May 31, 2011
Five years ago, Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks led the series 2-0 and Game 3 by 13 with 6:30 left in the fourth quarter. That’s when Dwyane Wade took over the series and led the Heat to four straight wins.
If it was a movie script, the Mavericks would exorcise their 2006 finals collapse demons and defeat the villainous bully that looks unstoppable. Rocky did it multiple times. Hickory won the state championship in Hoosiers. However, in the real world, we don’t always get that storybook ending. John Elway finally got his Super Bowl ring. Greg Norman never got his Green Jacket.
In this case, I believe the Mavericks will have that happy ending.
Dirk Nowitzki is a man on a mission. He knows this could be his last good chance at an NBA championship. He has been the MVP of the playoffs so far. But Miami does have LeBron James. He left Cleveland to win “not four, not five, not six…..” titles. If he is going to get to title number eight, he’s got to win the first one. These two great players cancel each other out.
In 2006 if you happened to be flipping through the channels and stopped on any of the last four games of the NBA Finals, chances are you saw Dwayne Wade at the free throw line. He scored 42, 36, 43 and 36 in those four games. Don’t expect that constant parade to the line this time around. Perhaps more than any other, that series comes up in the discussion of outcomes affected by the officials. The powers that be don’t like that. They will make sure it doesn’t happen again. And this time Dallas has DeShawn Stevenson. In two meetings during the regular season, Stevenson held Wade to just two points in 30 minutes. Dallas will need Stevenson on the floor as much as possible because when he was on the bench Wade scored 42 points in 50 minutes.
Dallas has the advantage at the center position as well. Tyson Chandler has been a big part of the Mavericks’ improvement this year. He’s added defense and a toughness in the paint that they have lacked in the past. The matchup with Joel Anthony is probably a push defensively, but Chandler adds more offensively than Anthony.
Neither NBA team has an explosive point guard like Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook, but Dallas does have a future hall-of-famer in Jason Kidd. Kidd is no longer the superstar he was earlier in his career but he has improved his shooting and has been playing great defense. He’s got a ton of experience and usually makes the right play. Bibby has led a team deep into the playoffs before as well but he hasn’t done much since coming to Miami.
Jason Terry, J.J. Barea and Peja Stojakovic come off the Mavs bench and can score in bunches. Brendan Haywood is a quality big man. This group is more explosive and consistent than the Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, and James Jones group of Miami reserves.
The Heat have two of the best players in the league who are headed to the Hall of Fame. They also have a third all-star in Chris Bosh. The Mavericks have one superstar and a group of veterans with playoff experience that is better and deeper than the rest of the Miami roster. The Heat have more talent. Dallas is a better team. And if it comes down to coaching, I’ll take Rick Carlisle over Coach Spo.
Prediction: Dallas in 6.
May 31, 2011
The recently retired Phil Jackson is considered one of the best coaches in NBA history. But the simple fact is that he should be clearly viewed at the top of that list. His most fierce competition for that top spot comes from former NBA team Boston Celtics’ coach Red Auerbach, so for the sake of argument, I’ll compare the two.
For starters, Phil simply won more. His eleven titles beat Auerbach’s nine and while that’s not the only thing that matters, it’s a great place to begin.
Now the talent – ah, yes. We hear it all the time from misguided fans – ‘Phil had MJ and Kobe – who wouldn’t win with those two?’ Well, Doug Collins, Rudy Tomjanovich, and Del Harris, actually. Seriously though, Phil’s detractors love to point out that he won his titles with four of the best NBA players in history – Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, and Scottie Pippen. While that’s true, it’s also important to point out that none of those players won titles under other coaches.
The amusing thing is that it’s not only arguable that Red Auerbach had more talent, it’s likely. In 1996, the NBA named its famous ’50 at 50’ – the top fifty NBA players in history. While this was a subjective list, it’s difficult to find many problems with the selections. Red won his 11 titles with six of those players on his rosters, while Phil had the aforementioned four.
A deeper look shows that Auerbach had an even greater advantage, though.
His championships were won with many of those NBA players on any given team. Auerbach never won a single championship with fewer than three top 50 players at one time – and many years, his teams boasted four such stars. Jackson, on the other hand, never had more than two on the same squad.
Further, Auerbach also had plenty of other talent outside of those top 50 players. During his championship seasons, Red coached many other Hall of Famers not on that list including Tommy Heinsohn (who should be, by the way), Frank Ramsey, Arnie Risen, K.C. Jones, and Clyde Lovellette. His 1962-63 NBA team featured eight Hall of Famers, for crying out loud. In 1960-61, seven of the Celtics eleven players were Hall of Famers. With that type of talent, it’s probably amazing they managed to lose as many games as they did.
Phil Jackson’s other Hall of Famers on championship teams other than his duos of Jordan/Pippen and Kobe/Shaq? Maybe Dennis Rodman, who helped the Bulls win three – that’s it. Glen Rice, Robert Horry, Ron Harper, A.C. Green, and Horace Grant were all fine supplementary players, but not Hall of Fame worthy.
In other words, Phil managed to win his titles with talent that was significantly more diluted.
Sure, the obvious thing to point out is that the league, as a whole, had stronger teams in the 1950s and 1960s because there were fewer of them. Thus, more stars ended up on each team as a result. Still (and with all due respect to the 1970s and 1980s Los Angeles Lakers), no franchise has boasted such talent over such a prolonged period of time. Auerbach was playing with a stacked deck and while winning nine championships with anybody is flat out unbelievable, it’s clear he had more aces than Phil.
So Phil won more titles with less overall talent than Red. But there’s more.
Jackson won his titles with two different franchises, proving that he could take completely different collections of players to the pinnacle. Not only did he help Jordan get over the top, he took an immature Bryant and turned him into the best thing since, well, Jordan.
Then there’s the ‘what if’ factor. What if MJ had the hindsight to realize hitting minor-league curveballs wasn’t as easy as he thought and played full seasons in 1994-95 and 1995-96? What if Kobe and Shaq did their best Oscar and Felix impersonations and coexisted as an odd couple for several more years? What if the Bulls’ management didn’t take winning for granted and brought Jordan, Pippen, and Jackson back for more runs? It’s conceivable that Phil walks away with 15 titles … or more.
Lastly, consider the fact that today’s players make much more money and are far more difficult to control. Auerbach had it a lot easier with less media attention, fewer egos to deal with, less agents causing a stir, and generally, less headaches. In all, the pressure to win was not as great with far less money to be made.
When you add it all up, not only was Phil a better coach, it’s not all that close.
May 24, 2011
The Bulls have to win tonight. If Chicago loses Game 4 in Miami and the Heat take a 3-1 lead in the series, the Bulls shot at reaching the NBA Finals will be about as good as the world ending when someone predicts it will. (The new date is October 21, 2011 for those of you scoring at home).
The Heat have taken control of the Eastern Conference Finals in the last two games. How can the Bulls take it back and even the series at 2-2?
Chris Bosh scored 30 in Game 1 and 34 in Game 3. He is shooting 65.9 percent in the series. The Bulls have to shut him down and shut him down early. They cannot let Bosh get off to a good start and get comfortable. Wade and LeBron are too good. They are going to score. If Bosh does too, consider the series over and the Heat closer to winning the NBA Finals.
Make that, the former Jazz. Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, and Ronnie Brewer played for the Utah Jazz last year. These three NBA players need to produce in Game 4. Boozer had 26 points and 17 rebounds in Game 3 and it wasn’t good enough because he was outplayed by Bosh. He has to play better defense.
Korver is supposed to be Chicago’s outside threat. This NBA player is one of the best shooters in the league. He needs to start knocking down shots in this series like he did in the previous rounds of the playoffs if the Bulls want to make it to the NBA Finals. He has scored just three points in each game against Miami. A couple long-range buckets from Korver would help spread the floor and take some pressure off of Derrick Rose.
Brewer has done a nice job of playing defense so far against Miami. He hasn’t done much else, scoring just 19 points total in the three games. His lack of offense has made things easier for the Miami defense. A double-digit offensive effort from Brewer would enable Tom Thibodeau to leave one of his best defenders in the game longer.
Derrick Rose is the league MVP and he needs to have an MVP performance. Miami has given him trouble in the last two fourth quarters. He will have to give Miami trouble in this fourth quarter. He needs to attack the double-teaming defense the Heat have been sending at him and make the defense pay for leaving an open man.
Derrick Rose and Luol Deng combined for 49 points. Chicago beat Miami 45-33 on the glass. They kept two of the big three in check. Udonis Haslem was not a factor. The Bulls wanted it more than the Heat and they played that way. A similar effort in Game 4 tonight should be enough to even the series and reclaim home-court advantage.
April 27, 2011
With less than a quarter of the NBA playoffs complete, it may be too early to rush to judgment. There’s a lot of competitive basketball to be played, and as we’ve seen so far in the Memphis/San Antonio series, anything can happen. But a few of the first round match ups have made for some fairly concrete, if not obvious, conclusions.
Hold on D-Rose, CP3 is Still Here
The second half of the regular season brought the rise of Derrick Rose. As I’ve said before, Rose took his game to a whole other level the first half of the season. Then with Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer back from early injuries, Rose took his game to yet ANOTHER level to lead the Chicago Bullsto the best overall record. His performance was tantalizing to casual and diehard basketball fans alike. A lot of people, including myself, saw him as the best point guard in the league – with good reason. But with the regular season over, and the playoffs underway, a lot of people are watching with their foot in their mouths as Chris Paul makes professionals look like amateurs.
Despite playing at a high level all season, Paul’s serious knee injury seasons ago left him without his quick first step, and caused many to question the longevity of his career. Still hands down the best pure point guard in the league, it was amazing to watch him adjusting his game accordingly after the injury. But something was still missing. Apparently, that something was stored away for the playoffs.
CP3 has led the New Orleans Hornets against the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, currently down 3-2, all without star power forward David West, lost to injury. His ability to manage the game, draw defenders just far enough toward him to seed the pass into the lane for an easy bucket, or nail the mid range jumper if left open, is magical. As for the knee? This video of Paul crossing up Andrew Bynum shows as visual proof CP3 can still break your ankles. If he’s on his game, New Orleans will win the series. Let’s see what he can do with his team facing elimination for Game 6 back in New Orleans.
Brandon Roy is Still Here, Too
The Portland Blazers, perhaps the most trendy upset pick this year, were on the verge of going down 3-1 to the Dallas Mavericks. That is, until Brandon Roy came to life. In the process of being blown out, the Blazers began to slowly pick away at the lead after halftime. Then, in the fourth, Roy took over, hitting shot after shot for the otherwise anemic Portland offense, carrying his team to victory. Impressive for a franchise player, but Roy’s story is different.
Coming out of Washington, he had two severely injured knees. No one knew how long his career would be able to go. After early success, more knee issues emerged, and Roy was forced to miss a ton of time, including the majority of this season. He can’t even play in back to back games in some cases. His knee is essentially a series of bone-on-bone connections. I can’t imagine living with that, let alone running up and down a court and colliding with physical specimens. But Roy was able to get past his problems, and rise above them to a truly inspiring performance. I don’t usually gush over comebacks like this, because he making millions of dollars a year, but Brandon Roy is a classy guy and great teammate. Makes me feel like I should take my fully function knees to the gym immediately. The Portland crowd was ecstatic for their hobbled superstar. The city deserves their first playoff series this decade, and hopefully Roy’s performance will provide momentum toward an upset over the Mavs, who now hold the series lead at 3-2.
Grizzlies Rewrite the Rules
Speaking of unexpected performances, the Memphis Grizzlies are on the verge of upsetting the Western Conference’s top seed, the San Antonio Spurs. A playoff mainstay and three time champion over the past decade, the Spurs usually make lunch meat out of inexperienced, young teams like the Grizzlies. But inspired play from Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and OJ Mayo has fueled the athletic Griz past the veteran Spurs to a 3-1 series lead.
Memphis has managed to make the Spurs look inept. Usually a well oil machine, turnovers and lack of defensive presence have so far doomed the powerhouse. There’s still a small chance the Spurs can come back, and if there’s a team out there with that drive in them, it’s definitely San Antonio, but the Griz still hold the reigns. Not only is a first round upset a possibility for Z-Bo and the gang, but a favorable match up with Oklahoma City in the second may wait, depending on the outcome of that series. Memphis has a serious opportunity for the Grizzlies to make some noise.
Big Three Non-existent in NYC
That was fast. All of the media fire surrounding the so-called revival of the Celtic-Knicksrivalry was extinguished before it even had a chance to spread. For the second year in a row, Boston stumbled into the playoffs only to show us, again, that a veteran team doesn’t necessarily have to perform at the highest level during the regular season. And the optimism for New York fans that the Carmelo Anthony trade would finally bring playoff success after a decade of dismal play was squashed, just like that.
In all fairness, this should have been a better series. New York could have won the first game, and probably would have if not for a questionable offensive foul call on Carmelo. If that outcome had come to fruition, the Knicks could have used that momentum towards an upset. But instead, we saw Boston adjust to the Knicks game plan and cause them to panic into late game Carmelo isolations rather than go to Amare Stoudemirein the post. The injuries to Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups weren’t exactly catalysts, either – the downfall of assembly a “big three” surrounded by veterans and minimum contract players.
But is the Carmelo-Amere-Billups combination even really a “big three?” The trifecta do not complement each other like Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allendo, nor are they individually as talented as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. It’s clear the Knicks have a lot of work to do, and even more clear the “big three” euphemism is being thrown around WAY too much. Toward the end of the regular season, my local media outlets began referring to John Wall, Jordan Crawford, and Andray Blatche as a “big three.” The NYC application of the term is nowhere near as presumptuous as the Washington Wizards, and may be slightly off topic, but you get the point.
Look on the bright side, Knicks fans. The NBA draft is quickly approaching us. Oh wait, no draft picks… let the Dwight Howard watch begin!
Demise of the Orlando Magic
Speaking of which, look how far the Orlando Magic have fallen. From a surprise Eastern Conference powerhouse to an athletic superhuman surrounded by shooters who can’t seem to shoot. The team has only seemed to decline since their surprise domination of the Cleveland Cavaliersa couple years ago. From letting Hedo Turkoglu leave, the Vince Carterexperiment, reacquiring Turkoglu, and trading away Rashard Lewis for once upon a time Agent Zero in Gilbert Arenas, General Manager Otis Smith appears to be chasing Howard out of town on purpose.
The Atlanta Hawks, a team that Orlando has historically man handled, largely in part due to Howard’s dominance in the paint, have taken control of the series. Journeyman Jason Collins, Atlanta’s cure for Howard, has kept the big man from taking over. Aside from Howard’s 46 point, 20 rebound performance in Game 2, which Orlando lost anyway, Collins and the Hawks have held their own in the paint. And when Howard does kick the ball to the wings, Turkoglu, Jason Richardson, and Jameer Nelson are unable to knock down open jumpers. Sharpe contrast to what we’ve seen in the past.
Some highs, some lows, but an exciting beginning to the 2011 NBA playoffs for sure. Non-NBA fans point to the long post season as one of the negatives of the league, but I’m thankful we get two months of the highest level of competitive basketball. Honestly, it’s hard to get anything productive done during this time frame, unless you count watching the playoffs as productive. Which I do…