A Substitute for War

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Posts Tagged ‘NBA Finals

Embrace chaos, trade Irving for Cousins

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Despite a healthy Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love the Cavaliers Finals is going worse than without them last year. There’s a lot of reasons for this beyond them. The Warriors are a different team with Stephen Curry and Draymond Green taking their games to new heights this year and having none of the first Finals nerves they had the first three games last year. The Cavs are all without perhaps their 2nd most important player last Finals in Timofey Mozgov who helped them control the interior.

Mostly this is just a bad matchup for Cleveland. The three series the Warriors have struggled in the most the last two years in Memphis, Cleveland last year and Oklahoma City all had the same story. They used a big frontcourt to control the boards and limit Golden State’s transition game and ability to go small. They turned the series into a fight when the Warriors are most comfortable dancing. In this finals so far the Warriors are dancing. Last year Dellavedova, Thompson and Mozgov playing together gave the Cavaliers the physical edge to mess up the Warriors rhythm.

If this series continue this direction the Cavaliers could be pertinent to move on from the Lebron, Irving and Love era now. The matchup against the Warriors won’t get better next year if they play again. If they luck out and avoid the Warriors, having Irving and Love trying to defend the most athletic team in the league in the Thunder and most athletic player in Westbrook may not turn out better. With a limited supply of prime Lebron James years left the Cavs can’t waste many more opportunities.

Two popular trade rumors are Kyrie Irving for Chris Paul and Kevin Love for Carmelo Anthony. The former would work beautifully for the Cavaliers but it’s unclear if the Clippers want to downgrade at PG especially after watching Irving’s flaws in these finals. Paul’s skill and IQ should allow him to age gracefully and if he declines by his mid 30s, it may only be to the level of effectiveness Irving is right now. Love works on the Knicks, but the  Cavs getting more perimeter orientated, worse at rebounding and not any better on defense could be playing into the Warriors hands.

The trade I like is Kyrie Irving for DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings are currently under the gun with Cousins having 2 years left on his contract, but the history of stars in his position like Carmelo, Deron, Love, Dwight has been the star getting traded before the end of his deal, meaning they likely have to prove themselves by the end of this season and there’s not a great deal of reason to be optimistic about the Kings contending for the playoffs next season. If they do end up trading Cousins one day, trading him for a high draft pick and rebuilding is a hard path for the Kings to stomach due to their draft pick obligations including an unprotected 1st in 2019 to the Sixers. They are also moving into a new stadium making bottoming out less appealing.

Kyrie has three seasons left before he can opt out, giving them a key extra year of breathing room. Since the cap is shooting to the moon, I believe if the Kings are 30 million+ under the salary cap they can also use the sparsely seen contract renegotiation tool to lock him up early one of the next two summers.

He would represent a fresh start for the Kings on and off the court. They would build a modern offensive team with Kyrie as their Curry or Lillard while developing young pieces like Willie Cauley-Stein, Ben McLemore and their top 8 pick this year. At 24 Kyrie is young enough to break out to new heights statistically on his own team and gives them a popular star to launch the new stadium with. The deal stabilizes the feet under the Kings.

For the Cavs, no other player would move them more towards the big ball style that has frustrated the Warriors than Cousins. The Thompson and Cousins frontcourt play as a mega version of the 2015 playoffs Thompson and Mozgov by dominating the glass and force the Warriors smallball lineup off the court when Cousins proved too big for Draymond to guard. While Cousins isn’t known of his defense the Kings have been much better with him on the court on that end, he is one of the biggest and longest players in the league and always leads the league in charges. There’s a chance that like Chris Bosh when he went from Toronto to Miami, when relieved of the energy of carrying the offense he uses his physical tools to become a great defender. This didn’t happen for Kevin Love because his physical tools limited him.

While the Cavaliers would be lacking in offensive guard talent, on a team where Lebron is the real PG, Dellavedova’s defense, passing and shooting may be all the Cavs need at starting PG. Furthermore if they want to they can still trade Love to balance their roster. While they could keep Love to be stretch big and 3rd option beside Lebron and Cousins, a deal like Love for Jae Crowder, Kelly Olynyk, Amir Johnson would give the Cavs a badly needed 3 and D player in Crowder, a big man who excels in guarding pick and rolls in Amir while keeping a stretch big to play Love’s in Olynyk. All three players are known for high basketball IQ increasing the chance the Cavs get to a high level of defensive and passing intelligence to match up with the Warriors.

Sure, Cousins is a chemistry risk as he brings chaos wherever he goes. But this is not the time for the Cavs to play it safe. Play to win or go home. Cousins cares too much more than he cares too little and that fire could be tapped into on a winning team.

Written by jr.

June 7, 2016 at 11:58 am

On the Spurs Game 6 collapse (or lack thereof)

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San Antonio Spurs approach bench during a timeout.

San Antonio Spurs approach bench during a timeout. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The finish to Game 6 of the Finals will go down in history, due to the likelihood of the Spurs winning when headed to the FT line up 4 with 28 seconds left. A extra FT or defensive rebound closes the game. The Spurs losing that game will haunt them and those players forever.

However, I wouldn’t call it a historic collapse for this reason. The Heat led by 3 points with 1:27 left in the game and after charging back from the 10 point deficit to storm the 4th, felt as if in control of the game, playing at home, having the momentum and with Lebron James playing perhaps the best quarter of his career to that point. From there Tony Parker hit a crazy 26 foot 3pter, followed by a Chalmers turnover turning into a Parker score, then Lebron turning it over on the next 2 possessions, both ending in Ginobili at the FT line, where he hit 3 of 4. In all, the Spurs scored 8 points in a row in less than a minute, turning a 3 point deficit at 1:27 to a 5 point lead at 0:28. For the Spurs to have this sudden surge took a combination of clutch play by their stars scoring or forcing turnovers, fortune and devastating decisions in succession by Miami. In other words, it’s the inverse of what Miami needed to erase their 5 point deficit in the last 28 seconds. For the crushing misfortune the Spurs suffered in the last 28 seconds, they had just as much good luck in the 1 minute before then to shockingly get to that point, if not more. The Spurs in fact outscore the Heat by 3 in the last 1:27. To me, heading into the last 28 seconds the Spurs were about to steal a game they hadn’t controlled all quarter. That’s why I wouldn’t call it a historic collapse.

For the Spurs, I would consider it as big a criticism that a lead that was 13 late in the 3rd and 10 heading into the 3rd, was lost midway through the 4th. The lack of Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan in the last half minute of the 3rd and the first 2-3 minutes of the 4th, may have allowed the Heat to get a grasp on the game. In particular I’m shocked Leonard came off for those 2-3 minutes considering his athleticism and endurance at his age, with Duncan off they really needed Kawhi’s help defense and activity.

Interestingly, in 2011 even though in retrospect it felt like Dallas’ Game 6 win was inevitable, Dallas led by 9 heading into the 4th and, but Miami scored 5 straight points to start the quarter to cut it to 4. This was followed by 8 straight points by Jason Terry and JJ Barea with Miami not scoring for 3 minutes, to push the lead back to 12. In the Spurs Game 6, it was the Spurs who didn’t score from 3 straight minutes as their 82-77 lead went to a 82-85 deficit. In many ways, this game was Lebron’s reprieve for Game 6 of 2011. In that game he couldn’t provide the energy to turn the game to Miami’s, while in this one he not only did he dominate the 4th, but he shut down Tony Parker and the Spurs offense at the same time.

Although it was relatively successful for the Spurs, I still think taking the Tim Duncan-Tiago Splitter pairing out of the series, was a fascinating decision by the Spurs. Splitter is a blue chip center and the combination of him, Leonard and Duncan together was a devastating combination of defensive size. The Spurs took away a potential advantage in the post and on the glass by eliminating their big lineup. It’s unclear whether this was a good thing or not. Although there’s reason to be concerned about bigs guarding Miami’s small lineup, Indiana proved they could compete with a traditional David West-Roy Hibbert lineup. Playing big puts their bigs in defensive problems, but it also throws Miami’s gameplan off. Although San Antonio almost won the series, on paper it seems a smallball series is the way Miami wanted to play. It’s hard to beat a team like Miami at their game.

When looking at Miami’s 2 titles, I really have to credit them for winning big games on the road. There have been a remarkable amount of series for the Heat the last two series where the opponent team ‘had’ homecourt advantage at some point during it. Meaning against the 2013 Spurs, 2013 Pacers, 2013 Bulls, 2012 Thunder, 2012 Celtics, 2012 Pacers, the other team were at a point where they just had to win all their remaining home games to close out the Heat. But in Game 4 against the Spurs, Game 3 against the 2013 Pacers, Game 3 against the Bulls, Game 2 against the Thunder and Game 3 against the 2012 Pacers, (with the exception of the lay-up Bulls series) the Heat avoided either elimination or a very perilous state by going into the other team’s building and beating them, usually in dominant fashion.

As for the Spurs this year will still be an important and memorable part of their history despite the loss. But they aren’t done either even if Tim Duncan dips sharply from here and Ginobili retires or makes Spurs fans wish he had. With a few more Tony Parker prime seasons expected to come and the Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter, along with potentially more draft additions by that scouting staff, they have the horses to contend next year, if not ones after that. Leonard may be following the progression of Rajon Rondo, who started off as the 4th wheel for the Celtics in 2008, before in a short period of time surpassing them all to be the star and face of the team by 2010. Leonard could be the guy on the Spurs as early as next year. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if San Antonio is the 2014 champions, following in the footsteps of the late 80s Pistons, probably the best comparable for an agonizing loss of the title in Game 6 and 7 in 1988 followed by winning in 1989 and 1990.

This series was one of the best I’ve ever seen. It was exceptional both on a game by game entertainment level with massive historical consequences. This was a Finals, Game 6/7 and playoff series that will stand out in the annuls of history and the NBA will be missed for the summer.

Written by jr.

June 21, 2013 at 1:43 pm

NBA Finals Thoughts

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Miami Heat

Miami Heat (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

When predicting the Finals or previous rounds, I try to take a perspective of “How would you feel about this match-up if you’d heard about it before the playoffs?”, meaning not to fall prey to overreacting to previous rounds. Clearly most would have greatly favored Miami going into the playoffs over San Antonio or anyone else.

With that said, the Spurs defense has impressed me far more in the playoffs. The Spurs have not been able to win games “ugly” and with defense in the playoffs for years like they did against Memphis and Golden State and now they can. The development of Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter has brought the Spurs defense back to relevance. On the other hand the Heat’s switch to a smaller lineup phasing Joel Anthony out of the lineup, has prevented them from consistent elite defensive results. If the Heat were a shut-down defensive team the Pacers series would’ve been much shorter because like the Grizzlies, the Heat could’ve just exposed the Pacers flawed offense. Although at times the Heat defense stepped up such as in Game 7, overall I trust the Spurs defense more.

One of the reasons the Grizzlies went down so easily to the Spurs is predictability. The Grizzlies leaned far too much in 3 players in Mike Conley, Jr., Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol. The Popovich defensive game-planning were able to key on them. The spacing, passing and off ball play of the other Heat players aside from Lebron, will make it difficult to push the Heat into the flat offensive gameplan they want them to.

The Spurs players’ production has largely been expected compared to regular season play. However the Heat have had different production. Wade and Bosh have been worse, Chris Anderson has been better, and Battier hasn’t been playing. The Heat with Wade and Bosh playing back at regular season level can make a step up as a team compared to what we’ve seen. The biggest way they get worse is if Lebron’s play drops off. For the Spurs to step up their play it’d be by Manu upping his play, albeit he’s been off all year.

If the Heat role players match the Spurs’, the Heat likely win the series just because of Lebron. Lebron and equal help probably doesn’t lose. The way the Heat lose is either Lebron disappoints like in 2011 or he gets no help. The Spurs need to decide whether to shut down the Heat role players while letting Lebron do what he wants, or trying to stop Lebron.

Although it’s unfair, if Lebron loses the Finals twice in three years at his apex as the favorite and with home court advantage it will be hard to live down. Nevertheless making 3 straight Finals puts the Heat in a rare and proud class. I see the Heat losing next year. This Heat team reminds me of the 2010 Lakers where making the Finals 3 straight years was showing on them. Even if they grinded out a 2nd title, that run showed signs of how it’d end the following year. The reason the Heat losing the 2011 title hurts them so much is that their window would never run into infinity with their big 3 running into double digits for seasons played, which is usually when players decline. As superhuman as he is, even Lebron’s prime may end sooner than people believe. Lebron has played over 36,000 minutes in the regular season and playoffs combined and is set to tack on 3000-3800 a year from now on. Normally 40,000 thousand is a dangerous number for when players start to slip. Put it this way, if Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison retired right now, Lebron would pass them by the end of next season with minutes played similar to this season. He’d take about 2 seasons to catch Steve Nash and 3 seasons to catch Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce if they all retired now. Like recent Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, Lebron will likely be a fantastic player deep into his 30s, but the apex version of Lebron racking up MVPs, may only last 1 or 2 more years, with 3 seeming the absolute max.

Admittedly I don’t have a great feel for who wins this series. I don’t feel the matchup favors one team or the other. So I’ll predict this – The first two games in Miami are split. San Antonio wins 2 of 3 at home, which leads the Spurs to have a 3-2 lead going back to the 2 games in Miami. From there it’s probably a toss-up whether San Antonio closes out the series or if Miami wins back to back at home.

Prediction: Miami in 7 games

I pick Miami because of home court advantage favoring them in the 7th game if they get there and because of the greatness of where Lebron’s game is right now.

Written by jr.

June 6, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Responding to Magic’s Lebron comments and Bill Reiter’s takedown of ESPN ranking Lebron the #1 player in the league

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LeBron James

Image by Keith Allison via Flickr

On the eve of Magic Johnson providing another meaty quote about Lebron’s 2011 Finals, Bill Reiter at foxsportsflorida.com wrote a very good and clear article about the fallacy of still putting James on a pedastal after a frankly embarrasing shrinking act in the playoffs. As Reiter quotes, Magic said to a crowd at the University of Albany:

Veering from his point that it’s better to be remembered for off-court accomplishments, Magic said, “There’s going to always be great players in basketball. There’s going to always be guys who win championships in the NBA — except LeBron.”

Followed by: “Everybody’s always asking, ‘Who is better between Kobe (Bryant) and LeBron?’ I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me? Kobe, five championships; LeBron, zero.'”

Followed by: “Stop trying to compare him to Michael Jordan. Come on, man, six championships for Jordan. You know that Michael averaged over 30 points every playoff series? Don’t try to touch that.”

Reiter responds in part by saying

If only stats mattered, and rising to the moment did not, Joe Montana would not be the greatest quarterback of all time. His winner-take-all intangibles would pale in comparison to someone like Dan Marino.

If this logic held, Wilt Chamberlain would be the Michael Jordan of the NBA. No one ever has, or will, compete with Wilt on the statistical plane. Yet there’s a reason serious basketball people look at Jordan, Magic, Kareem, Russell and a slew of others with a higher level of respect.

That’s why “Mr. October” means something in baseball.

Closing matters. Winning matters. Otherwise it’s all just a glorified version of fantasy sports.

This is so clear — as is the fact LeBron so ferociously undermined his own natural talent with mental weakness and big-game frailty — that stating that fact no longer constitutes dangerous ground for most informed basketball and sports people.

I completley agree with both Magic and Reiter Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

October 23, 2011 at 1:49 pm

2011 Player of the Year – Final

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The Player of the Year Watch has gone on all season long. Here we have the Final ranking.

Player (last rank)

1. Dirk Nowitzki (1A)

This is an easy choice for me. When it comes to literally lifting a team, Dirk has been the personification of this all year long. With the way LeBron came on against Chicago, I thought he was going to make me toss that aside but it didn’t happen.

I’ll admit that I actually thought that Wade was the MVP of the Finals over Dirk, but over the course of the entire season, nobody contributed value like Dirk.

2. Dwight Howard (3)

My regular season MVP got knocked off his perch down to the 3rd spot after the Conference Finals. However he floats back up a spot after LeBron’s weak Finals play. I’m always hesitant to let someone who has already been eliminated rise in my rankings, particularly when they were eliminated in an upset in the first round, however I can’t find real fault in Howard’s playoff performance, and what happened in the Finals did sway my opinion on LeBron’s season.

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The Mental LeBron James

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Image via Baltimore Sun

While I’ll readily admit that people go overboard when throwing players under the bus as chokers, cowards, etc, the fact remains that the mental side of sports is huge. Any fan who claims to not think about the psychological strengths and weaknesses of athletes is lying either to others or themselves.

The urge to play armchair shrink is irresistible, and really why does it need to be resisted? Yes you want to keep perspective and not go overboard, but when a player has had the kind of strange play LeBron James has, it’s simply unreasonable to insist only Xs and Os can be the cause.

Without further ado, my take on LeBron’s NBA Finals and his mentality in general.

It all started innocently enough

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Written by Matt Johnson

June 15, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Defending Chris Bosh’s emotion after Game 6

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Chris Bosh and LeBron James

Image by Keith Allison via Flickr

I know there’s a lot of other subjects people will discuss after these Finals. But I want to touch on a smaller moment and point of discussion: Chris Bosh breaking down into apparant tears in the hallway after the game, and at one point falling down on his knees. This drew ridicule from many fans. Bosh has had a reputation as a “soft” player for a while, attracting much of the hate directed at the Heat. This was one more reason for the vultures to swirl around Bosh’s lack of physicality in the game. I felt the opposite. I liked Bosh’s emotion and pain after this crushing Finals loss.

I want my players to react to a loss the way Bosh did. No, they don’t have to break down into visible tears – it’s not about what’s on the surface. But I want them to be as invested in winning the title that losing hurts this much. I want this to be the worst day of their lives. I want the game to mean that much to them. Because if it does, they’re surely giving it all on the court. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

June 13, 2011 at 7:26 pm

Lebron’s Game 5: To play well, but not the right kind of well

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LeBron James in New York City to discuss the f...

Image via Wikipedia

The vultures are swirling around LeBron James after Game 5, yet another quiet performance for the self appointed King. Not all the hate is deserved. Lebron by most standards had an effective game as shown by his 17 point, 10 rebound and 10 assist statline. He aggresively went after rebounds, looked to score inside, and shredded the Mavericks defense with passes – particularly in the first half of the 4th.

Yes, Lebron played effectively. But it wasn’t the right kind of effective.

The truth is, taking a Finals game on the road is not just about playing well. It’s about gaining a mental edge over the home team. It’s about controlling the game. And this is Lebron’s great failure in these playoffs so far. Read the rest of this entry »

The Heatle Redundancy

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Multi-Headed Snake = not as scary as you thought it would be

Well, obviously the big story of the moment is LeBron Jameslack of production in the NBA Finals. I want to hold off discussing that though and talk about what I consider the broader phenomenon. That being the fact that the Miami Heat have a redundant collection of talent.

When people fantasize about super-teams such as the Heatles, the primary scenario on their mind is an offensive one. They imagine that the amount of effort that will be required to stop James will leave Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh wide open thus leading to an unstoppable offense.

We’d be stupid NOT to do this!

Game 5 shows a snapshot of this not happening. After a series in which LeBron has been crucified for his passivity, the streaking Wade went down with an injury and went out for a long stretch. What happened? The Heat didn’t fall apart, rather they actually outscored the Mavs, and LeBron scored at a much better rate and efficiency than he done with Wade on the court.

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Written by Matt Johnson

June 10, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Aftermath of a Miami-Dallas Game 3 classic: When a 1st quarter matters more than a 4th

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Dwyane Wade playing with the Miami Heat

Dwyane Wade has been the true King in these FInals (Image via Wikipedia)

I loved Game 3 of the Dallas vs Miami NBA Finals. It’s an ESPN classic game in my books. In fact I’m going to be really hyperbolic and call that one of my favorite NBA games of all time. I’ve never had more to say about a game at the least.

So where did Miami trump Dallas in this game? True, they were a little better in the last few minutes and won by a basket. But that’s not really where Miami won and Dallas lost this game. That came in in the 1st quarter.

Dallas started Game 3 playing unbelievably bad defense. It’s one thing for a good offense to find open shots, it’s another for Dwyane Wade and LeBron James (more on them later) to get wide open, uncontested scores/dunks in the paint. My hunch says it all came down to Brendan Haywood’s injury leaving Tyson Chandler worried about fouling early. With intensity and strong close-outs inside the Mavericks title caliber defense momentarily collapsed.

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