2007 NBA Playoffs – 7 Things I Know

1. The most entertaining series of the first round has been between the Dallas Mavericks and the Golden State Warriors. I said last week that the Mavericks were in trouble because they have the kind of fundamental match up problems that are nearly impossible to mask. The Warriors have won 7 of their last 8 games versus the Mavericks. The Warriors point guard Baron Davis is dominating. He is playing defense, scoring the ball from inside and outside, rebounding and making great passes to wide open (or not so wide open) teammates. He is the MVP of this series and Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki has been reduced to a footnote. Only Josh Howard has played with the all-around skill, tenacity and consistency to propel the Mavericks forward, and it’s not enough. Howard needs help but it will not be coming because the Warriors have the cavalry locked up in the fort. It is likely that if Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson had remained composed in Game 2, the Warriors would have figured out a way to win that game as well. The Mavs have averted a sweep, but this series may cause them to reevaluate their entire roster, and the value of one Dirk Nowitzki.

2. The Chicago Bulls are better than the Miami Heat. I didn’t need to watch a single game of this series to figure that out. I believe the Heat should be pleased to have made the playoffs given the age of their roster, the depleted skills of their veterans and the injury to Dwyane Wade (I spelled it the way he does, so back up off me!). The Bulls are a very impressive team. They have young, highly skilled offensive and defensive players who are clearly on the same page. The Bulls also have very strong personalities without tremendous egos. Scott Skiles, Ben Wallace, Ben “Madison Square” Gordon and Kirk Heinrich are all mentally tough, determined professionals who allow their tenacity and production to speak to the media and to fans. With each of these players, you know what you’re getting. You don’t need soundbites or “bulletin board material” or anything else. I’m not saying these guys are the strong, silent type – they’re not. They’re the strong, kick you in your ass type. They’ll need to be that way against Detroit.

3. Allen Iverson has already cost Denver this series. The window of opportunity for the Denver Nuggets to shock the world and defeat the San Antonio Spurs has closed. As much as I dig AI, he takes too many bad shots…too many shots with a low probability of going in…too many high risk-high reward jumpers. As one of the NBA’s elite players, he’s earned the right to chuck (I suppose), but this is a different moment. The Nuggets have some significant match up advantages against the Spurs, but the Nuggets still have Steve Blake. Blake does not afford the Nuggets the luxury of attacking the Spurs 1-5. He will not consistently knock down open jumpers, nor will he consistently beat Parker or Ginobli or anyone else off the dribble. So, Iverson has to make a higher percentage of his shots…the Nuggets have to convert a higher percentage of their possessions into points. AI is contributing to the Nuggets shooting themselves out of this series. If the Nuggets commit to taking better shots, they increase the interior advantage that Nene, Carmelo and Marcus Camby have over the Spurs. Its time to pound or go fishing.

4. The New Jersey Nets are fun to watch when Vince Carter can relax. Vince still gets a little uptight. The Toronto Raptors were fun while they lasted, but appear to be down their last round. They should use it on themselves and save the Nets the expense of a flight to Toronto. Jason Kidd and company have business in Cleveland. Kidd is the controller of the “fun button” for this offense and Richard Jefferson is not all the way back. Vinsanity is the difference. When he is rolling, the Nets can play with any team in the league. Carter, though, still appears to me as a fragile figure when immersed in confrontational scenarios. His greatest moments never seem to come in the heat of memorable battles, but as part of lesser contests. He is an exceptional talent, but he still has mountains to climb.

5. And so does his cousin. Tracy McGrady is not all that. Call me crazy. I’ve seen him do incredible things that very few players today can do, but… I’ve seen the Rockets lose a playoff series because he could not successfully inbound the ball. I’ve seen his teams consistently lose playoff matchups they should win. I’ve seen Carlos Boozer terrorize his entire franchise without so much as a whimper of opposition. When Dallas’ Roy Tarpley (a 6’10, 245 pound artisan) began to dominate the Lakers in a 1980’s playoff series, Magic Johnson said, “Enough.” He changed responsibilities, guarded Tarpley and put an end to the madness and the Mavericks. When Clyde Drexler even thought about winning a championship in Portland, Michael Jordan brought him back to reality. The nation watched Clyde wither and Jordan soar. If Tracy is to join the pantheon, he has to score AND stop Carlos Boozer and any other upstart Jazz man from walking out of this series with a W. Until he steps up like that, I don’t want to hear it.

6. Lamar Odom just kills me. He starts out with his left hand from the free throw extended…goes between the legs, sheds a defender, gathers himself after one dribble…now he’s in the paint – he goes up strong, puts the ball in his left hand and goes up some more, reaches back and SLAMS the ball down over the outstretched arms of Amare Stoudamire. And it looked EASY. Could you do that once a quarter? If Odom played like that – and told Kobe to kiss his ass (even if it was only in his mind), the Lakers would be better off.

7. Chauncey Billups is going to be a tough out. There are only three point guards left who can match his physicality (Golden State’s Baron Davis, New Jersey’s Jason Kidd, and Utah’s Deron Williams). Billups is younger than Kidd – and he shoots better. He is more experienced than Williams. If you’re Cleveland or Chicago, he is going to give you fits. If you’re New Jersey he’s going to give you fits – just maybe not every single game. Chauncey is Mr. Big Shot. As long as he is in the driver’s seat, the Pistons have a better than average chance of doing some damage. If I’m Scott Skiles, I probably start the series with Luol Deng on Billups. (I hear you screaming – “Who’s gonna guard Tayshaun Prince?” Often times, he guards himself by not shooting enough – so I’d cross that bridge when I arrived and not a moment sooner.) I’d put Gordon on Hamilton and Heinrich on Prince – with help in the box and lots of rotations that included Tyrus Thomas on Prince and Chris Duhon on Billups – and then trust that guys like Nocioni and others will make enough shots to advance. But, if it’s close and Chauncey has the rock down the stretch, you can probably forget about it.

11 comments

  1. Here’s my take on your ‘7 points’ (in reverse order)…

    The Pistons are going to be a tough out for anyone they face because, like the Suns, they’ve got backcourt and frontcourt players skilled in all phases of the game. Acquiring Chris Webber gives them an added dimension with his court sense, ability to run the floor, and ball handling. I’ve had them as the favorite to win the Eastern Conference all along, and I haven’t seen anything from the Cavs, Nets, or Bulls that gives me pause.

    Lamar Odom is an enigma; the kind of player who’ll make your jaw drop in awe one moment and scratch your head in confusion the next. His problem — other than never developing a strong knowledge of the game — is he’s s-o-f-t.

    I disagree with you on T-Mac. There’s a point to where I think recurring back problems has had him throttle back on his game and I’ve never been sold on the chemistry between him and Yao. Yao was having a MVP-type season before he got hurt. Injuries and roster turnover have been the bane of the Rockets. Still, I expect them to close out a very gritty Utah team despite having an And 1 alumni run the point.

    I’m a little surprised at the Nets’ resilience. I attribute their success to Jason Kidd’s greatness. If anything, Kidd proves the maxim about playoff success’ link to superlative guard play. It’s a shame that Kidd’s aging and the Nets’ front office hasn’t invested in a quality pivot man to shore up their defense. When the Nets are on their game, they’re fun to watch — kind of like the Western Conference teams. I’ve given up on waiting for Vince Carter to play D. But his offensive output makes up for his laziness. What’s Jason Collins’ excuse?

    Denver’s got a similar problem. Nene is enigmatic. He’ll make a great play one moment, then disappear the next. And this is supposed to repressent an improvement? Iverson’s not been able to convert much in this series, but I didn’t expect the Nuggets to be competitive with the Spurs because of a lack of depth and chemistry issues. Two primary Nugget contributors weren’t on the roster at the beginning of the season; it’s always difficult to integrate new players on the fly. After you get past AI, ‘Melo (who has his share of bonehead moments) and a healthy Camby, Denver’s got squadoosh.

    The Bulls benefitted from 1) youth and, 2) health in their match against the Heat. Their backcourt is underrated and Luol Deng’s becoming an outstanding player. They also seem to have pretty good chemistry under Skiles’ leadership. Alas… they’ll always be at a disadvantage with Ben Wallace as their pivot man. He can’t check any of the quality big men in the league heads up. They might win 2 against a deeper, more talented Pistons squad unless Deng cranks up his game to a yet unseen level.

    The most entertaining series so far? IMO, it’s Houston-Utah. The Jazz have a very good backcourt with Deron Williams at the point, good chemistry, and are extremely disciplined. I have to give props also to Carlos Boozer, who consistently produces beyond what one should reasonably expect of a 6’9″ enforcer. I think they’re having a hard time matching up against Yao. The Warriors-Mavericks series hasn’t been competitive thus far, but does have underdog appeal. Dallas has been completely psyched out by Golden State — which validates my lack of confidence in Avery Johnson as a coach. The Mavs backcourt is also getting taken for bad by Baron Davis and the Warriors, though. Davis’ superior guard play (again) confirms the value of a good backcourt in the playoffs.

  2. “Taken for bad…” – damn. I haven’t heard that in a while. It’s perfect in this instance.

    Thanks for the comments. I definitely agree with most of what you said. I like the versatility that Webber brings to the Pistons. I wonder what his career would have been like if he stayed with Golden State? He probably could have averaged 27, 14 and 5 for about a decade in Nellie’s system. His ball skills and size are a tough combination for any defender.

    I feel you on McGrady. You raise some good points. He lost me when he couldn’t inbound the ball last year and they lost that series. If that was his Isiah moment (“Bird stole the ball!!), the Rockets should win the next two titles. He was tremendous last night – 16 assists. It’s just that he has to make a move – it’s one thing for an elite player not to win a title, it’s quite another to not get out of the 1st round.

    I do have a question for you, though. Who are these quality big men that Ben Wallace cannot defend? Shaq and Duncan – ok. But help me out with that one.

  3. Ben guards Shaq, I’d argue, better than anyone in the entire league (surely you saw that block on Shaq in game 3?). I was at a game where Ben sent one of Shaq’s shots last year to the rafters.The only person I’d say he cannot guard is DHoward, but, then again, who can?

  4. That’s why I’m waiting for the list. I didn’t know there were that many quality big men in the league. PV – you’d know better than I how Wallace did against guys like Jermaine O’Neal and Eddie Curry. Any thoughts?

  5. You’ll be waiting, too, and, if the Bulls beat the Pistons and Ben’s play is instrumental to the beating, then he will have proven owner Bill Davidson and Joe Dumars wrong in not matching Chicago’s free agent offersheet.

    The entirely unquantifiable thing that Ben does better than absolutely better anyone else who has played this game with the exception of Hakeem (and Rodman, to a lesser extent) is that he psychologically enables guys to play loose, very aggressive, and an almost wrecklessly gambling defense simply because you know he’s back there to take up the slack. This allowed the Pistons to play aggressively and go on defensive runs and, it now allows these very same Chicago Bulls to do likewise. With the Bulls sweeping the defending champs (re-read that statement again for the effect and, appreciate the magnatude of it, please) is there any remaining question that the Bulls got their money’s worth with Ben’s signing? At the beginning of the season, most folk in my hometown forgot about this ultra critical, wholly intangible factor (and they were openly saying that he wasn’t worth the money), but now they are remembering how Ben psychologically, by his very presence, rallies the troops, if you will.

    The thing Ben does 2nd best is not only limits guys like O’Neal’s (both of them) and Curry’s offensive production, but also keeps them off the board and limits their offensive rebounds, which is so underrated—and insufficiently understood. Thus, it’s been really hard for people to quantify the guy’s worth.

    Unfortunately, for the Pistons, I see Webber WAY too soft to play Ben in the middle and I see Rasheed remaining exceedingly unwilling to consistently play in the paint, as he’d rather jack 3s. Also, the scariest thing to remember is that the Bulls blew the Pistons out (out, out) the last game they played—without Ben! Additionally, the Bulls have won 3 out of 4 games against the Pistons this past season, as well. Thus, I am quite concerned about this series. Lastly, I always remember that this league is more about business than showcasing pure, unadulterated competition. If the ratings are off the charts and the league attributes it to the watchability of these young Bulls and the series is close, then…

  6. No real faith that anyone can consistently get it done, other than McDyess and Lindsey Hunter (particulary on the defensive end, but he does heat up, ocassionally in very big games with the 3). There’s also this kid, Amir Johnson and former Bearcat Maxiell who can ball. Sometimes Flip Murray plays well an Carlos Delfino can put up some points. However, the biggest liability, I believe, is the coach.

  7. I don’t like any of those names against the Bulls. The Pistons can win this series – but it will take alot out of them. I suppose the good news is that get some rest against the winner of Cleveland-New Jersey.

  8. His rotations are WAY too tight (and he lacks confidence in the bench, too) and, he has been unable—unlike Larry Brown—to convince Wallace to establish an inside presence, offensively, in order to sufficiently and consistently; to truly open up the outside shooting game. ‘Sheed seems to not understand the significance of commanding a double-team in the paint. If ‘Sheed wanted to, he could score as consistently in the paint as Tim Duncan, but he simply, inexplicably refuses. Hopefully, someone points to Dirk as an example (read posterboy, Mr. MVP) to limiting one’s game primarily to the outside.

  9. Amir is 6’11” and a total beast. He will surprise one and all when and if he is allowed to play. He is a serious secret weapon. He’s been recently called up from the cba. Maxiell will surprise everyone, too, as he’ll be trying his level best to showing his mentor, Big Ben that he is indeed up for the challenge.

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