Dallas Mavericks – San Antonio Spurs
1) Jason Kidd knows how to make a team work under pressure. He doesn’t turn the ball over (3 turnovers in first 4 games), finds the right player to pass to (23 assists), hits the boards (27 rebounds), and has clearly been here before.
2) The Spurs terribly miss Manu Ginobili’s offensive spark. Only once in this series has a San Antonio player not named Parker or Duncan scored more than 13 points in a contest (Michael Finley had 19 in Game 1).
3) Again, fans have to wonder how long the Spurs can ride their Big 3 for championship runs. Next season, Duncan will be 33, Ginobili will be 32, and Parker—who relies on his outstanding athleticism—will be 27. These three will earn $45 million in 2009-10; can the Spurs afford any more offensive help to insure against injuries? [Ed Note: Detroit Pistons redux?]
Dallas currently leads the series 3-1.
Denver Nuggets – New Orleans Hornets
1) The Nuggets have a slew of aggressive big men to throw at you, quite literally. Nene gets after the ball (30 rebounds in first 3 games). Kenyon Martin continues to bring an attack-first-count-the-bodies-later mentality to the paint. And Chris “Birdman” Andersen can do a lot of things right (+39 in 49 minutes of court time in Denver’s 2 wins). They also have some guy named Carmelo Anthony.
2) Chris Paul is great, but he better be taking notes from Chauncey Billups. Billups doesn’t always get the Wow numbers, but he only has 2 turnovers to Paul’s 15 in the first 3 contests, the same 3 steals as the NBA’s regular-season leader, and only 5 fouls.
3) When you have a stable of big men bullying visitors to the paint and a headstrong veteran at the point, outside shots will become very easy. Denver is 29 of 58 from behind the arc.
Denver currently leads the series 2-1.
Thoughts on the Cleveland-Detroit and Philadelphia-Orlando series’ after the jump…
Cleveland Cavaliers – Detroit Pistons
1) For as great as Lebron’s numbers are, his true worth is in how much he involves and inspires his teammates. Delonte West and Mo Williams have “magically” become significantly better players since joining the Cavaliers, especially when dialing it up from deep (West hit 34 % of his triples 2 years ago for Seattle, but 40% this season; Williams hit 37% over the past 2 seasons in Milwaukie, 44% this year). Big men Ilgauskas and Varejao played poised knowing they didn’t need to dominate the paint, just to simply keep the opposition honest.
2) Detroit sorely missed Billups’ leadership. They traded away the glue at the heart of a core that is a little long in the tooth (Hamilton is 31, Prince is 29, Wallace and McDyess—who are free agents—will both turn 35 in September) so that they could dump Iverson’s $22 million contract this summer. For their efforts, they’ll miss the conference finals for the first time in 7 years. [Ed Note: Will it be worth it if Dumars uses all this newly found cap space to retool the team for another long run of success?]
3) Cleveland can play some defense. In the series, Detroit averaged 78 points per contest, a measly .409 shooting percentage, and a terrible .245 percentage from behind the arc. With Game 3 tied after three quarters, the Pistons were held to only 15 points in a 79-68 home loss.
Cleveland swept the series 4-0. Embarassing effort, Pistons…
Philadelphia 76ers – Orlando Magic
1) The Sixers have some serious athletes at the 2 through 5 who gang rebound, neutralizing Dwight Howard on the boards. Philly has actually outrebounded Orlando 152-151 through 4 games. The one Sixer starter who isn’t necessarily an athlete at his position, point guard Andre Miller, is averaging 7 rebounds in those 4 contests.
2) Speaking of Miller, he fits into the Billups/Kidd mold of point guards who have that will-to-make-a-team-gel factor. It is not difficult to imagine Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, Samuel Dalembert, and Louis Williams running amok like a bunch of Clippers if they didn’t have a floor general who keeps the cogs oiled and in place.
3) The Magic are having trouble ringing up their customary three-pointers (38% from deep for the season, only 25 of 81 for 31% versus the 76ers) against a team that is athletic enough to provide help inside against Howard but still close out quickly and contest shots. Rashard Lewis (only 1 trifecta in each of the first 2 games), Courtney Lee (4-14 against Philly after hitting 42% in the regular season since December 1), and Hedo Turkoglu (just 3 total in 4 games) are all underperforming from deep. It doesn’t help that Jameer Nelson was successful on 45% of his bombs before his injury, and replacement Rafer Alston has hit only 32% of his triples since joining the squad in mid-February.
This series is currently tied at 2-2 (and headed for a Game 7?).
Zachariah Blott is an English teacher in Portland, not an Amish Charles Dickens character.