Monthly Archives: May 2011

NBA Finals Preview

This is how I visualize the teams fighting.

Dallas Mavericks vs. Miami Heat

This series, a rematch (of sorts) of the 2006 Finals, figures to be as thrilling in regards to its storyline as it is in the polarizing approach these two teams employ on the court.

To put it bluntly, I think this might be the best competition since the Undertaker vs. Mankind Hell in a Cell, you know, the one where Mankind got chokeslammed through the cage roof, and knocked him and some teeth out.  It should be noted that after that match, both wrestlers were forever remembered as ultimately badass champions.  In much the same manner, this series will cement the legacies of at least four future NBA Hall of Famers in varying stages of their careers, pitting the old guard of Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd against the young collusion trio of Dwyane Wade, Lebron James, and Chris Bosh.

If you watched Dirk momentarily hoist the Western Conference Finals Trophy, then immediately retreat to the locker room, you can tell that this is not the Dirk we knew before.  While his points per game dipped against the Lakers (27.3 against the Portland Trailblazers, down to 25.3 with the Lakers), they skyrocketed against the Thunder, up to 32.2.  There are two reasons why Dirk’s production rose in the Conference Finals, one being that he didn’t have to shoot over Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol; but make no mistake, this is a more resilient and determined squad than Dallas had in 2006, even in the two players left from that series.

Lebron’s stated that he wants to guard Dirk, but with Dirk’s fadeaway, not much is going to stop him now.  It’s more important to see that Lebron will be able to jump off Dirk for a second to cover the ball-handler in pick-and-roll situations, because James is quick enough to get back to his man.  This will force some interesting offensive plays by Dallas in order to create shots for their guards.

Marquee Matchups:

Dwyane Wade and LeBron James vs. the Zone

In the regular season, Wade and James combined for 3-for-17 against the Mavs’ zone defense.  Lebron is especially susceptible to his ego, taking difficult long jumpers and ill-advised 3s, so this will be interesting to watch.  The Heat have seen zones more frequently recently, but Dallas has the best in the league, and this will allow for J.J. Barea and Peja Stojakovic to grab more minutes to feed their offense.

Tyson Chandler vs. NBA Officials

Chandler’s interior presence is a distinct advantage for the Mavs, but

Texan strategery-face.

if he lands himself in foul trouble, they have to rely on Brendan Haywood.  Haywood’s been playing well lately, but essentially, well in the same way that Joel Anthony has been playing, so losing Chandler would be nullifying a benefit that Dallas is relying upon.  I expect this to become an issue in at least one of the games.

X-Factors:

James, Wade, and Dirk are all going to put up numbers close to their playoff averages.  They can create their own shot at will and have the poise to keep themselves fairly efficient.  The Heat have an incredibly weak bench, so they’re relying on Bosh and Udonis Haslem to fill in the production necessary to win against this high-scoring Mavs squad.  If Bosh can eke out an 18 point game average, they’ll feel much more secure in their future.

The Mavs have many more options, yet most of them are incapable of being game-changers.  Jason Terry and Shawn Marion have both played incredibly well, and if they (especially Marion, wowzers) can continue this level of productivity, They can more than cancel out the scoring output of Haslem and Bosh.

Barea has been unstoppable this postseason, capitalizing when he has a free path to the basket (with Dirk as your screener, it can happen frequently).  It will be more difficult against the defensive speed of the Heat, but I expect Rick Carlisle to employ him in creative ways.  He can be the fastest guy on the court, and his speed could land him at the free throw line consistently.

The Mavs should also play off of Mike Bibby in hopes that his horrific 3-point percentage continues.  I mean, seriously, his True Shooting percentage is 34.7 and his Effective Shooting percentage is 34.2.  Out of 49 tries this postseason, he’s made 12.  Let the guy shoot the ball as much as he wants.  Spend that time preventing Wade’s killer cuts.  Or just run into the backcourt and wait under your own basket so you can get an easy transition layup.  Or tie your shoes.  Or anything, really.

Prediction:

The Heat have the best Big 3 that money can buy, and where they have glaring holes have patched them together through a multitude of underwhelming players.  The Mavs have an incredible drive, and are deeper than the Marianas Trench.  It’s going to be a knock-down-drag-out, no-holds-barred, free-for-all battle, but I have to believe in the team nature of basketball, and right now, the Mavs are just too integrated.  The Mavs defeat the Heat 4-3.

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Kevin Durant is Sad

Dejected

When Kevin Durant walked out of the locker room to do his post game press conference a scene reminiscent of Arrested Development played out before out eyes. Durant’s gait and composure were that of a sad George Michael walking along with his head slung low to the tune of Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmastime is Here.” Even Durant’s backpack looked sad.

“I didn’t have anything else to do,” Durant said when explaining his shot at the end of regulation. “I caught the ball almost at the half court line, seen three Mavericks in front of me and had three seconds on the clock. I didn’t know what else to do. I tried to get a shot up. I didn’t want to run into their defense and get another turnover. I didn’t know what else to do.”

All that was missing was the sad piano music.

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Ri-DIRK-ulous

Rising above

The beliefs of many have been shattered this postseason. For years those who are less knowledgeable but rather vocal have been quick to defame and tarnish Dirk Nowitzki. They were quick to blame him for the Dallas Mavericks’ playoff missteps. Labels of soft and choker were pinned upon him. However, that will not be the case any longer. Of course he will have his detractors, those who refuse to give any amount of credence to his game, but they will be ignored as conventional knowledge has accepted Nowitzki’s game finally. Better late than never.

Game Four against the Oklahoma City Thunder will go down as one of the greatest comebacks in NBA playoff history and it was fueled by Nowitzki. With 5:08 left in the fourth quarter the Mavericks were down 15 to the Thunder, who were, along with the crowd, celebrating wildly. If only they knew how premature their celebrations would become. Dallas rattled off a 17-2 run to tie the game in regulation forcing overtime. Nowitzki scored twelve of the 17 points including two free throws, after Nick Collison was finally called for a foul on him, to tie the game as ice coursed through his veins. He would go on to tally 40 points for the game.

To those naysayers who have always jumped at the opportunity to throw the first stones at Nowitzki after a playoff defeat Game Four was an affront to their beliefs. They were left reeling like Harold Camping when the Rapture never came. This was Nowitzki’s second 40-pint outburst during the series, he scored 48 in Game One. He became the first player since Shaquille O’Neal in the 2000 Finals to have two 40-point games and shoot 60 percent or better in those games. Those are just a few more marks on Nowitzki’s bloated playoff résumé.

This postseason, as the nation has an opportunity to re-acquaint themselves with Dallas’ future Hall of Famer, Nowitzki has put on a clinic. Not only that, but he his making a case for the best clutch performer in the league. Those with knowledge know that Kobe Bryant does not perform well with the game on the line. Nowitzki’s Efficiency Rating in the clutch is an astounding +62.7. That is almost double both Dwyane Wade‘s and LeBron James‘ ratings. His rating skyrockets while his turnover ratio plummets to zero. Nowitzki does not turn the ball over in the clutch. This does not mean that his defenders are not trying to wrest the ball from him. They most certainly are only to the tune of sending him to the line 29.3 times during the last five minutes of a close game.

Not only in the closing minutes of a game as Nowitzki been key but in the fourth quarter he has thrived all season including the playoffs. Against the Thunder he has scored 46 points in the fourth quarter. He had 10 points in Game One, 16 in Game Two, and 10 in both Games Three and Four. In the final frame he has shot a combined 58.6 percent.

Nowitzki means everything to the Mavericks. That is why they made their strongest push to resign him last summer, foregoing the circus that engulfed much of free agency. In these playoffs, Nowitzki has shown why he is so valuable. When he is on the bench, the Mavericks’ offensive rating drops from 114.44 to 98.63. Their rebounding percentage drops from 50.3 to 42.9 and their true shooting percentage goes from 59.3 to 51.2. Those are just a few of the declines, and there are many, that Dallas experiences when Nowitzki sits.

Now that the media has flooded its coverage of the Mavericks with the amazing statistics that Nowitzki has put up throughout his career, the haters, detractors, and those who just had no clue have run out of ammunition. Dirk Nowitzki is one of the best players in this generation. Period. There can be no questioning that. He is a lock for first ballot Hall of Fame induction. The scrawny kid from Würzburg, Germany has become an unstoppable force. He now sits just one win away from returning to the NBA Finals. A return trip will give him the opportunity for vindication and possibly revenge. As he has shown all postseason, he does not miss his opportunities.

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So, What Now?

Tim Duncan's contract is holding the Spurs back.

The question for the San Antonio Spurs is this: how do you rebuild when you haven’t had a lottery pick since 1997?

There’s little reason to believe they’ll receive one next year either.

Despite their first-round collapse against the Memphis Grizzlies, this team is still not likely to miss the playoffs.  The backcourt of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, along with bench players George Hill and rookie standout Gary Neal, will keep this team in position to earn a spot in the lower ranks of the playoff seeding.  Also, the team happens to have the greatest power forward to ever play in the league, even if he has lost a step or two (or three).

But the window for a Spurs championship is undoubtedly closed, so how should their front office plan for the future?

Many Spurs fans are calling for the team to trade away Richard Jefferson, who hasn’t meshed nearly as well with the system as hoped.  This is not the best thing the Spurs could do, though, because Tim Duncan will retire soon, and Jefferson is a relatively cheap cog that will fit well alongside Parker and Ginobili once he’s gone.  It’s also helpful to remember that Jefferson’s effective shooting percentage this past season was the best of his career (57.9%), as was his true shooting percentage (61.2%).  To compound this, the Spurs will never get a player of equal trade value for him, so why not wait and see how he does when he can combine with Parker and Ginobili as a penetration combination?

The bigger problem for the Spurs is their lack of strength and size inside, as was highlighted by their first-round series against the Grizz.  There’s an old NBA proverb that goes, “If your starting center is 6’9” and he’s not Ben Wallace, you’re in a heap of trouble.”  Except that DeJuan Blair is two inches shorter than that, but there wasn’t a viable alternative except for plugging in the geriatric Antonio McDyess, out of his natural position, in at the five, with Blair and Matt Bonner filling in.  Unsurprisingly, they had the stuffing knocked out of them by Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.

But big men take time to cultivate, and it seems that there simply aren’t enough of them to go around.  With the Spurs paying Duncan $18 million next year, it seems highly unlikely that the Spurs will be able to snag Nenê from the Nuggets, even despite his relationship with Tiago Splitter.

So could you blow up the team and trade away the big 3?  Probably not, if you want to receive anything as good as you’re letting go.  Ginobili is an electrifying player, a clutch performer, and a fan favorite, and by many accounts the third best SG in the league.  There is no way they’ll let him go.  Duncan is the San Antonio Spurs, and the organization has a profound respect for him that will ensure his retirement in black and silver.  Parker is the most tradable, but for the time being, he is still the best at penetrating defenses and is capable on defense.

In Tiago, the Spurs have a future big.  He missed training camp this year, and was behind for the rest of the season.  He was Spanish league MVP and Spanish league Finals MVP in 2010, and is a wonderful defensive player.  The Spurs are also developing Brit Ryan Richards, who just turned 20 last month and could be a force in a couple of years in Europe.  He has a wide array of post moves, and the length to make a difference as a shot-blocker.

But honestly, the only thing that Spurs fans can do is to wait and trust your front office.  Take next season (if there is a season) as a farewell to Timmy and be incredibly grateful that you had a chance to watch him play for your team.  Remember fondly all the times opposing fans sneered and labeled him boring, because he was still lifting up and banking it off the glass.

Any big moves can wait until after he’s gone.  You owe him that much, at the very least.

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Western Conference Finals Predictions: Mavs vs. Thunder

The end is near.

Two unlikely forces have emerged in the West in what should be a tale of David vs. Goliath in the conference championship.

3. Dallas Mavericks vs. 4. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Oklahoma City Thunder are in the midst of their greatest playoff run in franchise history.  This group of young guns just made the playoffs for the first time last season but now find themselves at the doorstep of the NBA Finals.

Standing in their way, is the most experienced team left in the playoffs that has overcome its own hurdles to get this far.

That being said and considering how strongly the Beef feels about this series, let’s do things a little different and start off with the prediction.

The Dallas Mavericks will DESTROY the Thunder leaving them little room but to maybe ring the doorbell of the Finals and ultimately loose in four games.  Yes, get your brooms out because these snot-nosed degenerates in OKC will disappoint everyone that has them picked to take this series past four games.

Here’s why:

Key Matchups:

Sadly, OKC is starting Russell Westbrook at point guard.  This overrated player in his third year out of UCLA has essentially been handed the reigns of the Thunder offense.  Scott Brooks’ laid back style is essentially in the hands of the player that led the league in turnovers during the regular season with 3.9 a game.  This postseason, Westbrook is turning it over 4.5 times a game.

His play is marred by tunnel vision and a jump-first mentality.  If he doesn’t have the shot, he then looks for the open man.  Usually, he just takes the shot.  Additionally, during several occasions during their series against the Griz, he would find himself trapped in the post with no easy way out.  Memphis took advantage of this by swiping at the ball while he was too busy looking for open guys or simply intercepted bad passes.  Either way, it was almost the downfall of the Thunder during that series.

DeSawn Stevenson had the daunting task of guarding Kobe Bryant in Dallas’ last series against the Lakers.  Rick Carlisle was able to throw the Black Mamba off his game early with Stevenson’s ability to pest the future hall of famer up and down the court.  He even begins his approach at the baseline as if the Mavs were in a full-court press.  This often leads to the offense having to run a screen just to inbound the ball.

His job will be to hit Westbrook early and hard.  In the first two games of the Lakers’ series at Staples Center, Bryant only sunk six shots in the first quarters.  Although Stevenson doesn’t offer a ton offensively, he will give the young guard a headache and cause early turnovers that will shake his confidence.

Westbrook does have the ability to drive and sometimes find the open man after collapsing defenders in the paint.  This is how teammates Kevin Durant and James Harden get so many open threes.  However, don’t expect the Dallas zone to fall for this so easily.  Even after Stevenson is benched Dallas’ Tyson Chandler or Brendan Haywood will be there in the paint to prevent any easy scoring.

Next, we have a matchup with the big men.  Oklahoma City is leading the league this postseason in defensive rebounds per game with 34 a night.  However, this should come as no surprise when you look at the smaller lineups they faced in both Denver and Memphis.  Dallas proved against LA that it has a very deadly frontcourt that offers up a lot of second-chance scoring.

Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins will have their hand full against the taller and lengthier Chandler.  His tip outs have changed the way the Mavs rebound and give them an advantage on both sides of the court from giving Jason Kidd a chance to reset the play to fast break points which they had 18 of in their last game against the Lakers.  Not to mention, Chandler only gathered one personal foul against LA.  Emeka Okafor had 28 against the Lakers in the first round.

Perkins is not a tool in the OKC offense at all.  He’s mainly down in the post getting rebounds but not passes.  So far this postseason, he’s only getting 4.7 points a night along with almost 4 personal fouls a game.  Ibaka is putting up much better numbers but Westbrook is going to have to get him the balll.  Additionally, he needs to cut down on his personal fouls as well seeing as he has collected five fouls in during six games these playoffs.

X Factors:

The Mavericks bench is going to be crucial in this series.  Utilizing J.J. Barea in the fourth quarter has been very successful for the Mavs.  His speed caught the Lakers off guard late in both games three and four.  He’s a hard player to guard and can stretch a team out on the court.

Additionally, Jason Terry was on fire against the Lakers.  His nine three pointers in game four essentially took them out of the game from the start.  Peja Stojakovic will be essential as well.  Everyone in the stadium knows he is a sharp shooter but he often caught LA’s defenders off guard when he created shots off of the dribble after the likes of Bryant, Ron Artest and even Derek Fisher threw their bodies at him with their arms up to guard against the three.  He simply dribbled around them and hit an easy two pointer on multiple occasions.

Likewise, the Thunder will need to get some scoring from their bench as well.  Dallas has been off for eight days as opposed to OKC’s  two.  Not to mention. The scrappy series against Memphis has worn the Thunder out.  It will be up to their bench to bring some energy late in the game.  Harden is having a great postseason with 12.4 points a game but he can’t carry them alone.  Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed need to show up especially since Brooks doesn’t have a lot of size to deal with.

Next Kevin Durant needs to open his mouth and be the leader that this team needs,  Westbrook is taking just as many shots as he is at 20 a game these playoffs.  Durant moped during the overtimes in game four to Maurice Cheeks on the sideline instead of getting in Westbrooks’ face himself and asking for the ball.

This second-overall pick needs to stop acting like a docile child and actually take control.  He is the reason they are here and no one else.  If he allows this team to continue running plays with him as an afterthought that has to create his own shots, not only will they loose this series but his legacy will never live up to what people expect it to be.  This team is living by Westbrook and at their rate they will die by Westbrook.  This scoring champ needs to let him know who needs to be taking the shots.

Lastly, it comes down to how much Dallas wants this.  They have been in this situation before and put away a very good 2006 Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals.  That year, much like this one, they got better and better as the playoffs wore one outside of the Finals.  However, this is an older and different Mavs team and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Carlisle has already proven his ability to recognize the need for adjustments especially with how he has dealt with all the options he has at guard.  Not to mention, Kidd is a much better point guard than Devin Harris and Chandler is a much better option that Erick Dampier.

Then their comes the one that wants this the most.  Dirk Nowitzki is sick of all the talk and is ready to finally prove something.  While Miami was popping champagne after defeating the geriatric and injured Celtics, Dirk marched off the floor with a sense of determination and professionalism.  He knows this may be his final chance to take what has eluded him for so long: a title.  Even Mark Cuban has shut his mouth as of late knowing very well what overconfidence can do to his Dallas Mavericks.  Even Dirk has an appreciation for a quite Cuban.

Prediction:

The Mavs have better everything: better coach, better guards, better offense, better defense, better bench, better big guys and a better resume this postseason.  Congratulations to the Thunder that knocked off Denver and Memphis who both lacked any players that averaged more than 20 points a game during the regular season.

Their playoff run was cute but it will end next Monday after the Mavs defeat them in game four.  Every sign shows that this Thunder team’s luck is about to run out.  This series sweep is going to be brutal so forget the broom, you’re going to need a wet vac.

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Taj Gibson’s Put Back Dunk

Ok, we said his dunk over Dwyane Wade in game one would be hard to beat.  Well, Taj Gibson did it again with a put back dunk late in the fourth.  Monster.

“I have been to the mountain top and back.”

-Reggie Miller

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Taj Gibson’s Monster Dunk Over Dwyane Wade

It’s only game one but Taj Gibson’s dunk over Dwyane Wade will be hard to match.

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