31 May 2011

Finals Preview

I can't wait for Game 1 between Miami and Dallas tonight. Shoot, I was up at 4 a.m. today to get to work and won't be home until 5:30 and I'll still watching it live. As mentioned previously, I fully expect these games to be knock-down, drag-em-out fistfights from now until the series is over. It may not go seven games, but I want the ones we do get to be epic.

Here are the five factors I think are important in this matchup.

1. Who wants it more? Dirk needs a ring to validate his career, unfair or not. James needs a ring to even enter the discussion of "Who is the greatest player of all time?" Jason Kidd has little to no time left before he retires; you know he'll give everything he has. Wade has less motivation than some, but Wade at 80% motivated is better than Jason Terry at 100% motivated.

But still, Wade and Haslem have titles. No one in Dallas has one, and that counts for a lot. And it's not like there will be first-Finals jitters for the Mavs, either. Dirk, Terry, Kidd have all been here before, and they know how intense the pressure is and how bright the spotlights are. Most importantly, they know how bitter it is to come this close and go home losers.

Advantage: Dallas

2. Dirk vs. The World: Dirk has been unstoppable this postseason, scoring 28.4 points per game while shooting 51.7% from the field, 51.6% from deep and 92.9% from the line. Those numbers are ridiculous all the way around. Great FG% for a center. Amazing FG% for a 3-point specialist. Free throw shooting in the realm of Larry Bird.

Which is not to say he hasn't been defended well. Often he's shooting with a hand in his face, fading away on one leg, as that's the only position the defender has given him. And it still goes in. A lot. The question is: can anyone on the Heat slow Dirk down, and, if they cannot, do they just let Dirk get his 30 and stop everyone else?

I think we'll see the Heat switch between using LeBron, Haslem and maybe even Joel Anthony in a one-on-one matchup against the German. I doubt we'll see a zone, as Dirk has been doing well finding open shooters and the Mavs are hitting 38% from deep this postseason. I'm not sure any of these players will slow Dirk down, but I think LeBron has the best chance. He's too quick for Dirk to get around, has good height and a great vertical. After watching him destroy Derrick Rose in conference finals, I think James may do okay here.

But in the end, I bet they just let Dirk get his and focus on making the rest of the Mavericks take difficult shots.

Advantage: Dirk. Long-term advantage: Heat.

3. Battle of the old point guards. Jason Kidd has 18 years of NBA experience under his belt. Mike Bibby has seen better days and has been around for 13. These guys will be guarding each other a lot, which should lead to some questions. "Is Bibby scoring 15 ppg in the Finals after averaging 3 ppg in the previous 15 games due to his newfound offensive prowess? Or is it because Kidd can't stop anyone from doing anything these days?"

In short, whichever old dude can get it done will be a huge contributor to his team. Both of these teams are good defensively, and an extra 3 from Kidd or layup from Bibby here can be huge.

Kidd may be older, but he's playing better (10 points, 7.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds per game) than Mike (3.6 points, 1.2 assists, 1.2 rebounds per game) these days. I'll give the edge to him hitting some clutch 3's and stripping Bibby for a crucial turnover or two.

Advantage: Dallas.

4. Does Barea run wild? In 17.5 minutes per game, he's scoring 9 points and dishing out 3.5 assists. He's hitting 43% of his shots overall and 31% from deep. I give you these numbers to show A.) He's not as amazing as you may think from watching ESPN and B.) There's a reason he only plays 17 minutes per game. That said, he provides a big boost off the bench and can really frustrate defenses while providing a spark to the Mavs as a whole.

Do the Heat just stick LeBron on him and say "Go for it, little man?" Again, watching him shut down Rose was eye-opening, and if he can stay in front of the MVP, he should be able to stay in front of the best pickup player ever in the history of mankind.

Sorry, Jose, your days are numbered.

Advantage: Heat

5. Who stops the three-headed monster? I imagine Chandler will work on slowing Bosh down, which is fine, except Bosh plays outside the paint, which will drag Tyson away from the hoop, giving LeBron and Wade free reign to waltz in for a dunk whenever they feel like it.

And why are these two waltzing into the paint? I answer your question with another questions: Who does Dallas have that can remotely slow down either of these guys on the perimeter? Can Shawn Marion do it? Okay, let's say he can keep one of them in check. Who handles the other? Jason Terry? DeShawn Stevenson? Peja? I don't see it happening. What this boils down to is either Wade or LeBron getting a green light to attack the hoop for pretty much the entire game.

Dallas may try a zone and dare James Jones and Mike Miller to beat them, but while Miller is hitting a whopping 21% of his deep attempts (27% against Chicago), Jones is a blistering 45% from downtown in the playoffs. Considering Miller will likely be shooting against Peja or Kidd, I think his numbers will improve, meaning a zone is an invitation to a barrage of 3's the likes of which helped Dallas sink the Lakers.

In the end, it's been a rare game where Bosh, Wade and James all have bad performances at the same time. This was the case in Game 5 against Chicago, but the Heat's defense kept them in it long enough that some game-saving heroics were possible at the end.

For them to have four games of stinkitude? I can't believe it will happen.

Advantage: Miami.

Final Finals prediction: Heat in 6. Weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth commence from people who had no problem with Boston winning the 2008 title.

27 May 2011

Heat! Mavericks! Tuesday on ABC!

And with a blocked 3-point attempt from Derrick Rose last night, we have our NBA Finals matchup set.

I watched the fourth quarter of Game 5, and was struck by how similar it was to Game 5 in the Dallas/OKC series. Young team is up late, the lead seems fairly insurmountable, and the veterans get it done, closing on a huge run to win it all.

LeBron hounded Derrick Rose into a 1-10 shooting night, including blocking that series-clinching 3-point attempt.

James also held Rose to 6.3% shooting in the series when guarding him directly.

Six point three percent? Holy moley!

The rest of the Bulls were no better. Boozer made one of his six shot attempts. Deng was 6-17. Ronnie Brewer was the only Bull to shoot near 50%, and hit four of his five, including a huge 3-pointer late to give the Bulls a (presumably) comfortable lead.

When Ronnie Brewer is your best shooter, you know things are going poorly.

Up until the last five minutes, no one for the Heat was playing well, but LeBron added two deep shots, Wade hit one and got to the hoop at will and that was that. This game demonstrates the amazing utility of great defense. If your shots aren't falling and you can't stop anyone, you're going to lose by 20. But if your shots aren't falling and you can lock down your opponent, you'll be in position to win the game. The Heat only scored 83 points on 39% shooting as a team, horrible numbers. But they held the Bulls to 80 points on 35% shooting, so they are on their way to the Finals.

Want to read a bitter and sarcastic take on the Heat making it to the Finals? You're in luck!

As a mini Finals preview, what strikes me the most is the lack of young talent on either team.

Dallas has Dirk (13 years), Kidd (17! years), Terry (11 years), Peja (13 years), Marion (12 years), Haywood (10 years), Chandler (10 years). Even DeShawn Stevenson has been in the league for 11 seasons now. J.J. Barea is the youngest player to get any playing time for the Mavs, and he's got five years under his belt now.

The Heat run out James, Bosh, Wade, James Jones and Haslem (all at eight years now), Mike Miller (11 years) and Mike Bibby (12 years). Joel Anthony is their lone young gun getting time in the playoffs (four years).

That is a whole lot of combined experience for both teams. I give the edge to Dallas in this area, as head coach Rick Carlisle has coached 1,181 regular season games (60% winning record) and 93 playoff games (52% win percentage).

I admit not knowing much about Rick besides the fact that he looks like Jim Carrey.

It's not like he's bounced around a lot, either. He's coached for the Pistons, Pacers and Mavericks. He doesn't make the news for being a great coach or a terrible coach. He's not the Bobby Knight type or the legendary type like Jerry Sloan or Greg Popvich. He just keeps on keepin' on, taking his teams to the playoffs sometimes and winning more than he loses.

In contrast, Heat head coach Eric Spoelstra might as well be a teenager. He has 246 regular season games under his belt (60% win rate) and 27 playoff games (59% win rate).

Anyway, this should be a great series between two teams that know how to win. Wade might have the edge here, being the only star with a ring, though I don't imagine Dirk or James will choke here. They've shown great poise in finishing off good teams to get to this point, and I expect barnburners from Game 1 on. You hear me? Barnburners!

25 May 2011


Well, that was somewhat anticlimactic.

Yes, both Conference Finals Game 4's went into overtime, but the results mean our Finals matchup is virtually locked in.

Teams up 3-1 in the NBA playoffs have won 96% of the time. And nothing I've seen from either Oklahoma City or Chicago makes me feel they can win three games in a row against Dallas/Miami.

Honestly, I feel that a lot of this boils down to poor point guard play. I know I've ranted about this before, but Westbrook and Rose are shoot-first point guards who have no ability/desire to actually run an offense, especially in late-game situations.

The one game OKC has won in the conference finals, Westbrook sat the entire fourth quarter. Coincidence? He's shooting 34% from the field, 28% from deep and has 21 turnovers to 19 assists. That is absolutely horrific. Yet, in a late-game situation when the Thunder need a bucket, he insists on driving on 5 players and/or attempting a difficult jumper. It's maddening.

Same story for the reigning MVP. Rose is shooting 39% from the field, 22% from the 3-point line and has a vaguely not-terrible assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.6. Last night, in a must-win for his team, he shot 8-27 overall, 1-9 from deep with 7 turnovers and only 6 assists. Poor decision making abounds.

For example, here's Derrick Rose's attempt at a game-winning shot last night.

Seriously? You come out of a timeout, come back to the court with 8 seconds on the clock, and that's what you run? Isolation of your 6'3" point guard against the 6'9" freak of nature that is LeBron James? What were you expecting to happen, Tom?

Now, neither player's supporting cast has been lights out. For all the love Kevin Durant gets, he's shooting 43% in this series, and has hit only 4 of his 25 shots from long range. Meanwhile, in Rose Land, shooting specialist (translation: he can't do anything else) Kyle Korver has hit 27% of his shots and 3 of his 11 attempts from deep, while center Joakim Noah is hitting at a 29% clip... an egregious failing considering he never wanders farther than four feet from the hoop.

So the fact that the Thunder and Bulls are each staring at the precipice of failure isn't all on the heads of their young point guards, but their performances grate on me more than Boozer's (continued) lack of defense or Mike Bibby's lack of lateral quickness.

If neither OKC or Chicago make it to the Finals, this will be yet another year that a team featuring a non-elite point guard wins the title. Outside of Rajon Rondo and possibly Chauncey Billups, no elite point guard has won an NBA championship in the last 20 years. The Lakers did it with Derek Fisher. Spurs with Tony Parker. The Heat with Gary Payton, and the Bulls with Derek Harper. The Rockets used Sam Cassell and Kenny Smith.

Not since the 1990 title went to the Pistons, and point guard Isiah Thomas, has an all-time great at that position won it all.

No Steve Nash. No John Stockton. No Chris Paul. No Deron Williams.

This year, either Mike Bibby or Jason Kidd will get a ring. And while Kidd is definitely one of the all-time greats at the point, he's also definitely on the tail end of the tail end of his career.

Looking back at the assist leaders for the last 10 NBA regular seasons, it's a list of never-won-it-all players. Andre Miller. Baron Davis. Stephon Marbury.

This is an interesting phenomenon. Should NBA GM's avoid drafting or trading for serviceable point guards, and look for elite big men and wings instead?

Are the Jazz better off with Favors and Harris rather than Deron? Will Chicago ever get it done with Rose? Is facilitating your team's offense well really that important?

It bears watching in the coming seasons, in my opinion.

20 May 2011

Dallas/OKC Game 2

Much like the Heat were able to do in the East, the Thunder came out and stole home court advantage from the Mavs last night. It was a fun game to watch, as both teams shot well and the first quarter was a flurry of great passes and alley-oop dunks (thrown by the 43-year-old Jason Kidd) that got everyone excited. Marion in particular threw one down that I was amazed he was able to catch. I guess the Matrix still has it to some extent.

The big story here is that OKC starting point guard Russell Westbrook sat on the bench the entire fourth quarter, along with three other starters, and KD finished the game out with Eric Maynor, James Harden, Nick Collison and Daequan Cook.

Now, I really like Maynor, and think he'll be a good starting point guard one day, and James Harden was certainly on fire last night (scoring 23 points), but Collison? Daequan? Wow.

I have to wonder if Thunder coach Scott Brooks got tired of watching Westbrook try to win games by himself in the fourth, completely ignoring everyone else (including Durant). Shoot first point guards never go anywhere (exception: Allen Iverson in 2001), and they especially do not work when they aren't the best player on the team. In Oklahoma City, that's Kevin. And Westbrook needs to figure that out or he's going to find himself traded.

In other news, Dallas scored 100 points and lost. This is mostly because they let OKC shoot 55% from the field and 38% from downtown. That 55% shooting percentage was given up by the Mavs only once before this season, showing just how bad defensively they were.

Dirk scored 27 points on 10-17 shooting, but a lot of people are saying he needs more touches for Dallas to be successful. Not sure if this is the case, as OKC is clearly keying in on him and daring everyone else in a horse uniform to beat them.

Regardless, the Thunder have the upper hand now, but I'm not convinced they'll end up going to the Finals. These teams are pretty evenly matched, and I can't wait for Games 3-7.

19 May 2011

It continues

Heat/Bulls tied 1-1 after two games in Chicago.

Mavs up 1-0 after the first game in Dallas.

Haslem returning to the Heat was a huge deal in their Game 2 win.

Dirk was unconscious in the first game of the Western Conference Finals.

Both Derrick Rose and Russell Westbook continue to shoot poorly in the playoffs. Is it too much to ask that our superstar point guards hit around 45-50% of their shots in the postseason? Westbrook is at a disgusting 39.5%, while Rose is shooting 41%. Derrick is also hitting a full 25% of his 4-point attempts, while Russell is shooting 31% from deep.

I know these are supposed to be the guys of the future, but Nash, Paul and Deron are all good-to-great shooters. Having your point guard jack up shot after shot and miss way more than he makes has got to hurt the offense. Either Rose and Westbrook need to tone it down and stop shooting so much or they need to start hitting more.

In other news, here's a great breakdown of Game 1 of the Dallas/Oklahoma City series.

I love stuff like this. I never see it when I'm watching, but having someone break it down is really helpful, and it makes me watch for things the next time I catch a game.

Can't wait for game two of Dirk vs. KD tonight. I thought I'd root for the Thunder no question during this series, but the Mavs are playing so well I can't help but like them a bit, too.

10 May 2011


Can we ask for anything more from these playoffs? We had an overtime Heat win followed by a triple overtime game in Oklahoma City last night, and the Hawks are giving the Bulls everything they can handle while Memphis plays the Thunder tough even in losses.

Even the Boston/Miami series, which the Heat lead 3-1, had an epic game in Boston where Rajon Rondo came back from a dislocated elbow and Garnett and Pierce submitted all-time great-level games in a big win.

Quick looks at all four series:


Unfortunately for the original Big 3, they couldn't sustain the level of play they exhibited in Game 3 and will most likely lose the series now. That Game 3 required Garnett and Pierce to play out of their minds while James, Bosh, and to some extent Wade, all had terrible performances. That wasn't going to happen again.


Derrick Rose continues his campaign of shooting poorly and hoping no one notices. In Game 4 he scored 34 points on 35% shooting. His assist numbers were great, but the dude needs to get others involved even more if he can't be more efficient than that.

Here's what the Bulls offense looked like in the fourth quarter (of Game 4):

Carlos Boozer missed layup; Rose made 10-footer; Rose made 14-footer + 1 free throw; Rose made layup; Rose missed layup (blocked by Teague); offensive rebound; Rose missed 14-footer; offensive rebound; Rose missed 8-footer; Rose missed layup; Kyle Korver made 17-footer (Rose assists); C.J. Watson turnover; Taj Gibson 2-for-2 at the line; shot clock violation; Rose turnover; Luol Deng missed three-pointer; offensive rebound; Rose made 7-footer and the foul; Rose misses free throw; Rose made layup; Rose missed layup; Rose missed 6-footer; Rose turnover; Salvatore’s blown call; Korver missed three-pointer; Deng made layup (Rose assists); Korver turnover; Rose made layup.

In summary: The Bulls' fourth quarter offense consisted of only 2 assists (both by Rose), 4 free throw attempts, 5 turnovers and 17 field goal attempts...12 by Rose.

That's just bad basketball.

Also in this game, referee Bennett Salvatore took some heat for initially calling a foul on the below play then changing his mind.

Salvatore initially blew his whistle and raised his arm as if to call a foul, but then ran to the scorer's table to wave it off.

And despite the complaints I've read, that was the right thing to do. Rose created the contact with Crawford there; if anything it was an offensive foul and I'm sick of players who create contact getting rewarded.

I have no idea who will win this series. The Bulls are the better team when it's actually, you know, a team, but if Rose keeps dominating the ball I like Atlanta's chances. Josh Smith is playing well, and Joe Johnson is tearing it up, averaging 21 ppg on 54% shooting overall and a blistering 66.7% shooting from deep.

Memphis-Oklahoma City

Oklahoma City had three last-second shots last night, and all three were terrible. Luckily this didn't come back to bite them in the end, but I have to wonder about their coaching.

Russell Westbrook is going to the Derrick Rose of Point Guards Who Shoot Too Much, as he took 33 shots last night, 13 more than Durant, and recorded only five assists. To be fair, he shot much better than Rose (45%) but come on, dude. Pass the rock and maybe you don't need three overtimes to beat Memphis.

Marc Gasol is a beast. Last night he had 26 points and 21 rebounds (10 offensive) on 55% shooting. Z-Bo 34 and 16 on 36% shooting, but mostly made up for that by hitting 16 of his 17 free throw attempts. The guards for Memphis aren't nearly as good, but maybe in the playoffs it's all about the bigs.

Another uncertain series. I'd like to give the nod to the Grizzlies, considering their dominance down low, but Game 7 is in Oklahoma, and that's a big deal. I'm just rooting for exciting games the rest of the way.

Los Angeles Lakers-Dallas

And I've saved the best for last. Considering the current state of the Jazz, my enjoyment of this NBA season was tied directly to the odds of L.A. winning their third title in a row. While the Lakers had their bad moments during the regular season, they were still favorites to win it all, and my happiness was in dire jeopardy.

Then the Mavs swept L.A. and absolutely crushed them doing it.

All is well.

I mean, the Lakers even came off as completely classless in the series loss, thanks to Artest, Odom and Bynum all behaving badly at points. I couldn't have asked for more.

So I'm basking in the glow made possible by Jason Terry playing out of his mind for this series and Dirk being Dirk. Sure, the Lakers will probably trade Matt Barnes and a couple draft picks to Orlando for Dwight Howard, but right now, the franchise is in shambles.

I'm sure David Stern is quaking in his boots at the prospect of an Atlanta-Memphis Finals, but it'd be a fun ride to get there.

03 May 2011

Upset upsets upsets!

Major upsets across the NBA in this, the second round of the playoffs in 2011. The Grizzlies stuck it to Kevin Durant and his Thunder in Oklahoma City, Dallas overcame a 16-point deficit to beat the Lakers in L.A and Atlanta has a 1-0 lead on the Bulls going into Game 2 Wednesday.

The significance? 76% of Game 1 winners in a 7-game playoff win the series. Past indicators are no guarantee of future performance, but that's a pretty hefty stat. And the trends we saw in these first games (Boozer can't really score on Zaza/Horford, Perkins could not handle Z-Bo, Dirk was unguardable at the high post) are not likely to change.

A Dallas/Memphis conference finals would not shock me. Nor would a Miami/Atlanta final in the East. Or a Boston/Atlanta final, to tell the truth, although Boston is in an 0-2 hole). The parity here is kinda shocking. No team looks complete, they all have weaknesses they're trying to hide.

In other news, Derrick Rose won the MVP award today. Now, I know it's a regular-season award, but boy howdy are his stats atrocious in the playoffs so far. He's at 38% shooting overall and 23% from deep against the Pacers and Hawks.


To be fair, the other young and seeming heir to the point guard throne, Russell Westbrook, has also been struggling, and since he has Kevin Durant to pass to, it seems an even more egregious sin than Rose's wanton chucking.

Anyway, it's been one heck of a postseason. Here's to another few weeks of great basketball.