16 May 2013

Mid-playoffs analysis

Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

So yeah, the NBA playoffs are happening. Ever since we got rid of cable, I've watched maybe two entire NBA games. I still care, but not nearly as much as I used to, which makes sense, I guess.

The consensus among NBA experts and fans seems to be that this is the Heat's title to lose. I agree, and maybe that's part of my disinterest in this year's playoffs. After ripping off a 27-game winning streak and going 8-1 through the playoffs so far, LeBron has won something like 42 of his last 43 games. The only real threat to this team is maybe Memphis? but the Grizzlies just can't score enough versus a great defense to win four games.

And despite the Heat looking as vulnerable as you can while going 4-1 against Chicago, I feel like they're playing possum and conserving energy for when it really matters. Wade has looked like like an old man for the last few weeks (knee problems), but last night? When it was time to clamp down on the Bulls and earn some rest for the conference finals? 18 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds and 2 steals with only one turnover in something of a throwback performance. When it gets down to brass tacks, the Heat have another gear they can get into that no one else can touch.

That said, I really like what the Grizzlies are doing right now. Everything is built around strong, smart defense. Everyone, from Gasol to Allen Conley, know exactly where to funnel driving players and who to double team where and when. You cannot beat them going one-on-one, as the Thunder tried to do for much of that series. As everyone fretted about Memphis giving up their 20-point scorer Rudy Gay for essentially nothing earlier this season, the Grizzlies knew it was addition by subtraction. Getting rid of an inefficient scorer who is bad on defense makes your team better overall.

So here the Grizzlies are. No flashy free agent signings. No one scoring more than 15 a game. An All-Star banger down low (Randolph) and a Defensive Player of the Year (Gasol). Add in some lock down team defense and suddenly they're in the conference finals. The Jazz can do this.

Elsewhere, it was fun to see the Lakers flame out so spectacularly. It's been fun to see the Knicks fall apart when faced with some real defense from Indiana. It was unsurprising, but still kind of sad, to see the Nuggets fall apart in the first round after a great regular season. Just more proof that regular season success is no indicator of future championships.

As an aside, if you look at the likely final four teams: San Antonio, Memphis, Miami and Indiana, the Grizzlies and Pacers were #1 and #2 in defense this season. Miami was fourth and San Antonio was 9th.

Good luck making it far in the playoffs without an elite defense, everyone in the NBA.

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