May 2006 - Posts
Last night the Suns beat the Mavs to knot up the series at two games apiece. Raja Bell, who went down with a calf muscle tear/sprain in Game 1 returned to the lineup, netting 9 points, 4 boards, and 3 assists in 31 minutes of play. The Suns also enjoyed another big game from Diaw (20 points, 9 boards) and Nash (21 points, 7 dimes), as well as a surprise performance by Leandro Barbosa, whose 24 points on 10-13 shooting led the team in scoring. The Suns ended up rolling over the Mavs in the second half of the 4th, winning the game by 20 points. Dirk Nowitzki's poor shooting was in part to blame, the German Giant going 3-13 from the field for a series low 11 points.
So with the series knotted at two, it boils down to a best of 3 series - first team to win two games goes onto the Finals, while the team that can only win 1 (or maybe none) is heading home for the summer. It would be neat to see the Suns make it to the Finals with their Amare-less, 7-man rotation that's running on fumes at this point, but I think Dallas is better, deeper, and more rested, and will win this series in 6. I wouldn't be surprised to see it go 7 (seeing as the Suns first two series this postseason went the distance), but I wouldn't be surprised either to see Dallas take the next two games, either.
Out in the East, the Miami Heat have a chance to sent Detroit Pistons home for the season as they play their fifth game of the series. The Pistons look tired, frustrated, and beat down. They're a dangerous team when cornered and at home, so they may pull out a W in Game 5. However, I think the Heat are deeper, have more drive and focus, and are just playing so much better. Dwayne Wade creates matchup problems galore, Shaq is playing his best basketball since 2003, and the Pistons are cold shooting and sniping at their coach. If Miami doesn't close out the series tonight, I expect them to at home in Game 6.
On Sunday, the Detroit Pistons won their second straight “must-win” game against the Cavs, advancing to the ECFs for a rematch with the Miami Heat. Even with the Cavs up three games to two, I still liked the Pistons. While they seem to lose focus and stumbled a bit in losing three straight to LeBron's Cavs, it's hard not to favor the experienced, veteran-rich team over the young Cavs whose team depth doesn't extend much below LeBron. Surpringly, the Cavs made Game 6 a nail-biter, where if it wasn't for a few key offensive rebounds from the Pistons late in the game, the Cavs may have taken the series at home in Game 6. However, the Pistons won, and Game 7 was, IMO, a foregone conclusion. To give the Cavs their credit, they put up a good fight in the first half, but fatigue, inexperienced coaching, and big-game jitters made them ineffective in the second half, and Detroit cruised to the W and the ECFs.
In the West, I thought the Mavs inexperience would lead to a San Antonio Spurs victory in Game 7. Even with the Mavs leading through much of the game, my eyes were on the last 5 minutes. The Spurs came through, and when Manu hit that 3 to put the Spurs up by 3 with a little over a half-minute to go in the game, I thought it was iced. But Dirk hit a bucket and got to the line to tie it back up. In overtime, the Spurs looked tired and waiting (expecting) someone to step up. But no one did, and the Mavs bested their cross-state rivals.
And in the other Game 7 last night, the Suns outshot the Clippers. The Suns are effectively running a 7-man rotation and scoring well over 100 on most nights. They're running fast break after fast break, moving without the ball, and have come off their second straight 7-game series. How these guys are able to stand, let alone play 48 minutes of basketball every other night, is beyond me. Will fatigue catch up to the Suns in the WCFs? I hope not, I hope we get blessed with another 7-game series thats as exciting as the other series we've been enjoying this postseason.
With Dallas and Phoenix's wins last night, my Wester Conference picks have been decimated, as I expected the Spurs and Clippers to square off in the WCF. My predictions in the East are still spot on, save for the Cavs besting the Washington Wizards. Given the new shakedown, I predict Mavs over Suns in 6 and Pistons over the Heat in 7, with the Mavs winning it all in 6.
Tonight the Cavs - who lead the series three games to two - take on the Pistons in Cleveland with the hopes of advancing to the first ECFs since 1992. (If my memory serves me correctly, the 1992 Cavs team that reached the ECF were summarily destroyed by the Chicago Bulls in 4 games, who were en route to their second championship in their first three-peat.) I don't think anyone expected this series to ever be competitive, let alone have the Pistons facing elimination. I was right with 'Sheed when, before Game 4, he “guaranteed” a victory. I would have gone 5x odds with someone that the Cavs would crumble and the Pistons would win Game 4 (and probably 3x odds that they'd take take this thing in 5). But the Cavs went and did what no one expected - they won Game 4 and then a tough-fought Game 5 up in Detroit.
As Nike would like us to say, we are all witnesses to LeBron's coming out party. As long as this phenom can, (a) Stay healthy, (b) Stay out of trouble with women/drugs, and (c) Keep the competitive fires burning within well-fanned, then we'll all be treated to 10+ years of jaw-dropping performances. And, should the Cavs front office find the right pieces, who knows how many rings young BronBron will one day adorn. I can't see them winning it all this year - in fact, my money's still on Detroit winning this thing in 7 - but they're obviously playing better than most (myself included) had given them credit for.
Over in the Western Conference, we have Game 6 of the Mavs-Spurs series, the Mavs up 3-2 and playing at home, but without Jason Terry, who was suspended for one game for socking ex-Mav Michael Finley square between the legs. The lesson for you young kids out there - it's OK to yank another man's junk (see Chris Kaman's testicles), but it's not OK to punch 'em. All but Game 2 of this series has been extremely hard fought, close games. While the refs have “injected themselves” a bit more into this series than many would like, each quarter (except for those in Game 2) has been a great back and forth between two top-tier teams. Had the Suns or Clippers dispatched of one another more expeditiously, they might have had the advantage going into the WCFs, facing a beleaguered Mavs or Spurs team. But as things stand, the Clips and Suns have their own Game 7 to look forward to (come Monday night).
Why Monday and not Sunday? I honestly don't know. I guess the League would rather make sure that during that prime watching time - Sunday afternoon, shown on network TV, etc., etc. - we instead have options like the WNBA. Sadly, I'm not kidding. On Saturday, ABC's airing the Mecury/Monarchs game. I think I'm going to vomit. (They - the NBA and ABC - pulled these shenanigans last year, too. Boo.)
I still hold fast to my earlier predictions - Clippers vs. Spurs in the WCFs and Pistons vs. Heat in the ECFs. Both the Spurs and Pistons will need to win the next two in order to advance, making them the underdogs. But I've seen both of these teams pull through when facing similar predicaments in the past, and have learned my lesson. Of course, if Bill Simmons's latest conjecture holds any merit, the past is no longer relevant, as we've reached an age where small, speedy point guards taking the ball hard to the rim are the new model...
In any event, we've got a number of great games left in this 2nd round... and the best news is that we're only half way through these playoffs! :-)
With the top eight teams left vying for their conferences' finals, you'd think that we'd - the NBA fan base - would be in for a scintillating treat of well-played, down-to-the-wire basketball games. Save for Game 1 of the Mavs/Spurs series, however, all other games have been far too one-sided. Sure, the Cavs made an impressive 4th quarter comeback attempt, but that fell short, and Game 1 of the Suns/Clippers series had its high points, but there's been no last minute mad dashes to the hoops, or final second shot attempts that decide the game's fate (except for Game 1 of Mavs/Spurs). After being spoiled from the first round of the playoffs with one nail-biting game after another, this second round of playoffs feels like a let down.
Currently, only the Pistons hold a 2-0 advantage, with all other three series knotted up at a game apiece. There's no game tonight (Thursday), the day of rest being added as the teams shift to a new locale and so that ABC game air a game on Saturday and Sunday (Game 3 of the Mavs/Spurs and Game 4 of the Heat/Nets, respectively).
I still hold by my earlier predictions: Detroit and Miami will match up in the ECF, with Detroit advancing, and the Spurs will move on to face the Clippers, with yet another Spurs/Pistons Finals matchup ensuing.
Well Folks, That's a Wrap!
While this series definitely had a couple games that deserve spots on ESPN Classic, Game 7 sure wasn't one of them, with the Suns decimating the Lakers in the series-deciding match, 121-90. The game was never interesting, with the Suns jumping to an early double-digit lead and never looking back. The Lakers made a brief push late in the 2nd quarter to narrow the gap down to 9, but were trailing by 15 going into the locker room at halftime. By the end of the 3rd quarter, the Suns had opened the lead to 25, winning the game with relative ease.
Bryant lead the Lakers scorers with 24 on 8-16 shooting with Luke Walton chipping in 16 and Odom netting a dozen. The Suns led a balanced attack, having seven players in double-digits with Barbosa leading the pack with 26 points in 30 minutes (most of them coming in the first half); Diaw had 21 and was one assist away from a double-double.
The Suns move on to Game 1 against the Clippers on Monday night. While the Suns have the better record, I think the Clippers have the edge in this series, seeing as they have superior interior presence and a deeper rotation compared to the Lakers. The Lakers, on the other hand, are done for the season.
Things to Take Away
While the Lakers ended up losing this series, I think there are a number of positive things that they can build upon for starting next season:
- Goodbye Devon George - while George did get hot at certain points in this series, his D was abysmal. This year marks the end of his contract, and I'm positive the Lakers will not resign him.
- Hello Luke Walton - relegated to the bench for his first three years of pro ball, he has likely secured a starting role with this organization after his strong play late in the season and in these past seven games. He has amazing basketball IQ for a player of his young age/experience.
- Lamar Odom can Play - the secret, Kobe, is to pass him the ball! ;-) Too often during the regular season, Kobe played the typical “me first“ style of basketball that allows him to score 82 points in a game... but Lamar's performance against the Suns will hopefully convince Kobe to pass a bit more often come next year
- Smush Who? - where was Smush Parker in this postseason? Not only did he not play defense against Nash - who was able to virtually score at will - but he also was atricious on offense (save for a big 3 in Game 4).
Closing thoughts: despite Kwame's probably best basketball play during this series, I still think he has been a bust. He's had some rather bone-headed mistakes during key times in games throughout this series (missed dunks, butter fingers, and so on). Sasha hit some big shots, too. Cook still isn't afraid to heave up a jump shot, and it was good to see Turiaf get some PT later in the series.
Looking Forward to Round 2...
Not to toot my own horn, but looking back at my playoff predictions, I called all but one of these first-round series correctly. My only foul-up was picking the Wizards over the Cavs, which they might have done had Damon Jones not calmly hit the game winning shot last night (or had Arenas made his free throws in OT!). Looking at my predictions for Round 2, I've already picked the following “Final Four“ teams:
- Detroit Pistons
- Miami Heat
- San Antonio
- LA Clippers
Actually, the San Antonio pick is looking less likely with the Spurs showing some fatigue, injuries, and weakness against the 8th-seeded Kings. Add to that the schedule - Game 1 in the Mavs-Spurs series is tomorrow, less than 48 hours after the deciding Game 6 for the hobbled Spurs - and it looks probable that the Mavs will take a 1-0 lead to start the series. Regardless of how this series shakes out, it should be the best played and most entertaining of all of the conference semi-final matchups!
Last night the Clippers beat the Nuggets in Game 5 to win the series 4-1 and advance out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time in 30 years. Back in 1976 they were the Buffalo Braves and finished the season 46-36. (This year the Clippers finished 47-35, although they probably could have had a better record if it weren't for an end-of-the-season slump... but then they would have gotten bushwhacked by the Mavs...)
Tonight L.A.'s more renowned team plays its 5th game in the series, with an opportunity to advance. The Lakers take on the Suns in Phoenix tonight, up 3-1 in the series. This going up against the team with the back-to-back MVP (Nash) and this year's Most Improved Player (Diaw). But with a soft interior, a sidelined Amare, an injured Tim Thomas, and some unlucky bounces/breaks, it's clearly not been enough.
Will the Lakers take the series tonight? I hope so, I'd like to see and LA/LA WCSF matchup. A lot of it depends on Phoenix's poise coming into this game. Will they have the demeanor of a team that still believes in itself, or will they have mentally resigned this series (a malaise the Nuggets have exhibited throughout their first round against the Clipps)? If the Suns come out with confidence and vigor - which I expect they will - it should be another nail-bitter of a game. While statistically the Lakers have the upper hand in the series (historically, 96% of teams leading 3-1 end up winning the series), it would be foolhearty to discount the Suns at this point. This is a streaky team, and winning three straight is certainly not something I'd put past them.
In any event, if tonight's game is anything like the last four, it should be both down to the wire and most exciting!