A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Posts Tagged ‘NBA playoffs

A few NBA playoffs thoughts

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I had a few things to do the last few days, so I didn’t put up a proper playoff prediction article. My thoughts on the playoffs are hardly interesting. I see Miami over New York in the Eastern Conference Final and Oklahoma City over San Antonio in the Western Conference one, then Miami taking out Oklahoma City in the Finals. In the 1st round the only lower seed I took was Golden State over Denver, but David Lee’s season ending injury puts a hitch in that.

A few brief thoughts:

– I have a hard time seeing OKC beating Miami in the Final if they meet. Miami’s athleticism defensively is perfectly built to defend OKC’s dribble drive offense, whereas their ball movement can pick apart the Thunder’s athletic style of defense. I see the best way to beat Miami, is spacing out their defense with 3 point shooting like the 2011 Mavericks did. Defensively I suspect perfect positioning as essential to defending them. This all points to the Spurs as a great fit to challenge them, but also the Knicks in the Eastern Conference Final.

– Despite all the red flags such as Vinny Del Negro and too offensively orientated a roster, the Clippers are my Finals/title darkhorse. The Clippers played at a 59 win pace with Paul in the lineup and that Paul played 33.4 minutes per game and Griffin 32.5 is encouraging, as both those numbers can be supercharged upwards in the playoffs. Furthermore I believe Chris Paul is one of the 20 most talented players of all time and historically, players and talents on that level, are the guys who’ve written the rules of what works in the playoffs. A player of Paul’s talent on his best team to date, should be feared.

– I’d be selling stock on Denver instead of buying if I could. The Nuggets are a flawed halfcourt team due to a lack of skill polish and shooting. This is one of the all time George Karl teams and that includes why his teams largely have underwhelmed in the plaoyffs.

– Other than Miami/Milwaukee and Oklahoma City/Houston, Brooklyn vs Chicago looked like the biggest mismatch even before the blowout first game. Tom Thibodeau would get my coach of the year vote for winning 45 games with this team, but in the playoffs teams cannot escape their talent and the Bulls just don’t have enough going offensively, especially from the guard position. The Bulls are a team that needs to shut down teams defensively to win and the Nets in particular have the individual talents to make that very difficult.

– I could see every game in Oklahoma City/Houston being a double digit win for the Thunder. Oklahoma City is perfectly engineered to guard the Rockets, since the two things the Rockets like to do is dribble into the paint, which is death against the Thunder’s athleticism and rotations – and to create points in transition and of course a team can’t outrun the Thunder. I see the Rockets offense shriveling up and dieing in this series.

– Knicks/Celtics going into the series, felt like it’d either be a blowout for the Knicks or the Celtics winning. I’d argue the way to guard the Knicks is to let Melo shoot as much as possible, while covering the 3pt shooters. Either Boston traps the Knicks into this heroball box, or the Knicks move the ball and rain 3s on their defense, leaving Boston’s inferior offense too much to catch up.

– The Lakers can’t guard the Spurs ball movement. Their perimeter players are too slow to get to those 3pt shooters. As great as the Spurs are, the Thunder and Heat are simply awful matchups for them because they have the rare speed and length needed to rotate to that ball movement and throw the Spurs off their game. If the Thunder don’t make the Finals, I see the Clippers or Grizzlies taking them out, not the Spurs.

Enjoy the playoffs!

Written by jr.

April 21, 2013 at 4:12 pm

Beware the Unconventional Swordsman: Why I still see the Knicks as the biggest threat to the Heat in the East

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Carmelo Anthony

Carmelo Anthony (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

“There are some things that can beat smartness and foresight? Awkwardness and stupidity can. The best swordsman in the world doesn’t need to fear the second best swordsman in the world; no, the person for him to be afraid of is some ignorant antagonist who has never had a sword in his hand before; he doesn’t do the thing he ought to do, and so the expert isn’t prepared for him; he does the thing he ought not to do; and often it catches the expert out and ends him on the spot.”

– Mark Twain

With the Miami Heat on a 27 game winning streak and up 12.5 games on 2nd place in the East, the first 3 rounds of the playoffs in the East looks like a mere formality. After Miami the rest of the East are the Seven Dwarves. Who of the group of Indiana, New York, Brooklyn, Chicago, Atlanta, Boston and Milwaukee can possibly beat this Heat team – and this legend in Lebron James, at their absolute apex? Can they even get more than 1 game against the Heat?

Some are selling themselves on the Pacers or Nets or the Bulls if Derrick Rose returns as a threat, but my overwhelming choice for the “Maybe… if… perhaps” threat to the Heat, is the New York Knicks.

True, the Knicks are only 11-8 after the all-star break and are both old and badly injured. They’re wilting and barely holding onto their division lead and a top 3 seed. The Knicks are not a sexy choice right now.

My case starts with going back to the 2011 Mavericks, the only team to beat these Heat. My theory for why the Mavs pulled this off – and as I predicted before that series – is because of how weird they were to play. The Heat’s stellar athletes were forced to chase 3 point shooters around the perimeter, instead of using their athleticism to protect the paint. Of course this was added to defending Dirk’s spread/post offense at the 4, hands down the most unconventional player to guard in the league. Adding to this, defensively the Mavericks used not freakish athleticism, but intelligence and a coaching bag of tricks. The Mavericks were the opposite of the Heat. Instead of blinding athleticism and slashing, they used skill and shooting. Instead of physically dominating teams defensively, they relied on formation and positioning and weird tricks like sticking Jason Kidd on Lebron. If the Heat were Superman, a supernatural physical force of powers – then the Mavericks were Batman, a hero with no superpowers but incredible intelligence and an array of gadgets. In 2013 with the Heat playing like this, I suspect having a shot comes down to being Batman, not an inferior version of Superman.

The Knicks this year has been built very similarly to the 2011 Mavericks. On both teams Tyson Chandler manned the middle at C, with elite efficiency and positional defense. Carmelo and Dirk play the stretch PF and center the team’s offense. Then on the perimeter, the teams lack great penetrators but a group of perimeter shooters. Instead of driving into the paint against Miami’s swarming help defense, they will wait on the perimeter for shots to open up. The Heat’s athleticism is much less dynamic on defense, when it’s chasing 3 point shooters instead of blocking penetrating.

Another model for the East’s Seven Dwarves to follow is the 2009 Magic, who shocked the 66 win Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Like the 2011 Mavericks, the Magic were a weird team, defined by it’s 6’10+ 3 point shooting combo in Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis flanking Dwight Howard at C. The Magic rained 3s on the Cavaliers, too short to cover those shots. The 2009 Cavaliers were flawed, but playing an untraditional team did not help matters.

In the above Mark Twain quote, the Indiana Pacers are the 2nd best swordsman in the East. They are as fundamentally sound as can get, the play the “right way.” The Heat have no reason to fear the Pacers, their straight laced fundamentals also makes them less likely to play over their heads. But the Knicks are the unconventional swordsman. By relying on the 3 pointer if they get hot and players like Jason Kidd, JR Smith and Steve Novak start hitting from the outside, no amount of athleticism chasing them on the perimeter will be able to stop those shots from going in. Defensively they are old but smart and will try to positionally block off the Heat.

Finally, the Knicks have all too much reason to be confident against the Knicks. Tyson Chandler and Jason Kidd have already beat them. JR Smith is the ultimate “irrational confidence” player, to quote Bill Simmons. Carmelo Anthony is good enough to believe he can be the series’ best player. Players like Iman Shumpert, Kenyon Martin, Amar’e Stoudemire, Steve Novak are also far from lacking in balls. The Knicks have also had success against the Heat this season to boost their belief.

I’m far from betting against the Heat in the East this season. But it’s no lock. Nothing is a certainty in the NBA. If I had to pick one team to “shock the world”, I’m taking those weird, unconventional swordsman New York Knicks.

Written by jr.

March 27, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Thought on Heat Pacers Game 4: Wade punches the Pacers in the face, Lebron has a potential moment

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Miami Heat forward LeBron James and Miami Heat...

Miami Heat forward LeBron James and Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade after their win against the Washington Wizards during an NBA basketball game in Washington, on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2010. The Heat won 95-94. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First off, I want to give credit to Lebron James for that game. It is slightly disrespectful to talk about him 2nd most when he drops a 40 pts, 18 rebound, 9 assist game. Without Lebron the Heat neither would’ve been close at halftime nor would they have put on such a show in the second half. If the Heat win a title this game will go down as an important one for him.

However I can’t help but feel that game belonged to Dwyane Wade. Good players produce in the playoffs, but great players change games. Dwyane Wade completley changed Game 4 and arguably the series. When the Pacers led 61-51 with 8:29 left in the 3rd, they really were in control of the game and play. They had seen a strong game from Lebron in the 1st half but were content to simply outproduce him as a team versus one man. As soon as Wade tapped into his 2006 and 2011 Finals form from that point forward, the game belonged to the Heat. They had the superior energy level and confidence on both ends, with Lebron and the Heat’s defense riding the momentum wave to their best half of the playoffs.

Ultimately this is the reason why we value big performances and winners in the playoffs. The players who come up winners in the postseason are most often the ones who have moments like this. With the Heat looking nearly dead on the scoreboard and in energy level, Dwyane Wade changed his team’s fate – and in the NBA playoffs one half can make all the difference. This is something stats can’t quite capture. Wade could’ve had an identical 13-23 30 pt, 9 rebound, 6 assist game but in a drastically different way – say with 10 pts in the 1st, 10 in the 2nd, 5 in the 3rd, and 5 in the 4th and it may have led to a game the Pacers controlled confidently, then closed out in the 2nd half. But what he did in this game truly dropped an anvil on the Pacers’ head – which may be the most effective way to steal control of a series on the road. The scariest part about the Heat in their 2 seasons has always been their ability to put together 8 to 12 pt runs at any time, due to their speed off strong defensive plays. If they go onto compete for a title I believe it will be have to be in a fashion similar to this. Games that look ugly and close for some time, then broken open by unstoppable runs by its two stars. This game was a good start.

Written by jr.

May 20, 2012 at 5:13 pm

Is Lebron’s Game 3 against the Pacers destined to be a forgotten meltdown?

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Wizards v/s Heat 03/30/11

Wizards v/s Heat 03/30/11 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I watched the Heat let the Pacers blow them out to a 2-1 lead in Game 3, I eagerly awaited for the 3rd year in a row, the morning after reaction to yet another Lebron disappearance in the most important game of the season so far. From a 43-43 tied score at halftime to the 4:16 mark of the 4th when lead 86-67 (the game essentially over), Lebron went 1-7 with no free throw line attempts except a missed technical (bookended by a Granger staredown and Lance Stephenson choke sign) and no shot attempts within 10 feet – for 2 total points. Once again in game seizing time, Lebron’s production shrank as he timidly put up jumpshots.

Yet the reaction has been nowhere near what it was after the disappearing act in the 2011 Finals or Game 5 against Boston in 2010. The reason for this is a few things. Thanks to his play in the first half and garbage time, Lebron still put up 22 pts (10-22), 7 rebounds, 3 assists, a respectable number. Secondly Wade had arguably the worst game of his career, let alone playoff career, with 5 pts (2-13), 5 TOVs, and a scuffle with Erik Spoelestra, to wear the goathorns moreso than James. Finally, as has been the case the rest of the series, the Heat simply had no depth past Lebron, Wade and Mario Chalmers’ excellent 25 pt night offensively – with Shane Battier, Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem continuing to be MIA.

Thus the reaction has been for the most part that Lebron simply didn’t have the help this game, as he hasn’t all series.

I’m not buying it. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

May 18, 2012 at 12:13 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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The evolution of a player: Old Dirk, young Durant/Young Dirk, old Durant

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Dirk Nowitzki

Image via Wikipedia

One of the reasons I find this Dallas-Oklahoma City matchup intriguing is the comparison between Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant. Both guys are nearly incomparable to another star in NBA history due to their length and shooting ability for their positions – except maybe to each other.

What I see in Durant is shades of young Dirk, a player who’s height, speed and jumpshooting ability allow him to dart around the court and find open shots whenever he wants. Dirk started his career at C actually, where his speed and off ball cutting was even more pronounced. What’s fascinating about Durant’s current game to me is how despite being the 2 time scoring champion, he needs remarkably little set plays to get his points. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

May 25, 2011 at 12:14 pm

From the bad coaching files: Scott Brooks leaving Thabo Sefolosha in

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Scott Brooks (Oklahoma City Thunder Head Coach...

Image by Keith Allison via Flickr

If you were watching Game 4 of the Dallas-Oklahoma City series last night, you saw one of the biggest 4th quarter collapses in NBA Playoff history. The Thunder were leading by 15 with under 5 minutes left and lost in overtime.

The turning point was James Harden fouling out, of which Dallas went on a 17-2 run immediately following. But for me what really sunk the Thunder was Scott Brooks. Specifically, Brooks leaving Thabo Sefolosha in the game the entire last 5 minutes and overtime.

If you’ve watched the Thunder regularly, you’ll have seen the team strugging offensively with Sefolosha is in the game. The concept is simple – Since Sefolosha is a virtual non offensive threat, the man defending him usually leaves him to go play a free safety role on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Compounding this, since the C position is usually played by Kendrick Perkins or Nick Collision, the Thunder are left playing virtually 3 on 5 with Westbrook, Durant and Serge Ibaka. When 2 of 5 defenders are free to double team without repurcussions, it makes the offense disastrous. Read the rest of this entry »

How to make the good times last, Memphis Grizzlies

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Left: Jim Calhoun, head basketball coach, Univ...

Fitting Rudy Gay in will be essential to the Grizzlies next season (Image via Wikipedia)

The Memphis Grizzlies’ memorable 2011 playoff run reminds me a lot of the LA Clippers in 2006. Like the Clippers, this is the Grizzlies first real playoff run after eons of terrible years. Both were built with strong frontcourts anchored by a 20 and 10 PF having his first real success in Zach Randolph and Elton Brand. Both ended with 7 game 2nd round losses.

The Clippers couldn’t keep it up and fell back to their usual ways the next year. The Grizzlies need to make the right moves to make sure they don’t follow suit.

So why did the Clippers fall back to earth? Sam Cassell’s decline played its part, as did Elton Brand and Chris Kaman both having lesser seasons – and Corey Maggette’s presence the whole year hurt the team’s ball movement. I’d also point the finger at Mike Dunleavy for not being a strong enough coach to keep the team’s defense and ball movement together for more than one year.

Here’s what the Grizzlies should do to get back to this spot next year:

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Written by jr.

May 16, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Why the Bulls will be in trouble after the 1st round

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Derrick Rose

Image by Keith Allison via Flickr

Despite an evenly played series, the Chicago Bulls jumped out to a 3-0 lead against the Indiana Pacers – now 3-1, and should close it out in Chicago in Game 5.

There have been teams who’ve looked shaky in early rounds but still proved title winners or contenders. The 2008 Celtics needed 7 games to dispatch the Hawks in their 1st round. The 97 and 98 Bulls had low margins of victory in their first round sweeps. But I believe the Bulls struggle to dominate the Pacers indicate flaws that will likely come back to haunt them.

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Written by jr.

April 24, 2011 at 9:32 pm

Dirk vs Aldridge, Hakeem vs Malone in ’95 and where the rubber meets the road in the playoffs

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Dirk Nowitzki playing with the Dallas Mavericks

Image via Wikipedia

Two games into the Dallas-Portland series, Dallas has 2 Ws. Despite Dallas winning 57 games to Portland’s 48 in the regular season, Portland became the popular upset choice with their play after the Gerald Wallace trade and the overall “meh” feeling about the Mavericks roster. So far Dallas has proven the pundits wrong.

Both teams have played similarly. Dirk Nowitzki (30.5ppg) and LaMarcus Aldridge (25.5ppg) have scored a ton, the rest have been limited to ok shooting %s, due to strong defense on both sides. Both games were dead even at the start of the 4th, with a 61-61 tie with 10 minutes left in Game 1 and a 78-76 lead for Dallas with under 9 left in Game 2. Then the gap between Dirk and Aldridge became apparant. In Game 1 Dirk scored 15 points in the last 10 minutes while Aldridge scored 6. In Game 2 Dirk dropped 13 points in the last 9 minutes, Aldridge 3. Dirk assassinated the Blazers in both 4th quarters.

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Written by jr.

April 21, 2011 at 1:00 pm