tough jumper until the Thunder were right back in the game.
Kobe could have gotten Bynum and Gasol more touches, all he had to do was suggest it and/or make a valiant effort to get them the ball throughout games. But he mostly fired up tough fall away jumpers with hands in his face. Some nights he hit them. Most nights he didn’t. He could’ve offered his trust to Bynum and Gasol and allowed the offense to be run through the great duo this season. Gasol would’ve probably had more confidence, him being so important night in and night out and Bynum would’ve probably gave a better effort on defense every night because his teammates got him the ball on offense. Kobe would’ve had more energy to stop the opposing teams best guard or swing man, and he’d have more energy to be the great closer he is down the stretch. And on top of all that, it’s much tougher to stop two 7-footers that play well off each other, and have great individual post-games then to stop a SG who mostly isolates.
Kobe’s been in the league for 16 seasons, he’s been through a lot of drama and has had a lot of learning experiences. He should understand that winning takes sacrifice and team play, not individual domination. I hate Kobe but respect him as one of the greatest to play this game. I thought he would have figured it out by now. He lost a little respect from me this year.
But now a trade will be made, thus the separation of what could’ve been the best and most dominant “Big 3” in basketball. I could care less though, I enjoy seeing the Lakers struggle.
Written by Daniel (D) and Michael (M) Badger
(M) Media Myths. When I was putting together the format for our end of the season review/playoff preview I initially included a section called Media Myths in which my brother and I would debunk claims by the media that held little to no truth value. The section got scrapped to save us time and to save the time of our readers but I decided to bring a version of it1 back, mentioning some comical and equally frustrating media fallacies from the past week, to open up today’s blog:
(D) Team Basketball Is Beautiful. This week we’ve seen Indiana and San Antonio triumph over superstar centered teams like Miami and Los Angeles. It’s been nice to see Indiana lock down on D, turn it into offense, and take a 2-1 lead in their series, while the Spurs, who have yet to lose in the playoffs, diminish any chance of the Clippers even making this a series. I can’t see anyone stopping the Spurs, they are great in the half-court, they are great in the break, they are experienced, they have a great point guard, they have a post threat, and they have the best coach in the league.4
In The Lane
(M) Heat-Pacers. I mentioned this in a previous blog but I was really frustrated with everyone writing Indiana off in this series before it started. Chris Bosh’s absence is meaningful and should definitely be take into account (I still had Miami winning the series if Bosh is there), but even with Bosh healthy, I could not understand how people felt this Pacers team was incapable of even making this series competitive. Miami has some serious flaws, the most evident and most detrimental of which is their inability to be efficient offensively against elite defenses.5 Dwyane Wade is the biggest individual culprit and it was evidenced in game three.6
On the other end Indiana has been playing excellently for over a month now. Many people are ignoring the fact that this was the third best team in the East outside of Miami and Chicago this year. They are one of the top defenses in the league and, along with Philadelphia, are playing the best defense in the playoffs right now. The big question for them was their offense and while it has not been mind blowing it has been good enough to make them a real threat for the Eastern Conference crown.
Deciding the West. Short answer: San Antonio is winning the NBA championship. Long answer: Shaq dropped a gem last night during following the Thunder’s win in LA (somebody go tell Simmons7). He claimed the only team that can beat San Antonio is the team that has two players that can outplay Tim Duncan and Tony Parker and plays a system that can rival San Antonio’s and concluded to say this team does not exist. The system part is the most crucial. The rest of the teams left in the playoffs (and most of the teams in the NBA at this point) are lacking the structure offensively that can produce an offense as fluent as San Antonio’s. The teams that do, Indiana and previously Utah and Memphis, lack the ability to compete. (though I think if Memphis could have figured it out and not ran into Chris Paul they would have had a chance).
This series against the Lakers has made it obvious that Oklahoma City still has not figured out how to be effective offensively in the half court.8 They rely too heavily on jump shots and the individual abilities of Westbrook, Harden, and Durant to create shots for themselves and for others. That is why they are two Laker collapses away from being down three to one in this series. I cannot see San Antonio, who has won their last 17 games (all but three by double digits9), losing to a team with offensive short comings Oklahoma City possesses in the half court.
Oh if you have not noticed I do not think the Clippers have a chance in their series.
The Clutch Factor. After all the that has happened in the NBA this week and all the talks surrounding what has happened I attempted to come up with my own definition of what it means to be clutch in basketball. I came up with a combination of few characteristics of a clutch player:
Over the past week we have seen Kevin Durant come close to mastering every aspect of this definition, while simultaneously watching Kobe Bryant potentially begin to fall from the merits because of his inability to fulfill the third characteristic. We have also seen LeBron James fall short of almost all of these standards. It is hard to watch LeBron handle the end of the game and not think, “this guy is scared to miss at the end of the game.” There have been too many occasions where we have seen him dominate that final stretch of a game only to disappear for the last two minutes to think otherwise. I cannot look at the criteria above, think about LeBron’s late game performance over the past two years and not notice that he does not fit the criteria.
(D) East vs. West. I’ve really enjoyed watching the 2nd round of the playoffs. Indiana is beating the Heat into implosion. We have an old school defensive brawl between Boston and Philly, where no lead is safe and you never know who is going to get hot (if anyone). With the exception of game one, the Lakers and Thunder have delivered great, down to the wire games. The Spurs have handled business in LA, and it has been a pleasure to watch their team play and watch Kawai Leonard become a new favorite player of mine.
However, how much bigger and better the West is compared to the East has really stood out to me. The West have the deepest team in the league (Pacers are next, but they are not on the Spurs level). They have KD and Chris Paul (arguably the two best players in the game), Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Blake Griffin, Tony Parker, Ginobili, Kobe, and Bynum of the 4 teams left. They have so much more star power than the East and that is part of the reason I believe whoever wins it all (cough, cough Spurs) will come out the Western Conference.10
(M) I am anticipating Kings-Lakers game six level officiating in favor Miami and Boston over the next few days. I am pretty sure nobody with a stake in the NBA wants a Philadelphia-Indiana Eastern Conference Finals, and with both LA teams seemingly on their way out I doubt David Stern will go for two Conference Finals where his biggest market is a tossup between the beloved Philadelphia fans and Kevin Durant’s groupies. I am half joking but Miami already receives way too much favor with the referees as it is and I would not be surprised (though I will be insanely frustrated) if the calls are skewed in Miami’s favor to an indefensible extent. Here is to hoping I can get my no star defensive struggle.11
(D) While previewing today’s Miami-Indiana matchup last night, the Inside the NBA crew got into a slightly intense discussion about the Heat. Charles thinks that LeBron and Wade need more help beyond Chris Bosh. He believes that what they have is not enough and their lack of depth and size prevents them from winning a title. All of this is true, BUT then he also went on about LeBron having to do everything and stated that he gets too much flack for his team losing and it is not his (and Wade’s) fault. Kenny and Shaq came back with the same argument I have: when LeBron, Wade, & Bosh got together they said they could win titles. They thought that collection of players could win regardless of supporting cast. They dug their own grave. When this team was put together they, along with most people, arrogantly believed that they were better than they were. I personally really liked what Shaq said after Chuck ranted about LeBron having to do everything for the Heat, “Mike did it, you [Charles] did it, Hakeem did it…” He’s absolutely right! Great players, winners, put their team on their back and win even when things get tough and the odds are against them. Magic and Bird did it, Isaiah did it, Hakeem did it, Duncan did it, Shaq did it, and of course Michael Jordan did. Wade and LeBron put themselves in a category they don’t belong by thinking they were great enough to carry a team to a championship. They’re not in the category of players I just listed, and it’ll take a lot for anyone, not just them, to join such an elite group.12
(M)Larry Bird won the Executive of the Year award this week making him the only person to win the MVP, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the Year. Here isLarry Bird as player and exec (if anybody has highlight video of the 97-98 pacers shoot me a link)
(D) Wanted to give a shout out to Russell Westbrook. He has really made a big improvement handling games down the stretch and realizing how great of a clutch scorer KD is. Also, he really saved the game for the Thunder last night and destroyed the Lakers when the offense got stagnant.13
Written by Michael Badger
Chances. One week into these playoffs I believe five teams have a legitimate chance of winning the championship. In order: San Antonio, Memphis, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami, Oklahoma City. Indiana and a somewhat dysfunctional1 Boston team are really the only things that stand in Miami’s way to get out the East (actually there is something else but I will get there in a little bit). However, as I wrote earlier this week, I still think the team that gets out the West is more than likely going to take Miami out.2 I feel whoever wins the Spurs-Grizzlies series (barring a Chris Paul miracle) is most likely winning the West and I feel the Lakers will take out the Thunder in games that are played at pace more suitable for Los Angeles. All that being said, San Antonio is clearly the best team in the NBA at the moment. They are destroying a Utah team that a lot of people thought would be a formidable opponent. It is hard to see any team beating them at this point.
In The Lane
Second One: Four Games in Five Days. After reading the first chapter of Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball I came to full realization of terrifying thought I had been harboring over the past few months: I have not attended very many NBA basketball games. Earlier in the year the thought led me to my first trip to Staples Center where I was tricked into watching a Paul-less Clippers host a Johan Petro led New Jersey Nets team.3 More recently it has led me to embark on a five day period where I will watch two NBA playoff games at Staples Center and two Dodgers-Giants games at Magic Johnson’s Jackie Robinson Memorial Field.4 I will expound on the details of the endeavor during a Game 4 write up but for now some thoughts from Game 3:
All that being said I still see Memphis taking back home court in a convincing game four win and potentially winning the series in six. The Clippers are two Underrated Rudy Gay game winners away from being down three games to none in this series and considering Underrated Rudy Gay has actually been a pretty clutch shooter over his career, I would not expect the Clippers luck to last much longer.
Second Two: What’s Next for Dallas? Yes, the playoffs are just getting started and talking about this offseason maybe somewhat premature. However, nothing really significant or unexpected happened after the weekend games, we are less than two months away from July 1st, and Dallas, who was eliminated last night, is really the key player in this NBA summer.
I mentioned, and applauded, Dallas’ decision to start blowing up there team immediately after winning a championship in a footnote in last week’s season review. Mark Cuban and Dallas’ front office are one of the few in this league I respect and I feel they were correct in letting what can soon be a grossly overpaid Tyson Chandler and an already undersized JJ Barea leave, realizing their chances of repeating were slim with or without them.8 Their first move will obviously be attempting to acquire Deron Williams but their potential additions range far beyond that. Once they use their amnesty on Brendan Haywood they will have more than 26 million dollars in cap space to use on free agents this summer. While the actual free agent market is slim this year there are two players I feel will be more available than most are anticipating this summer and during the 2012-2013 season and Dallas will have the financial assets and cap and tax flexibility to acquire one of them. Let’s just say the beard or one of the greatest backcourts of all time may be coming to Dallas.9
Second Three: Philadelphia. Miami shot 43.6 percent from the field in the first round of the playoffs last year. LeBron James shot a respectable 46.9 percent but the number was much lower than his regular season efficiency and paled in comparison to his shooting during his previous two playoff runs. Dwyane Wade on the other hand struggled mightily in the series shooting it at only a 43.8 percent clip. Philadelphia and Miami are by far the two best defensive teams in the playoffs at this time and Philadelphia has already proved that they can slow down Miami in the playoffs. While Miami is still the odds on favorite to win the East if Philly can continue on to beat Chicago and upset Atlanta or Boston in round two, I would be intrigued to watch a Miami-Philadelphia Eastern Conference final. Both teams play outstanding defense and struggle offensively when they play great opposing defense. While Miami has a better chance of putting up just enough scoring to get the series win, games played by two top notch defense with suspect offenses are very much up for grabs.
With two game fours already in the books and one team already heading home for the summer, it appears only three series have the potential to be competitive and go six or seven games. Jeremy Lin has ruled himself out of game 4 so the Miami Heat can breathe easy and not fear the threat of falling to Linsanity. The Mother Ship subjected me to Doris Burke on Friday, but with both games on ABC today I assume I will be saved from enduring it again (ABC wouldn’t allow her on network television, right?). Let us hope Friday was the last time we will hear from her this year. Let us hope.
Indiana Pacers’ trainers having some fun at Mr. 65 Million Over The Next Three Year’s expense.
1. Not dysfunctional in the screwed up, no chemistry way. More so dysfunctional in the sometimes they just don’t function properly sort of way.
2. Except Oklahoma City every other contender in the West is significantly better offensively than Miami. When push comes to shove they are just going to be able to score more points despite how good Miami’s defense is.
3. When I first bought the tickets the chances of Howard ending up in New Jersey were still relatively high. I thought I might be getting a Paul and Griffin versus Williams and Howard and at worst a Paul-Williams battle. Instead I got Johan Petro and probably the worst coaching match up you can get in game that involves a playoff team. They did Inside the NBA that night for the Lakers game outside Staples Center (MLK day, I’m wearing the California Republic hat) so I was able to salvage the night by taking a picture with Craig Sager and touching Charles Barkley.
4. It’s going to happen.
5. But really this guy is incredible.
6. San Antonio, Don Nelson’s (and Keith Smart’s) Warriors, and Utah would be the other teams I would put in this category. The Spurs, Warriors, and Grizzlies actually run very similar pick and roll and high post action based systems. The only differences is the personnel and who they want to play through.
7. Also they were like freaking drones. They only made noise when they were told too or when Blake Griffin got free for his four dunks. It was the freakin’ playoffs and the game was close throughout, but the playoff atmosphere only lasted in spurts throughout the game. Also they stole our We Believe. What did I say about digressing?
8. In hindsight there are a couple things I would have done different if I were Dallas. 1) I would have tanked the season completely and not even tried to make the playoffs and 2) I wouldn’t have traded away the nine million dollar trade exception. If they do those things they are looking at Deron Williams a legitimate first rounder who can probably play right away at least ten million dollars more in cap space and a nine million dollar trade exception and midlevel exception that can all combined can be used to pick up five midlevel players or one nine or ten million dollar guy and four midlevel guys (not including the rookie). That’s a chance to build a pretty good supporting cast around Williams and Dirk.
9. The Chris Paul thing is more of a fantasy I have about having Chris Paul and Deron Williams start in the same backcourt (this is one of two ways it could happen this summer). The James Harden thing is actually more realistic than people think. If they follow suit as they did with Westbrook and Durant, Harden and Ibaka should be getting they’re extensions either this summer or at some point early in the next season. I’m pretty sure there are teams willing to give Harden the max and Harden’s agent knows that and also knows many think Harden is a more valuable asset than Westbrook (who is getting a max deal). If Oklahoma City gives Harden a max deal and signs Ibaka for around seven million a year over four years (that’s lowballing it) they will have over 70 million in cap space already guaranteed for 2014-2015 for just six players putting them over the luxury tax cap a year after the stricter rules come into place. I doubt OKC will be willing to spend like LA or Dallas (who themselves are trying to cut costs) so something is going have to give and I see Harden or Westbrook being traded for a plethora of cheaper role players.
Written by Michael Badger
Procrastination and my horrible sleep schedule routinely leaves me in unmanageable, inexplicable, and borderline suicidal situations. Most recently I find myself sitting at my laptop at 4:30 in the morning wondering if it is actually worth it to go to sleep or if I should just push through to 8:00 am when I have to take the first of the day’s three finals. I have just finished watching the Inside the NBA replay online and figured I have enough on my mind to write about this past weekend before I make the decision to sleep or not. So without further or do here are some random thoughts concerning the game one’s of the NBA’s first round playoff series:
A New Bynum Theory. So the historic night from the Laker big man led me to ask the following question. Was Andrew Bynum pulling a Chris Paul on the defense end this season? If you have watched Bynum play with any consistency or even just constantly checked LA’s box scores you know that Bynum occasionally takes games off, especially on the defensive end and on the boards. After his performance today I began to wonder if this inconsistency was more than it appeared. Maybe Bynum took possessions, stretches, and even entire games off on defense in order to preserve his never been all that durable legs for his offense and more importantly for the playoffs. It is more likely that this is not the case and Bynum’s nights off are far less excusable. Kobe chalked it up to him still learning exactly how to exert himself defensively and George Karl claimed he was taking his time in the paint1, but I think there is a slight chance Bynum may be taking a page out of the book of the point guard from the other locker room.
Stars Aligning In Miami. In one day I went from believing Miami was more than likely out in round one to wondering who can actually stop them from getting to the Finals. Two ACL injuries and evidence that Tyson Chandler probably will not be himself for game two either have made Miami’s road to the Finals a much easier one to travel. New York still has a fighter’s chance, and I am not taking Indiana as lightly as the Mother Ship is2, but really the East is Miami’s to lose at this point. That being said I still see whoever comes out the West as the favorites in the Finals against Miami. I just think Miami is now the clear favorites to take the East crown.
The Hawks Playing For a Trophy? The Hawks have never played in the Conference Finals. Since the emergence of conferences in 1970 the Hawks have never even taken the position of runner up in the East. However, almost as quickly as Miami became the hands down favorites to win the East, Atlanta’s chances to play those Heat in the East Finals increased as well. Atlanta looked excellent on defense (and the Celtics looked really old on offense) for the majority of the game one that ended in a Rajon Rondo ejection that may lead to a Rajon Rondo suspension (more on that later). If Rondo is out for game two Boston’s chance of stealing a game on the road the first time around look slim. That along with Ray Allen remaining questionable for a return and Kevin Garnett looking like the old washed up Garnett from the last two playoff runs and not the rejuvenated Kevin Garnett from the second half of the season gives Atlanta a good chance of winning this series. After that you are talking about a matchup with a Rose-less Bulls team and a Philadelphia team that simply has no idea how to score the basketball. I feel Atlanta has to be the favorite in both series.3
Rajon Rondo Is An Asshole. I knew it was true, but it was funny to actually see it while he was being interviewed by Tracy Wolfson.4 You can see he actually does trip and Marc Davis does stop rather abruptly. However, the extra emphasis on the chest bump is probably going to cost Rondo a game.5
The 2012 Champion Grizzlies. Three other times a team has blown an 18+ point lead in the fourth quarter during the playoffs. All three teams went to the championship and two of the teams won it all. Before I even read that stat (via Royce Webb’s twitter) I said to myself, “This is the Grizzlies’ Brandon Roy collapse6,” and assumed they were destined for the championship. Hearing Lionel Hollins talk after the game confirmed that he is one of the few good coaches who actually talks to his team about basketball and tries to understand what went wrong from a basketball perspective.7 I have confidence the Grizzlies will bounce back and have a feeling they might even run off four straight.
Predictions Are Pointless. About half of what I thought going in to the playoffs was thrown out the window over the last two days. I expect that to be happening routinely over the next two and half months. This should be a fun ride. Peace.8
1. Quick George Karl rant. First this very Phil Jackson like move used to get more defensive three second calls was done brilliantly. Second this guy should probably get more recognition for what he has done as coach over his career. He doesn’t have a championship, but neither does Jerry Sloan, and if you look at the variety of styles he has had success with (Up and down Warriors and Nuggets teams. Slow it down and grind it out Bucks and Nuggets teams) you really have to respect what he has done as head coach. Also, we have spent the better part of decade questioning whether a team can play up tempo and still play defense. George Karl’s Sonic teams in the 90s would be top five in the league in pace and defense. It translated into success that could only be stopped by Michael Jordan. Okay, I think I’m done.
2. Towards the end of year ESPN’s NBA crew said Miami was better off at the two because they would run through the first two rounds in eight or nine games. They said it in passing as if everyone assumes Indiana can’t do more than take a game in the series. Miami won the season series 2-1 with both teams grabbing convincing wins and Miami winning an overtime game that could have gone either way. They didn’t even consider the possibility Indiana wins two games.
3. Though I can definitely see Philly or Chicago still beating Atlanta with Hawks pulling their typical win (or be competitive in) a series nobody thought we would win and follow by pulling their more typical lose a series we are not supposed lose.
4. They cut out the first one but he twice in the interview asks her to clarify what she is asking in a very “why the hell is the dumb chick talking to me” sort of way.
5. I LOVE THIS GAME!
6. Second time we have linked to this video in two days. #NeverForgetYou #NoHomo
7. As opposed to the plethora of coaches who spend timeouts giving motivational speeches about trust, hustle, and brotherhood when there are obvious strategical game plan changes that need to be made.
8. In case you were wondering it was 6:30 by the time I finished so I just took a quick nap. I can’t wait to get my degree and be done with this.