Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Dwayne Wade and more

21-5-7-31-31-3 ... the number of games missed by Dwayne Wade in each of his six NBA seasons. The verdict? When Wade is healthy, he's one of the game's best and capable of leading his team to a championship (2006). Problem is, he's injured again -- this time after he turned in his most productive season, one in which he also set career-highs in games (79) and minutes played (3,048). And after the Hawks evened the first-round series against Wade's Heat on Monday night, does Wade have enough to get Miami two wins in the final three games of the series (two on the road)? Not likely. And more important, will Wade's career ultimately be defined by the games he missed more than the ones he played.

Given that Chris Paul is under contract with the Hornets for at least three more years (player option for 2013), it's probably time for New Orleans to replace Byron Scott with a coach to take the Hornets to the next level. Scott is about to finish his fifth season with the team (if the Nuggets close out the series in Game 5) and it's win totals of 18-38-39-56-49, includes last year's trip to the playoffs that ended in a trip to the Western semifinals. However, despite this season's step backward that was primarily the result of injuries to Tyson Chandler and Peja Stojakovic, it seems the Hornets are in need of a new voice from the bench. And when evaluating coaching candidates, they better find one that connects with Paul.

Anyone else think Jerry Sloan's tirade and subsequent ejection in the closing minutes of Utah's series-ending loss to the Lakers on Tuesday had more to do with his disgust for his team's lack of effort for five games than his disagreement with a handful of calls down the stretch?

The Lakers are heavy favorites to get out of the West, but I'm not sure they're favorites anymore to defeat the Cavs. LA has five weeks and two more series to get sharper, but their lapses, especially at the defensive end, after racing out to big leads are a concern. The Lakers can be so dynamic on offense, but Cleveland right now is at the top of its game: No. 1 in FG defense, No. 1 in 3-point FG defense. The Cavs were efficient offensively throughout the regular season, but their title hopes hinge on getting enough offense to outscore the Lakers.

Hard to believe, but the Rockets have become much more likable. Yes, even with Ron Artest. Without Tracy McGrady, Houston has a new identity: lunch pails and hard hats. Artest, Yao Ming, Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes, etc.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Quick thoughts

The Lakers' offense is so efficient, as evidenced by a remarkable first quarter in Game 2 against the Jazz. Los Angeles scored 41 points on 18-for-21 shooting (86 percent), tallied 14 assists on those 18 baskets, and led by 12 after 12 minutes. The Lakers are simply toying with Utah, scoring easily, even without a lot of points or shot attempts by Kobe Bryant. The biggest problem for Los Angeles? Complacency and wavering focus, in light of such big leads. Still, don't expect the Lakers to face a defense that can slow them until a Finals matchup against the Cavs or Celtics.

After Tony Parker shredded the Mavs for 38 points in the Spurs' Game 2 victory, Dallas center Erick Dampier said that his first foul (in Game 3) is going to put Parker on his back. "I guarantee it," Dampier told The Dallas Morning News. The effectiveness of that mind-set and/or tactic is questionable, but making it known? Not smart. And now word comes down that the NBA is further reviewing Dampier's comments. Problem is, for the strategy to work, Parker has to be susceptible to shying away from contact when hit early and often. And that hasn't been the case. My advice to Parker: Be even more aggressive.

Cleveland's Mike Brown was voted Coach of the Year. It was a well-deserved honor for Brown. The Cavs were a league-best 66-16 and are a strong contender to win an NBA title. Of course, league MVP LeBron James is the reason why. But the only measure of a coach that matters is if he maximized his team's performance, which Brown certainly did. He incorporated new point guard Mo Williams into his system, and took a cue from Gregg Popovich's playbook in developing consistent roles for every player on the roster. The Cavs are dialed in, and if they don't win a title this year, it will be because they aren't quite good enough, not because they underachieved.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Too much hospitality

In losing 108-81 to Houston in Game 1 on Saturday, Portland became just the second team in NBA history to lose by more than 25 points on its home floor in the opening game of a playoff series.

The other? Phoenix lost at home to Utah, 129-90, in Game 1 of a first-round Western Conference series in 1991. In the smallest of sample sizes, the 2009 Blazers can take the smallest amount of solace ... Phoenix bounced back to win Game 2 at home, 102-93, before losing a pair of games in Utah to drop the series, 3-1.

The Suns' reaction back then:

Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons: "It's a sad commentary I really have no explanation on why our team looked so poorly."

Jeff Hornacek: "We were just flat. It was just one of those nights. Things started out bad and continued that way."

Kevin Johnson: "Our concentration broke down. I think that we played excited, but we didn't hustle and there is no excuse for that."

Portland's reaction after Game 1:

Coach Nate McMillan: "It's a bad night. We lost."

Joel Przybilla: "I think it's disappointing that we didn't come out to play from the start. There's no reason why we shouldn't have come out with the same intensity."

A common thread is the lack of intensity. Veteran players often talk about how much more intense the playoffs are compared to the regular season, and how there is no way players facing their first postseason game can accurately anticipate such a jump.

The young Blazers certainly appeared overwhelmed in their opener. Can they bounce back in Game 2? And even if they do, are they ready to win the series? Or are they not yet ready, as analyst Jeff Van Gundy claims?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Playoff series records by team

Playoff series records (2003-08)
Team, Overall, With H/C, Without H/C
Blazers ------ 0-1 ----- 0-0 ----- 0-1
Clippers ----- 1-1 ----- 1-0 ----- 0-1
Grizzlies ----- 0-3 ----- 0-0 ----- 0-3
Hornets ----- 1-3 ------1-1------0-3
Jazz ---------- 3-3 ----- 1-0 ----- 2-3
Kings -------- 2-4 ----- 2-0 ----- 0-4
Lakers ------- 7-5 ----- 4-1 ----- 3-4
Mavs --------- 6-6 ----- 5-2 ----- 1-4
Nuggets ----- 0-5 ----- 0-0 ----- 0-5
Rockets ----- 0-4 ----- 0-2 ----- 0-2
Sonics ------- 1-1 ----- 1-0 ----- 0-1
Spurs ------- 16-3 ---- 13-2 ----- 3-1
Suns ---------- 5-5 ----- 5-2 ----- 0-3
T'wolves ------ 2-2 ----- 2-2 ----- 0-0
Warriors ----- 1-1 ----- 0-0 ----- 1-1

Team, Overall, With H/C, Without H/C
Bucks ------- 0-3 ----- 0-0 ----- 0-3
Bulls --------- 1-3 ----- 1-1 ----- 0-2
Cavs -------- 5-3 ----- 4-0 ----- 1-3
Celtics ------ 5-3 ----- 4-1 ----- 1-2
Hawks ------ 0-1 ------0-0 -----0-1
Heat --------- 7-3 ----- 5-1 ----- 2-2
Magic ------- 1-3 ----- 1-0 ----- 0-3
Nets --------- 6-6 ----- 4-0 ----- 2-6
Pacers ------ 3-4 ----- 2-2 ----- 1-2
Pistons ----- 15-5 ---- 12-3 ---- 3-2
Raptors ----- 0-2 ----- 0-1 ----- 0-1
76ers -------- 1-3 ----- 1-0 ----- 0-3
Wizards ----- 1-4 ----- 0-0 ----- 1-4

Playoff records by seed

Since the NBA went to the 16-team playoff format in 1984 ...

No. 1 vs. No. 8: 47-3 (1994 Nuggets d. Sonics; 1999 Knicks d. Heat; 2008 Warriors d. Mavs)

No. 2 vs. No. 7: 46-4 (1987 Sonics d. Mavs; 1989 Warriors d. Jazz; 1991 Warriors d. Spurs; 1998 Knicks d. Heat)

No. 3 vs. No. 6: 36-14

No. 4 vs. No. 5: 25-25

Spurs-Mavs -- Game 1 thread

Mavs win, 105-97.

Thoughts on Game 1 ...

* Rick Carlisle is a big improvement.

* The Spurs' new supporting cast needs get in playoff mode in a hurry.

* JJ Barea just might the biggest difference-maker in this series: 13 points, 3 assists, game-best +17, 0 turnovers in 26 minutes.

Nowitzki 2 in a row. Mavs, 99-89.

Mason for 3. Spurs within 7, 95-88.

Dampier tip-in. Mavs, 95-83.

Barea runner. Mavs, 93-83.

Barea 3-point play. Mavs, 91-83.

Spurs led league in defensive rebound percentage, but have been hurt by key rebounds in the second half tonight.

Wonder if rookie George Hill will get playing time to slow Barea.

In addition to his offense and strong +/-, Barea is playing down the stretch ahead of Kidd, and just drew a second offensive foul on Parker.

Duncan 3-point play. Spurs within 3, 86-83.

Wright for 3. Mavs, 86-80.

Parker for 3. Spurs down 1, 81-80.

Barea currently +11 for the game.

Barea against the clock. Mavs, 81-77.

Wright a tough 3-point play. Mavs, 79-77.

Mason for 3 to the serenade of Welcome to the Jungle. Spurs, 77-74.

No coach dislikes the end-quarter interviews more than Popovich.

End of three quarters. 74-all.

Duncan again off glass, 9-0 run. 72-all.

Duncan two in a row, Mason a 3. Spurs within 2, 72-70.

Duncan is a legend, but he complains way too much about non-calls.

Mavs shooting better than 70 percent in the third, lead, 72-63.

Howard 2-for-2 at the line. Mavs, 70-63.

Spurs suffering numerous breakdowns at the defensive end. Bonner could not play a worse game.

Howard for 3. Mavs, 64-61.

Howard is on fire: eight in the quarter, 20 in the game. Mavs, 57-54.

Nowitzki from the baseline. Mavs, 51-49.

Howard and Barea score to open the half. 49-all.

Spurs should be a little concerned ... They shot 49 percent, only had two turnovers, and held Nowitzki to five points in just 14 minutes, yet only lead by four.

Howard six in a row for the Mavs, who trail at the break, 49-45.

Terry a deep 3 from the top. Mavs back within 6, 45-39.

Spurs are the best at closing out shooters and running them off the 3-point line.

Gooden over Kidd in the post. Spurs, 39-26.

Nowitzki picks up his third foul with 8:28 to go in second quarter and Mavs down 33-24.

Gooden inside. Spurs, 33-24.

No scoring on the floor for the Spurs, whose drought reaches 2:18.

Mason deep 3 to close the quarter. Spurs, 29-18.

Udoka drives for 2. Spurs, 26-16.

Corner 3 by Bowen. Spurs, 24-16.

Not sure why teams help on Kidd's drive anymore. Make him finish at the rim.

Parker drives for 2. Spurs, 18-13.

Parker drives for 2. Spurs, 16-13.

I know it's early, but hard to imagine the Spurs won't get any shot they want the entire series against the Mavs defense. Spurs, 14-10.

Parker missing early, but five trips inside the paint in the first 4:30. Spurs, 11-7.

West First Round Predictions

Lakers (1) vs. Jazz (8)
Los Angeles won 65 games, is motivated by last year's Finals loss, and healthier/deeper than a year ago with defensive stopper Trevor Ariza and the recent return of center Andrew Bynum. The Lakers ranked third in offensive rating and their defensive numbers are also improved. Couple all of that with an opponent who offers little resistance and just listened to the fatalistic outlook of coach Jerry Sloan. Utah's home crowd might be worth one victory in the series this year (not two). The Jazz's only hope is for Deron Williams to play with a killer, almost selfish, instinct from tip to buzzer every night. Lakers in 5

Nuggets (2) vs. Hornets (7)
New Orleans' depth has always been an issue, which means the starters have to be healthy and on top of their games. That's not the case right now. Tyson Chandler returns from injury, but Peja Stojakovic has not been effective of late. The Hornets will go as far as David West and primarily Chris Paul will carry them -- and Paul is capable of winning a series by himself. But the Nuggets, thanks to the addition of Chauncey Billups and better offensive (No. 5 FG percentage) and defensive (No. 4) balance, are poised to win their first playoff series since stunning top-seeded Seattle 1994. Nuggets in 6

Spurs (3) vs. Mavs (6)
Without Manu Ginobili, San Antonio's odd-year run of championships will most certainly come to an end, but don't count out the Spurs from making some noise. It's a proud group, with a ton of playoff mettle and still very confident and comfortable with what it does best. The offense is now being carried by point guard Tony Parker, who ranked fourth in the NBA in usage (31.7). Parker also hit the Mavs for 22-29-37-37 in four regular season meetings. The Mavs, on the other hand, landed a familiar foe and one they conquered in their greatest playoff triumph (a Game 7 win in San Antonio in 2006). It's going the distance again, but Parker is the difference. Spurs in 7

Blazers (4) vs. Rockets (5)
Portland's late-season flourish -- 10 wins in 11 games, including 4-1 vs. playoff teams -- is no fluke. The Blazers led the NBA in offensive rating and offensive rebounding and were No. 4 in 3-point shooting. They have a rising star in Brandon Roy, are a popular pick to challenge the Lakers, and their home court at the Rose Garden could resemble Oracle Arena during Golden State's upset of top-seeded Dallas in 2007. However ... the Rockets, who were a Roy buzzer-beater away from a season-sweep of Portland, have the size (Yao Ming) and the defensive stoppers (Shane Battier and Ron Artest) to get it done. Rockets in 6

Friday, April 17, 2009

East First Round Predictions

Cavs (1) vs. Pistons (8)
Two teams heading in opposite directions: Cleveland is poised to win a title; Detroit's run of six consecutive seasons of at least reaching the conference finals is about to end. All signs, and rightfully so, point to a sweep. Cleveland hit a significant milestone with 66 victories and did it efficiently at both ends of the court (No. 4 in offensive rating, No. 3 in defensive rating). Only remote chance Detroit has is to grind it out, play every game in the 70s and 80s. And with both teams among the most deliberate in the league (Cavs were 25th in pace factor; Pistons were 29th), it's possible, sort of. Cavs in 4

Celtics (2) vs. Bulls (7)
Last season Boston won 66 games, was hungry, and expected to roll to the NBA Finals. Instead, the upstart Hawks pushed all the way to a seventh game before being brushed aside. This time around, the Celtics have a title in their pocket (it's tougher to defend), are banged up, and face a first-round foe (led by rookie point guard Derrick Rose) that very much resembles the young, dynamic Hawks of a year ago. If Boston prevails, it will be because of these defensive numbers (No. 2 in FG percentage, No. 5 in 3-point percentage, No. 2 overall rating), some pride, and the toughness of Paul Pierce. Celtics in 7

Magic (3) vs. 76ers (6)
Orlando isn't at full-strength, but this team has sailed under the Cavs-Lakers radar most of the season. Still, 59 victories is no small feat. And the Magic did it with defense, even though that's not their reputation. No. 1 in FG percentage defense, No. 2 defending the 3, and No. 1 overall rating. Quite impressive. Dwight Howard should reign supreme inside and a couple of 20-20 games could be on the way. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, its two strengths -- offensive rebounding and forcing turnovers -- will be negated by the NBA's No. 2 team on the defensive backboards. Magic in 5

Hawks (4) vs. Heat (5)
One of the most evenly matched first-round series, although the winner is highly unlikely to leave a mark on the Cavs. And while Atlanta arrived a bit last season by pushing the Celtics to seven games, the Hawks lost the four games in Boston by an average of 25 points. That means there is significant pressure on Atlanta to win the first two at home and avoid a must-win in the white-out AmericanAirlines Arena. And yes, Dwyane Wade is capable of winning another series by himself. But the slightest of edges goes to the Hawks because of point guard Mike Bibby and a stronger inside game. Hawks in 7