May 22, 2009
By: Zachariah Blott
1) Pau Gasol is absolutely phenomenal: He played 42 and 44 minutes in Games One and Two against a rugged Nuggets front line that had beaten the hoo-ha out of the Mavericks’ and Hornets’ big men.
Gasol grabbed game-high rebound totals of 14 and 17, almost as many as Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen added together (34). Not only that, 11 of those 31 were offensive rebounds, which is extremely valuable to a team that has a trigger-happy star who sees nothing but green lights on offense (Kobe has taken 48 shots).
Not only has Gasol controlled the glass and given the Lakers an advantage where they could have easily been outdone (LA has 89 rebounds to the Nuggets’ 79), the ugly Spaniard has been efficient on the offensive side. He’s connected on 10 of 17 shots, just about matching the 55% he’s shooting this postseason. Gasol has also blocked 4 shots and passed out of double teams for 6 assists.
Despite the series heading to Denver tied at one game apiece, if he continues his playoff dominance in the paint (18.0 points, 11.4 rebounds) and can neutralize Denver’s front line, his Lakers teammates will have it that much easier the rest of the series.
Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol Photo Credit: Icon SMI
2) Orlando knows how to play the risk-reward game of 3-point shooting: Hitting 9 of 20 (45%) trifectas in Game One was absolutely crucial in coming back from a 15-point halftime hole to shock the Cavaliers 107-106. This postseason, the Magic are 2-3 in the 5 games they shot under 30% from long range, and both wins were at home. When Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, Mickael Pietrus and the gang ring up 30% or more from deep, Orlando is 7-2, with both loses coming on the road.
The heights of this trio read like an anchored-in-the-paint front line (6-foot-10, 6-foot-10, 6-foot-6), so it’s tough for Delonte West (6-foot-3) and Mo Williams (6-foot-1) to make a defensive impact against the three-ball. If the Magic continue to shoot over the Cavs, this series may go longer than expected.
3) Benches can win or lose these series: Each of the four teams have a superstar or two in their starting lineups, but they have to rest at some point. Los Angeles’ bench chipped in 27 points, 13 boards and 10 assists in 79 minutes during their Game One victory. Denver’s bench only accumulated 16 points, 12 rebounds, and 7 assists in 66 minutes.
Their contributions were much greater in Game Two, scoring 21 points and snaring 16 boards in 72 minutes (thanks in large part to Linas “Brickhouse” Kleiza’s 16 and 8), while the Lakers’ reserves picked up 22 and 15 in 78. In the East, Orlando’s non-starters outscored Cleveland’s 25 to 5, including 3 for 7 from deep. With as close as both series have been, the bench play could be the vital difference between a 2-point win or a 2-point loss.
Zachariah Blott is an English teacher in Portland, not an Amish Charles Dickens character.