Thursday, May 14, 2009

Not to Panic

Following an NBA team or any team can be an emotional roller coaster. It's a natural reaction to want immediate change when you see something not end up how you wanted it to end. So I can understand Mavericks fans who want Cuban to blow up this team. Despite their best efforts, they lost in five games to the Denver Nuggets.

Were the Nugs a better team then the Mavs in this post season? Of course. They won the series quite handily--though, if the Mavs don't clank several free throws and actually put a body on Melo in the final few minutes, this series would be heading back to Dallas for a game 6. So let's not overreact and say blow it up. Mavs fans need to cool out on the idea that the Nugs had vastly superior talent. They did have more talent, after all, Linas Kleiza saw 47 total minutes of action, none of which came in the decisive game 5.

But they didn't have waaay more talent. Let's not forget certain factors here.

First and foremost, Dirk Nowitzki was THE MAN. Hands down the best player in this series, no apologies to a lights out Carmelo. Melo had the benefit of playing with Billups who created a lot for everyone, including #15. Dirk, on the vast majority of his buckets, got them himself. Sure, Kidd was out there playing, but he was too busy passing up easy layup opportunities and instead spent his time jumping up in the air and trying to find someone to pass to as he was coming down. Everyone calls Dirk a choke artist because of his failures in the Finals and his early exit against the Warriors, but few people talk about his clutchness against the Spurs and the Suns and in playoffs in general. You can add this series to his admittedly impeccable post season resume. The Big German averaged 35 points, 11.6 rebounds, 4 assists, and a block on 53 percent shooting, 39 percent from three and 92 percent from the line. Don't get it twisted...those are Larry Bird-like numbers.

Another major factor is that Josh Howard was playing on two gimpy ankles. He gave it his best shot, even managed a gritty 14 points in the final game, but he was shooting threes with his arms and had absolutely no lift. For his career he's been around 35 percent from the great beyond. This series? He went 1-15. Also, a completely healthy Howard defensively slows Melo down a lot more than a gimpy Howard. I'm not saying he would have shut Melo down, not really possible anymore, but there's no way Melo averages 30 for the series if Howard is healthy.

Remember the job Howard did against Dwyane Wade in the 06 Finals? Now, before you start laughing and telling me that Wade was Jordan-esque in his one and only finals, look at some of the facts. Again, history has a weird way of being remembered. First of all, kid shot 97 free throws in six contests. 97! That's 16 attempts per game. That's only ten less than the Mavs averaged as a team. Sure, there are many benefits to playing alongside a healthy and motivated Shaquille O'Neal, but we all remember numerous phantom fouls called. And even with all the freebie points he was given, he only made 75 of them...for a ho-hum 77 percent. Sure, Wade averaged 35 points a game, but he shot below his season average (47 to 49 percent) and had two horrific games to start the series shooting 38 percent thanks to the defense of Howard. That kind of defense was sorely missed against the Nugs. Howard just couldn't rotate or move his feet like we know he's capable of. He'll be 30 next year, but he doesn't rely completely on his athleticism and could be solid for at least the remainder of his contract. Cuban was right not to trade him when everyone was clamoring for him to and he'll be right to keep him this off season too.

The disappearance of Jason Terry was perhaps the Mavericks greatest weakness. Dude couldn't find it in either round. After shooting 46 percent for the season, the Jet (you know, I am rescinding this name from Jason Terry...only Kenny Smith deserves the title)...Terry shot a putrid 39 percent.

So, if Howard is at full strength and Terry hits, uh, I dunno, 41 percent of his shots, then we're looking at a different series.

Still, are these Mavs good enought to win it all? Probably not. As Kevin Garnett has taught us...Anything is possible...but without a legitimate center, the Mavs are going to struggle to defend. Cuban said he's willing to pay the luxury tax if it makes sense. Says he wants to do something big this off season. Is he perhaps eyeing someone like Tyson Chandler? Or does he want a bigger fish like Chris Bosh? Marion, Odom, and Boozer will most likely be free agents. And don't sniff at Zaza Pachulia and Anderson Varejao. Either would instantly upgrade the Mavs defense, toughness and hustle.

Bottom line is, the Mavs don't need a vast overhall. If Kidd resigns for closer to the midlevel, then all this team really needs is a defensive-minded center. That might be easier to say then to achieve, but it's not like the squad is in complete shambles. It's unfortunate that injuries are a reality, because who knows how good this team would have been if Howard had been healthy.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Brief Notes

Kobe Bryant was not going to let Sunday's embarrassment carry over any longer. For 48 hours he had to hear about how his team was soft and how he was pissing away his best chance to win a title. How a soft team, an inconsistent team can't win it all.

Tuesday night, he was sure to make his point and polish it off with an exclamation. Still, this Rockets squad missed a lot of the same shots they were making Sunday. Sure, a lot more were contested, but there were still plenty of wide open looks that just didn't fall. Don't be surprised if the make it a game tomorrow.

Also, think how close the Mavs are from being tied up in this series instead of facing elimination. Two stinking freethrows in three tries.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Givers and Takers

The real culprits responsible for the Mavs' loss to the Nuggets Saturday...

This past weekend in the NBA gave viewers some pretty ugly basketball.

After a great game Friday night by the Lakeshow, the Purple and Gold, the supposedly "most talented" team in the playoffs, got out-hustled, out-muscled, out-rebounded, out-manned, out-balled, out-scored and flat out embarrassed against a team who's best player was just knocked out of the playoffs with a hairline fracture in his foot, who's second best player hasn't been playing since March, and who's third best player shot a putrid 4-19.

The "most talented team" in the playoffs lost by 12 after a "spectacular" fourth quarter from Pau Gasol who scored 18 of his 30 points in what commentator/former coach Jeff Van Gundy called a "meaningless quarter." After Sunday's loss, there is no such thing as Lakers pride. Even the most ardent, hardcore, biased Kobe lover couldn't defend his/her favorite team on anything that went on yesterday (except maybe on Kobe's subpar, but even-keeled game).

Throw in what was almost a game in Hotlanta Saturday (well, until the third) and that makes two awful 3-hour spots of television. This in spite of Lebron's eye-popping 47, 12, and 8 statline.

Then there were the buzzer beaters.

My cousin told me a few weeks ago that the Celtics were completely sunk without KG because they had the worst front court in the playoffs. This was WITH Miami still alive and kicking. I agreed they were sunk, but still thought they had enough to get out of the first round and knew Kendrick Perkins, at least, was waaaaaaaaaay better than all this "worst front court in the playoffs business." As much as I hate the dude for all his scowls and showoff two-handed dunks where he literally gets a foot off the ground, Perkins is averaging 12.5 points and 11.5 boards with nearly 3 blocks on 61 percent shooting. That is the opposite of sucking.

What we did wholeheartedly agree on was that Big Baby Davis sucked. I use "sucked" in the past tense, because the dude that KG made cry has been hot, especially in this series against the Magic, and seemed to put an exclamation point on this fact with his two clutch, Ray Allen-esque 17-footers in the closing seconds of Saturday's game. Talent-wise, he's still by far the worst power forward left in the playoffs, but effort-wise, and production-wise, he's out-playing Lamar Odom and Josh Smith (quite handily too) and for all the talk of how he can't gaurd Rashard Lewis, their statlines are eerily similar. Baby's posting an 18 and 7 with 1.3 steals on 46 percent shooting while Lewis is at 20, 7 and 1.3 on 48 percent shooting. Pretty damn good for a second round draft pick who was labeled as undersized and out-of-shape.

Finally, enough with the whining from Mavs fans about the last non-call in yesterday's game 3 loss. Was it a blown call? Absolutely. Was it the reason you lost? Hell no.

Hey, I’d be pissed for that non-call too. But, as I was watching the game unfold in the final minutes, watching Dirk and then Terry and then Howard all miss free throws, I couldn’t help but think…man, these missed free throws are going to come back and haunt them. If Dirk Nowitzki hits both of his freebies at the 5-minute mark, that would have put the Mavs up by 3 instead of 2. If Jason Terry hits both of his freethrows near the 2-minute mark, that would have put the Mavs up by 5 instead of 4. If Josh Howard makes both of his freebies at the 1:30 mark, that would have put the Mavs up by 4 instead of 3.

Any one of the Mavs three BEST players hits those freebies that the refs were giving to them, and the game either goes into overtime, or the Mavs win. Simple as that. Don’t blame the refs for that last non-call. The refs gave the Mavs plenty of opportunities to the tune of 49 free throws. The Mavs had their chances…three of them…from their three best players, and they all choked.

Ball game. Series.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Lakers Got Talent?

The media and everyone across the United States believes the Lakers have the most talented team. They've got the all-star talent and finesse game of Pau Gasol. They've got the freak athleticism and length of the one in a million Lamar Odom. They've got the size and strength of Andrew Bynum. They've got a deep, talented bench. Blah Blah Blah Blah.

I don't see it.

I see Kobe Bryant, as a very close second best talent in the league, taking a soft team to 65 wins. Are there nights when they look like the most talented team? Sure. But if Gasol and Bynum and Odom were so talented, they wouldn't have needed Kobe to score 28 points a night.

No one in the world outside of Pau Gasol, can get Pau to make a wide open shot from fifteen feet. How many of those did he miss last night? No one in the world, except for Lamar Odom, can get him to make more than 1-6 from the charity stripe. No one in the world, not even Gary Vitti apparently, can keep Luke Walton healthy for any long stretch. And no one in the world, outside of Sasha Vujacic, Trevor Ariza and Derek Fisher can get them to make more than zero threes out of ten. How much more open does Kobe have to get his players?

I mean, not even Michael Jordan could clear an entire arena full of people and make the place feel like the practice floor.

Kobe tied for the team high in assists, had as many rebounds as Odom and Bynum combined, and had one less point than the combined offensive output of Gasol, Bynum and Odom. Tell me, how is this team so talented?

In fact, if we run down the rosters, outside of Kobe being the best player on either squad, it would be a hard case to make that the Lakers are more talented player for player than the Rockets, and this is a Houston team missing its supposed best player in Tracy McGrady.

Kobe's better than Shane Battier. No questions there. But the rest of the roster, if not a toss up, then it clearly favors the Rockets.

Aaron Brooks is better than Derek Fisher. Faster, better at getting to the hole.

Artest is far better than Ariza. Though less athletic, he's a better scorer and more well-rounded not to mention an elite defender.

Scola has been playing much better than a hobbled Bynum, and is a far more polished player anyway.

Yao is better than Pau. Just as good a shooter, but he's 7-6 and defends the basket through intimdation perhaps even better than Dwight Howard. I mean, Dwight has to jump to scare people, Yao just has to stand there.

And, even the Lakers vaunted bench doesn't seem to quite match up with the Rockets. Von Wafer is better than Sasha Vujacic. Kyle Lowry is better than Farmar or Brown. Odom, on any given night, could be the best player on either team and probably has Landry beat, but on any other given night, he could also be Mr. Invisible.

Luke Walton, while skilled, is the opposite of consistent whereas, with Chuck Hayes, you know exactly what you will get night in and night out. No question Hayes is the better player.

I've already run down a list comparing the Cavs and Lakers lineups. But, if you look at some of the other teams in the playoffs, the Lakers don't stack up much better against them either.

Kobe edges Melo, but Billups is far and away superior to any other guard on the Lakers. Nene's a lot closer to Pau than people think, especially considering what a beast he is on the defensive end. Kenyon Martin might give up a little to Odom. But, Dahntay Jones, a non-gambling Ariza, is at least a wash with the Lakers starting SF.

And the benches? J.R. Smith, way better than Sasha. Anthony Carter, much more consistent and savvy than Farmar or Brown. Linas Kleiza, a better shooter than Walton. Chris Anderson might end up being the Nuggets MVP for this series with Dallas seeing as how he's been so effective against Dirk. Needless to say, the Birdman's been way better than Bynum.

Right now, the Lakers would be favored in matchups against Dallas, Atlanta, Boston and perhaps Orlando in terms of overall talent.

The Lakers are clearly more talented than Dallas and Atlanta...period. But, if the Celtics had Kevin Garnett and the Magic had a healthy squad including Lee and Nelson, than the Lakers wouldn't be more talented than either of those teams.

In fact, the only reason the Lakers are the favorites is because of #24. I'll go deeper into this "The Lakes are the Deepest Most Talented Team" argument in the coming days. I still expect the Lakers to make the Finals, but it won't be because they have the most collective talent, it will be because they have the most talented player in the West.