Earlier this summer during the 2007 NBA Playoffs, the Golden State Warriors were blasting the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks in their first-round matchup. Sports journalists and most fans picked the 67-win Mavericks to run all over the Warriors. Of course this conveniently ignored the fact that the Mavericks simply did not match up well against the smaller, quicker, highly-skilled players of the Warriors. In fact, only a real hoops junkie could remember the last time those Mavericks had beaten the Warriors.
It turns out the Warriors had developed quite a fan base. As the series neared it’s end, a buddy of mine decided to share one of his latest conspiracy theories with me. It seems that the reason the Mavericks were losing was closely connected to the reason the Spurs would eventually win the championship. Television and hotties!
The theory went like this – television/movie star hotties are good for ratings. The Warriors fan base included Jessica Alba and (drum roll) Kate Hudson. Hence the Warriors would defeat the Mavericks who don’t have any fans of note. Moreover, the Spurs would win because Tony Parker was (at the time) dating Eva Longoria. Ok…sounds easy enough. For a basketball fan, it’s far-fetched as hell, but it’s also funny.
So around that time, I wrote a basketball post about the Mavericks which included references to and pictures of Kate Hudson and Jessica Alba. A funny thing happened…I believe some sort of image-bot or name-bot picked up the reference to Kate Hudson (though not to Jessica Alba) and began to generate hundreds of hits on this blog. I can’t imagine someone wading through a basketball post to look at scantily clad Hollywood types…but it was interesting. The bot is gone and my numbers have returned to normal.
Top post today – “I Want to Get High with Clarence Page.”
That’s more like it.
I love a hype-machine as much as the next guy. I really do. I believe that marketing hype is like sex and baby-making – it makes the world go ’round. Without marketing hype, would any of us have made it through the last season of the Sopranos? Isn’t marketing hype the only reason why anyone still watches ‘Lost’? My neighbors say “it’s because of all the cute guys.” I still haven’t seen the show. I’ll take their word for it. The hype machine got rolling this week when the Detroit Pistons were roughed up outside of a local school yard and had their lunch money stolen by some ruffians from Cleveland. The word is that the band of young Turks was led some kid named LeBron who did the greatest thing since man invested the wheel and round things. It seems he scored 48 points and did some other stuff that people in the media swore they’d never, never, never, ever seen before anywhere on the entire planet earth in the history of the world. I thought they were lying at the time. I know they’re lying now.
I saw a rookie win an NBA championship (on tape-delay, damn it!!) in 1980, one year after winning a national championship. To win that NBA title (the first of five), he replaced arguably the greatest player in the history of the game, played five positions, and defeated a team led by none other than the league’s leading physician of the era: Julius Erving. I saw that.
I saw Isiah Thomas run around on one ankle (as if he were looking for another ‘a’ to spell his name) and score 40+ on the Los Angeles Lakers and their elite defensive guard Michael Cooper. I saw Cooper look like a motherless child as he faked from here to there and left in the rear view with nothing but shadows. Isiah was gone.
And, just last year, I saw a team with aging veterans on the brink of elimination at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks. This aging team was “saved” by this young blood from Chicago, via Marquette in Milwaukee. In the next four games of that finals contest, Dwyane Wade went for 42, 36, 43 and 36. In a two-point win in Game 3, Wade added 13 rebounds and shot 18 free throws, making 13. Game 4, a 20+ point blowout, Wade managed 36 on 8 of 9 shooting from the line. Game 5 was an overtime thriller. This time, Wade went for 43 and converted 21 of 25 free throws. In the final game, Wade hit for 36 again, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals and 3 blocks. 16-21 from the free throw line…that’s living in the paint.
That’s some week. There was a time when memories like that would last longer than a single season. In some places, they still do.
The Dallas Mavericks, winners of 67 regular games (out of 82), have been sent packing by the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors won only 42 games this season and qualified for the playoffs on the last day of the regular season. Golden State is coached by former Mavericks coach and Boston Celtic legend Don Nelson. This season, Nelson deployed his trademark wide open offense in order to create mismatches for his under-sized, but overly talented roster. The roster includes players like Baron Davis, Jason Richardson, Steven Jackson and Al Harrington. These highly skilled players possess the unique ability to beat opposing defenders in two fundamental ways: by making outside shots and by attacking the middle of the defense with dribble penetration. It is this second skill which is most fundamental to the game of basketball. It is the foundation of sound offensive basketball, predicated on sapping the core strength of the opposition.
Defense in basketball, and in most sports, is played from the middle to the edge. It is vital that successful teams have the ability to protect the middle of the court or field. Consider the importance of defense in the middle of a baseball diamond. The most important defensive players on a baseball team all play in the middle of the field: the pitcher and the catcher (known as “the battery”), the shortstop, second baseman and the center fielder. In football, the defense is anchored by either a single nose tackle (for 3-4 defensive schemes) or two defensive tackles (for traditional 4-3 schemes). In basketball, the anchors of the defense are the point guard and the center.
On elite defensive teams, the point guard is capable of stopping dribble penetration on a consistent basis. When the point guard is incapable of stopping dribble penetration, it allows the opposing point guard to do two things: 1) enter the lane with the intent to pass to a) cutters from the wing b) spot up shooters on the perimeter or c) big men in the lane competing for position; or 2) enter the lane with the intent to score. All of these scenarios are bad for a defense. The worst case scenario is when the offense scores and is able to draw fouls on primary defenders (usually the center or power forward) and convert a free throw for a three point play. This type of three-point play is the Gold Standard in basketball. It gave birth the phrase And One. A great defensive point guard, then, may be undersized but they provide tremendous value for their teams. In this respect, the point guard resembles a pawn on the chess board that protects the back line.
The 2007 NBA playoffs began this weekend. The most compelling matchups, if you don’t have an East Coast bias, have to be the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks against the Don Nelson-led Golden State Warriors; and the San Antonio Spurs versus the Denver Nuggets. Chicago-Miami is getting a good deal of attention right now, and deservedly so, but that lacks the compelling one-on-one matchups that are on display out west. Do you really want to see Antoine Walker and Jason Williams – again? I didn’t think so.
The Mavericks have a problem. The Warriors have beaten them 6 consecutive times. In the reconfigured Western Conference, where teams from different divisions only play three times each season, this is evidence of a problem. The Mavericks have not beaten the Warriors in the 2006-2007 season. The Warriors have dynamic, attacking offensive players and they pose tremendous challenges to every single Dallas defender. After last night’s 33-point, 14-rebound, 8-assist, 3-steal effort from Baron Davis, it should be clear that the Mavericks do not have an answer for this big guard. Davis is too much. He has had durability issues throughout his career, but he looks strong and fresh. Davis is not the only problem for Dallas. Monta Ellis, Jason Richardson, Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington can all score off the dribble against the Mavericks. Each of these players is capable of 30+ point games in big situations. The Mavericks have a problem.
Dallas was blown out at the end of a home playoff game. This team will not crumble and Dirk certainly has a few 40-point games in him. He’ll need them because the Warriors are for real. The significant offensive advantages for the Warriors mean that they will be in every game as long as they take good shots and don’t settle for jumpers. They must continue to attack the hoop and exploit the slower, smaller backcourt players on the Mavericks. Jason Terry, Devon Harris and company do not have answers for Baron Davis. Avery Johnson may have to put Josh Howard on Davis – and that will be a problem also. The Warriors, though, have exploited another wrinkle that may be fatal for the Mavericks. Davis’ fellow UCLA Bruin Matt Barnes brought the ball up the court, allowed Baron to rest his legs and made some big shots. It was Barnes who made the “dagger three” after Jason Richardson wiped Devon Harris’ layup in the 4th quarter. That pivotal play caused the Mavericks to lose their collective composure (Cuban went berserk). After Barnes’ three, the game was effectively over. Barnes played solid minutes yesterday – and with his size and ability to handle and pass over the defense, he presents another challenge to the Mavs. His effective play negates the strategy of attacking Golden State by taking the ball out of Baron Davis’ hands. Last night, Barnes brought the ball up and Davis took his act to the low post. Dallas wouldn’t dare put Jason Terry on him in the box, so Devean George jumped in the toaster oven and even buttered his own backside.
Greg Buckner may be the Mavs most accomplished defender of big guards, but he may be too accomplished (read “old”) to get with the bearded Baron.
I like the Warriors to win this series – if they can avoid injuries to their starters. Dallas has a nice team, a 67-win team; but, they have a problem and I don’t see solutions on their bench. It will be difficult for Avery Johnson to come up with a gimmick to slow down that offense. The Mavericks players will have to summon the capacity to shut down superior offensive players. And, while they’re expending all that energy playing defense, they’ll need to score. And, they’ll now have to win 4 games against a team they haven’t beaten since in many, many moons.
The Spurs have a problem also. It’s really simple. First, Bruce Bowen cannot guard Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony. First of all, Bowen cannot guard Iverson at all. Sorry – not happening. Bowen has had success against Carmelo, but with Iverson on the floor, the demands on Bowen to split himself in two are too steep. Second, Nene is giving San Antonio’s front line fits. His strength, quickness and determination are decisive. Third, Michael Finley is not the guy we thought he was. Finley has moved from being an elite scorer on a 50+ win team (the Mavericks) to a bench player with an inconsistent jumper. Finley hasn’t dominated a playoff series to date – and it’s not likely to happen here. Duncan, Ginobli and Parker will do their thing, but it’s not going to be enough. Iverson is going to make Parker work harder than he has ever had to in a playoff series – and there is nowhere to run or hide. Parker is going to be overwhelmed in this series. He’s an excellent player, but this is too much. Ginobli is going to have to cook the bacon for San Antonio. He is capable of huge scoring games and may need them if the Spurs are to get this going.
The Nuggets haven’t fully cracked the Spurs code, but with long guys like Marcus Camby and Nene on the court, it is much easier for Carmelo Anthony to get loose. Make no mistake about it – Carmelo is a formidable offensive player who performs best in clutch situations. His repertoire is vastly enabled by Allen Iverson’s presence. The key for the Nuggets in this series is shot discipline. If they settle for jumpers, they will lose. If they continue to attack and share the ball, they can win. I’m not as optimistic about their chances as I am about the Warriors, but they have seized the advantage.
Like the Warriors, Denver has a bigger guard who can bring the ball up the court (Steve Blake) and make an occasional jump shot. The Nuggets have three players they can reliably expect to score on the majority of their touches (Iverson-sort of, Carmelo, and Nene). They are getting solid bench play. And Iverson will provide a measure of experience and confidence that should allow the Nuggets to win out in a tight 4th quarter. They’ve got all the pieces.