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NBA Playoff Lessons

April 23, 2011 in Uncategorized

By Guest Blogger Tyler Daly:

With the NBA playoffs now in full swing, fans and players alike are beginning to discover whom the contenders and pretenders really are.  As more games are played, we learn more and more about who has a shot.  Here’s what I’ve learned so far this April:

THE BOSTON CELTICS FOOLED US ALL AGAIN:

Much like last year, Boston more or less stumbled into the playoffs, finishing with weak performances and opening them up to questions about whether or not age would affect their playoff performance.  The C’s have quickly silenced their doubters by jumping out to a 3-0 series lead against a tough New York Knicks squad.  If Rajon Rondo can continue to distribute the ball to Boston’s shooters as well as he has, then we may have not seen the last championship won by this group.

THE ATLANTA HAWKS ARE FOR REAL:

This incredibly athletic lineup has come to play in their series against Orlando, looking to avenge last year’s embarrassing lopsided defeat.  Jamal Crawford has been playing out of his mind, and Joe Johnson has been everything Atlanta needs and more.  Atlanta has seemed to realize that there may be no stopping Dwight Howard, but instead have focused on closing out on Orlando’s shooters and making it hard to get the ball into Howard.  After taking a 2-1 series lead, the Hawks are flying high and their confidence just might carry them to a first round upset.

OKLAHOMA CITY IS ON ITS WAY:

What do I mean by this?  I’m talking on the way to a championship folks.  Not necessarily this year, but the Thunder are headed in the right direction.  Not only does this team look poised to blow the Nuggets out of this series, they’re playing as good as anyone in the playoffs right now.  OKC has electric scorers in Westbrook and Durant, and with the addition of Kendrick Perkins they finally have an inside presence to bang with the big boys.  Serge Ibaka is an absolute monster shot-blocker, and Thabo Sefolosha plays hard defense every possession.  This team has all the pieces to be great and they are looking ready to take that greatness to new personal heights.

 

 

Merry Christmas! NBA Preview of Christmas Day Games:

December 25, 2010 in Uncategorized

To the chagrin of players and coaches, the NBA is pumping out five games this year on Christmas day. Phil Jackson and LeBron James have already expressed their distaste for christmas games, but fans have every right to be thrilled with the christmas schedule. Here are two marquee match-ups:

Boston Celtics at Orlando Magic:

This game is intriguing on so many levels. Firstly, these are two Easter Conference contenders with Boston leading the pack all season. Orlando is fresh off of a 123-101 crushing of the NBA-best San Antonio Spurs.

Orlando, though, have essentially a brand new team after making two blockbuster trades this past week. With the additions of Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu (who already played for Orlando in the past) and Earl Clark. After watching this new team demolish the San Antonio Spurs, it will be interesting to see how they fair against the next best team in the NBA on a back-to-back.

More importantly, it will be interesting to see how Orlando can manage these new moving pieces. Stan Van Gundy has already stated that Jameer Nelson is his guy, but with Gilbert Arenas in the fold, it will be difficult to manage the two. Arenas had a solid outing against the Spurs, putting up 14 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds. At some point, Van Gundy might have to eat his words and hand the reigns over to Arenas. Otis Smith didn’t bring Arenas and his absurd contract over from Washington so that he could come off the bench for 30 minutes a game.

Arenas may be the headline of the trades made, but let’s not overlook the value that Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu can bring to the team. Both of these guys are very solid veterans, and the last time Turkoglu played for Orlando, they made it to the NBA finals.

If Van Gundy can find a way to make the pieces fit, this Orlando team could be very dangerous.

Miami Heat at Los Angeles Lakers:

This game, of course, is the premier match-up of the night, as two star-studded teams will square off in LA.

It will be interesting to see how Miami plays against one of the best teams in the league. They played a tough, close game with the Dallas Mavericks a week ago in what was a surprisingly low-key match-up, but ended up with a two-point loss to the defensive-minded Dallas team. It seems that Miami has a tendency to look great against mediocre teams, but when they go up against the best of the NBA, they fall short — especially against great defensive teams.

Also, there is a chance Dwyane Wade won’t be playing in this game, which puts a damper on the game — and the outcome — entirely. The value of this game is that we can get an idea of how good Miami really is, as they’ve now had over 30 games to build chemistry, but without Wade in the mix, this game is entirely about entertainment value.

LA, on the other hand, is just now getting fully healthy with Andrew Bynum returning from injury. It’s hard to imagine the Miami Heat shutting down both Pau Gasol and Bynum with Chris Bosh and Zydrunas Ilgauskas leading the front court defensive efforts. Bosh and Ilgauskas are two decorated offensive players, but they have yet to prove their worth (it’s too late for Ilgauskas) on the defensive end, and this will cause problems for them agains the better teams in the league. WIthout Wade, this game will be very one-sided in favor of LA.

Morning Links

October 28, 2010 in Uncategorized

Rangers Fall As Lee Looks Human: Last night was supposed to be a pitching duel to start the World Series, but ended up turning into a slug fest, as they combined for 18 runs on 25 hits. Both Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum got roughed up a bit, giving up at least 4 runs, but Lee got the worst of it. He gave up 6 earned runs (7 total) in 4 2/3 innings. Lee came into last night's game with an ERA under 1.00 for this postseason, but saw that balloon up fairly quickly. The Rangers had an early 2-0 lead, but were unable to capitalize, and were in an 8-2 hole after 5 innings. Texas, who was favored to win this series now will need to steal the next game in San Francisco, to tie it up as it heads back to Texas.

Heat Redeem Their Opening Night Loss: Miami evened their record to 1-1, but it wasn't the dominate performance we'd expect from the 'Eastern Conference All-Star' team. Wade led the way with 30 points, but neither James or Bosh finished 2nd on the team in scoring on the night. Instead that honor went to James Jones, as he adding 20 points, with lights out shooting (6-9) from behind the arc. James and Bosh finished with a respectable 31 combined points, and did some other good things, but this team didn't look built to contend for anything. It might be early, but they were also playing against the 76ers a team they have to be able to put away early. Instead Philly was in the game until the late 4th quarter, and nearly set the Big Three home without a win. Miami held on to win, but it wasn't pretty. They need to find their rhythm fast, if they are to compete with the other big boys in the league.

LeBron Who?: James couldn't overcome the Boston Celtics despite having Dewayne Wade, Chris Bosh and a host of other stars by his side on opening night. His former team had no issue knocking off the Celtics in game two despite having zero star power. Cleveland lost James, Big Z, Shaq and a host of other players this offseason, with their biggest acquisition being PG Ramon Sessions. On top of that, the lone remaining star player Antwan Jamison, scored just 4 points off the bench. Youngster J.J. Hickson led the way with 21, as the Cavs never gave up and knocked off Shaq and the Celtics, just one night after they beat James and his 'Dream Team'. In the end I think the Celtics put everything into beating James and company that they took Cleveland too lightly. The Cavs had a lot of fire to prove their veterans wrong for leaving, but in reality just can't compete with the top teams in the East. For one night though it didn't matter, as Cleveland showed that their young players can play and they will still try to be a factor in the East.

Celtics One Win From the Title

June 14, 2010 in Uncategorized

The series is far from over but the Boston Celtics got the job done at home, winning 2 of the 3 games. They now hold a slight 3-2 series lead as the games return to Los Angeles. While the Lakers will have home court for the rest of the series, I don't like their chances of grabbing another title.

First off they have to win back-to-back games, something they have yet to do in this series. Secondly, they might even have more pressure on them at home than on the road, if the Celtics take an early lead in Game 6 the Laker fans might not give them the support they need. Another thing working against them is the fact they have only won one of the last 4 games, putting the momentum firmly in the Celtics hands. I also think they showed last night that they aren't a team built to play from behind with pressure.

The Lakers vaunted offense fell apart last night because they couldn't handle either the mental or defensive pressure. Los Angeles was well within striking distance, but Kobe Bryant tried to take over the game. While individually Bryant was successful, scoring 19 points to start the 3rd quarter, his team was not, as the Celtics increased their lead to double digits. Now you can't fault Kobe entirely since his shots were going in (at a ridiculous rate), but by taking everyone else out of the offensive mix you took them out of the rhythm and flow of the game. That left the Lakers defense porous, and allowed the Celtics to match them (aka Kobe) shot for shot. Despite not shooting as well as a team, the Lakers played better basketball and were able to cut into the Celtics lead when all 5 players had a role in the offense. But it was too late and the damage was done.

Now the Lakers have to find a way to match-up and pull out two straight victories, over a Celtics team that has only lost back-to-back games once this postseason. Los Angeles will have to get their other top players involved early and often if they hope to match up with Boston. Because after last night's game, it is obvious that Bryant won't be able to carry this team on his back alone.

Celtics Win Game 2 103-94 behind Allen and Rondo

June 7, 2010 in Uncategorized

By Fanspeak Contributing Writer Geoff Nelowet:

Between Ray Allen’s eight three-pointers and Rajon Rondo’s triple-double, the LA Lakers would have had to bring their absolute best work Sunday night.

Unfortunately for the Lakers, they didn’t. Not only that but, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum combined for 21 fouls. Ron Artest fouled out, and the others nearly did as well. For most of the fourth quarter, Kobe Bryant was nursing five fouls, which essentially opened the floodgates for Rajon Rondo, as Bryant was assigned the task of guarding him throughout the game.

The Celtics playing in LA has been an interesting dichotomy – the Celtics have been the best road team in the playoffs, and the Lakers were previously 9-0 at home. In game 1, the Lakers dominated the underperforming Celtics, and the reverse happened in game 2.

At some point, both teams will show up, and it will make for an epic game. At this point, though, the Celtics have all the momentum as they head home for game 3. Ironically, after looking back at Phil Jackson’s perfect 47-0 series record after winning game 1, that figure now seems entirely irrelevant.

It is interesting to see how well Rasheed Wallace and Nate Robinson have played in the playoffs. Wallace had a quiet seven points and seven points in just 18 minutes, but he led all players with a +/- of +17. That statistic, point differential when on the court, can be misleading at times, but in this case it probably isn’t – Wallace has been a very solid player this post-season, and one could argue that he should be starting over Kevin Garnett. As for Robinson, he has been a spark for the Celtics off the bench, and he proved against Orlando in game 6 that he can be serious threat in the fourth quarter. It seems that everything is coming together for Boston at the right time.

It is hard to argue against Phil Jackson’s 47-0 series record after winning game 1, but at this point Boston looks like a better team. The LA Lakers massive foul trouble is indicative of that. Across the board, the Lakers’ key players could not guard the Celtics’, which accounts for a roster fraught with players with five-plus fouls. The likes of Kobe Bryant, a superstar that tends to have calls go his way, was on his way to fouling out at the onset of the fourth quarter. Guarding Rajon Rondo is clearly a difficult task, and that will take the Boston Celtics a very long way.

2010 NBA Finals: Game 2 Preview

June 6, 2010 in Uncategorized

By Guest Blogger Geoff Nelowet:

Phil Jackson is 47-0 in playoff series when his team won game 1, and after a 102-89 thrashing of the Boston Celtics, it looks like the LA Lakers may do just that.

If the Celtics want to make a serious run in this series, they will have to start by playing better defense. They allowed Pau Gasol to be far too efficient in the paint, and the Celtics will never play well when Gasol is cruising to 23 points and 14 rebounds. Kobe Bryant also had yet another strong performance with 30 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists. Again, the Celtics relied on their defense throughout the playoffs, and when they become an average playoff team, they look much more like the regular season Celtics.

Rajon Rondo also had probably his worst game of the playoffs, as he shot 6-14 from the floor and had difficulty getting to the paint with any consistency. Kobe Bryant did an excellent job guarding Rondo all night. The Celtics have relied on Rondo and strong team defense to guide them through the playoffs, but against the Lakers neither really showed up.

It will be interesting to see how Boston responds after game 1. It looked like they were just happy to be in the finals last week, as they put forth a sub par effort. Credit must be given to the Lakers, though, because they looked like a substantially better team with an answer to everything Boston attempted.

I’m going to pick the Celtics to come back from a lackluster effort. I think Rondo will have a much better game, and the team will lock down on Gasol and Bryant. It will be difficult for the Celtics to win the series after losing game 1, but anything is possible, and it is still a very long series. Finals score: Celtics 99 Lakers 88

Magic Don't Give Up, Pull Within One Game In the Series

May 27, 2010 in Uncategorized

The Magic have looked like a different team with their backs against the wall these past two games. They came out playing on all cylinders last night and are now just one game away from tying this series. Boston on the other hand is reeling after winning the first 3 games of the series with relative ease. Not only did the Celtics lose the game last night and potentially the momentum, but their front court is potentially in shambles.

The Magic took an early lead in the game and never looked back. Orlando held an 8 point lead at halftime, and ended up winning the game by 21 points. The Magic didn't do anything too creative, getting a combined 45 points from stars Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson. Orlando also got a strong performance from their bench to lead the charge over the Celtics stars. Howard also did what he does best and dominated the paint the entire game. He blocked one more shot (5) than the entire Celtics team. He also lead both teams in rebounds (10) helping the Magic out rebound Boston 43-26.

Howard had an advantage in the game and it will likely be one that could haunt Boston this entire series. The Celtics suffered some major losses to their front court, as three of their big men went down with injury/were ejected. Rasheed Wallace, who led the Celtics in points, left the game early do to back spasms. While he should return for Game 6, he might not be 100%. Without Wallace, the Celtics lose one of their best offensive big men, and one of their better 3-point shooters. Glen Davis suffered a minor concussion from an inadvertent elbow, and had to leave the game early. While it is listed as a minor concussion, there is really no such thing when it comes to a head injury like that. While Davis could be back for Game 6 there are no guarantees, and I'd be really concerned with Davis playing physical and getting hit in the head again. While I think there is little chance of Wallace or Davis being 100% for Game 6, they will at least have a chance to be in the game unlike center Kendrick Perkins.

Perkins, who had done a decent job of holding Howard in check this series, and was a vital (though unheralded) part of Boston's success, was ejected in the 2nd quarter after receiving his 2nd technical foul of the game. That 2nd foul meant an automatic ejection from Game 5, but it was also his 7th technical of the postseason. Which means he will be suspended for the next game. While there is a chance the NBA 'knocks down' the foul penalty, I think it is likely to be upheld. Which means that Boston will be without their starting center for the last game they have at home in this series.

Wallace is the primary backup and Davis gets solid minutes inside as well. With both of them on the mend, and Perkins gone for Game 6, Boston is in a bad position. Perkins has been by far Boston's best option to counter Dwight Howard. He doesn't help much on the offensive end, but gets his rebounds and keeps Howard's impact minimal. Without Perkins, the Celtics have had trouble defending Howard, and if he can have a big game again this series could be even, and heading back to Orlando. As long as the Magic don't get ahead of themselves, they are in a great position to come back from a 3-0 series deficit and return to the NBA Finals.

NBA Playoff Update

May 24, 2010 in Uncategorized

By Fanspeak Contributing Writer Geoff Nelowet:

Phoenix Suns win 118-109 at home to close within a game of the LA Lakers:

The Phoenix Suns made this series interesting by knocking of the Lakers last night. Amare Stoudemire led the Suns with 42 points, while Steve Nash continued his brilliant play with 17 points and 15 assists. Kobe Bryant played his best game of the playoffs with 36 points 11 assists and 9 rebounds in a losing effort.

It looks like Phoenix has to play its absolute best to take down the Lakers. Stoudemire was lights out tonight, and it was barely enough for the Suns to earn a win. At the same time, though, Kobe was also playing a huge game. I would be surprised to see the Suns win again at home – the Lakers simply outmatch the Suns, and it shows even when the Lakers lose. It is always difficult to tell with Suns, though, as they are a streaky team.

Game four comes down to whether the Suns can execute their offense or not – and if they can start knocking down their three’s. That seems like a bright spot for the Suns – they won without shooting a great percentage from three-point land (25%). The Lakers are a bit more predictable: they will play tough defense and Kobe and Pau Gasol will have strong games. Ultimately it comes down to whether the Suns can work within their own game plan or they to play into the Lakers’ style.

It would be great to see the Suns find a way to win this series for an unthinkable Phoenix-Boston match-up in the finals. That would have to be the most improbable NBA Finals series in years.

Boston Celtics are up 3-0 on the reeling Orlando Magic:

This has been an absolute shock of a series. For starters, it is unbelievable that the Celtics made it this far. They looked like a team ready to keel over before the playoffs, and here they are – up 3-0 on the Magic after dominating the Cleveland Cavaliers in the prior series.

You can attribute Boston’s post-season success to two causes: great team defense and Rajon Rondo.

Boston has now held their opponents under 100 point for the last six playoff games, and they’ve held their opponents under 100 point in 11 of 14 games. Those three games in which their opponent scored 100-plus points resulted in the Celtics’ only three losses of the post season. The 2010 Boston Celtics resoundingly support the fact that team defense trumps superstars, as the Celtics are on the verge of knocking off teams led by Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Dwight Howard.

Rajon Rondo has been unstoppable for the Celtics – just as he was last year in the playoffs. Rondo is averaging 17 points, nearly 11 assists and 6 rebounds a night in the playoffs, and he is quickly becoming one of the best point guards in the league. Whoever the Celtics face (assuming they defeat Orlando) in the NBA Finals will have their hands full.

LeBron's Arm and Cavs Seem Alright

May 8, 2010 in Uncategorized

After a Game 2 loss at home, the Cavs were thought by some to be in trouble. LeBron James was nursing a hurt elbow, and now was not the time to have your best player dealing with an injury. On top of that, the rest of the Cavaliers team disappeared in Game 2, as the Celtics beat them 104-86. For some teams that kind of loss and a potential injury to your best player could be cause for panic, instead the Cavs looked for payback.

Last night as the series shifted to Boston, the Celtics had a chance to take control if they could win Game 3. They never got the chance as the Cavs came out playing their best basketball, taking a 19 point lead after the first quarter, and a 22 point lead at half time. Boston was never able to chip away at that lead and ended up losing 124-95. Which will go down in history as their worst home loss in the playoffs ever. Not only did the Celtics lose the game, but they lost the momentum. Any chance of them upsetting the Cavs, pretty much went out the window with last night's game.

While the Cavs shot 67% from the field in the first quarter, the Celtics missed 10 of their first 13 shots. The Cavs ended up shooting over 59% from the field for the game, to the Celtics 42%. Cleveland also out shot Boston from both the 3-point line and charity stripe (41% to 23%, and 91% to 72% respectively). And to make matters worse the Cavs out rebounded them by 15 for the game.

As for LeBron James, the elbow didn't seem to bother him too much. James scored 38 points to go with 8 rebounds and 7 assists. James shot 63% from the field for the night and missed just one free throw. If his elbow was bothering him, he didn't seem to show it. Boston had no answer for James all night, and let him set the tone in their own arena.

After last night's shellacking, I have a tough time believing that the Celtics can win another game in this series. They were out played in every aspect of the game, and at no point came close to looking like the team that beat Cleveland by 18 earlier this week. All signs point to this being Cleveland's year, and while Boston looked on paper like a potential road block, on the court they haven't shown it. The Cavs showed once again why they are considered the team to beat in this year's playoffs. I think Cleveland will wrap this up in 5 games, before their conference finals rematch against the Orlando Magic.

Good Day In Boston

May 4, 2010 in Uncategorized

It's a good day in sports in your city if all three teams playing win. It's an even better day when two of those teams win playoff games, and the third snap a losing streak. Beantown had a lot to celebrate last night as the Red Sox offense finally erupted, the Celtics evened the series and the Bruins took a 2-0 lead.

The Red Sox came into this year as one of the prohibitive favorites to win the World Series, but haven't shown themselves of being a contender so far this season. Boston is in 4th place in the A.L. East and had just dropped three games in a row to the fifth place Baltimore Orioles. The Red Sox had been banking on a more defensive approach this season, but that hasn't worked out too well as they have given up the 4th most runs in baseball. Their offense has been pretty much middle of the road, but erupted last night for 17 runs on 20 hits. While it is just one game, it could be a good sign for Boston if a couple of their everyday guys start hitting. They will still need to work on run prevention, since even in last night's victory they gave up 8 runs, but May could be a new month for the Red Sox.

The Celtics meanwhile forced a split in Cleveland with their impressive 104-86 victory over the Cavs last night. Evening the series was key for Boston since their next two games are at home. If they can win both of those they will head back to Cleveland with a commanding 3-1 lead. The Celtics were able to somewhat slow down LeBron James, and pretty much shut down the rest of the Cavaliers offense. It was also a statement game for Boston, since most people thought they didn't have what it takes to beat Cleveland again on their way to the Finals. While you still have to like the Cavs in the series, Boston showed that they will fight for this one, and to not count them out just yet.

The Bruins did exactly what the Celtics were trying to avoid, with their 3-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. The Bruins are now up 2-0 in the series and in a commanding position. They now head to Philly, where if they can split the two games (I think a sweep might be pushing it) they can close out the series next Monday at home. So far the Bruins have just outplayed and outhustled the Flyers. Right now I don't really see Philadelphia coming back to win this series. Putting Boston into the Eastern Conference Finals.

It might be a bad day in some other sports cities, but for Boston fans they have plenty to cheer about right now. Maybe none of these teams will win their respective championships (If I had to pick one of these teams to do it, I'd still pick the Red Sox despite their 4th place record), but they are all at least competitive and give their fans the chance to hope and dream of winning the title.