Friday, May 29, 2009

Lakers Show "No Mercy", Advance to Finals

"No mercy" was what Kobe said in the huddle, heard on ESPN Game Trax as the Lakers stretched the lead to 20 points in the fourth quarter. It reminded me of the Cobra Kai sensei in the movie Karate Kid. "There is no mercy in this dojo!!!" Kobe reminds me a lot of a villain in the movie, he's an ice cold executioner under pressure and ruthless when he senses a weakness. Everyone hates him, but he commands the respect of his toughest critics with his will to win. That's certainly not a negative trait if you're trying to win a championship.

The Nuggets turned into a pumpkin as the Lakers delivered the knock out blow and now await an opponent in the NBA Finals. What happened? How were the Lakers able to make the Nugs look so bad? Granted, the Lake Show executed as well as they have all playoffs, going inside out, utilizing Pau Gasol, and Kobe...well, let's just say he was doin' work.

The Lakers exposed the Nuggets as not having a strong basketball I.Q. outside of Chauncy Billups, as they committed a slew of frustration fouls and got broken down on defense time after time. Carmello played lackadaisical defense, JR Smith heated up too late, and why the hell was Kenyon Martin shooting jumpers? The Lakers had a game plan and executed the Nuggets to death.

The Magic have looked better than the Cavs and are one game away from a trip to the Finals to play the Lakers. Th Cavs gained big momentum last night in game 5, as LeBron showed more trust in his team mates and got some scoring support from his back court. Mo Williams showed signs of the play that earned him a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team. Now the question is: which team has the best shot against the Lakers? Cavs or Magic?

The answer is the Cavs. While the Magic have outplayed the Cavs up to this point, the Cavs match up better. I realize the Magic have Dwight Howard to counter the Lakers front line, but Howard would be in foul trouble early trying to guard Gasol. The reason I don't like the Magic against the Lakers is because the Lakers are capable of exploiting the Magic's Achilles heal, defensive transition on the fast break. The key to winning against the Magic is to secure defensive rebounds and push the ball up court in the fast break. Plus, the Lakers can switch on Orlando's pick and roll. (that's all they run)

The Lakers don't have an answer for LeBron James, so if they meet the Cavs in the Finals, expect the Lakers to congest the middle and force LeBron and the Cavs to make jump shots. If the Cavs get to the Finals, they will have picked up their defense back to the high level attained during the regular season. Who's to say the Lakers and Cavs will meet in the Finals? The Magic mght have an objection...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Williams, Gibson Support James in Win

I am so sick of the Nike commercials staring LeBron and Kobe as muppets. The theme of this arrogant advertising is all about how "unstoppable" these guys are and implies both the Cavs and the Lakers are entitled to meet in the Finals. It's disrespectful to the opponents. I don't disagree that #23 and #24 are the top two talents in the world (not necessarily in that order), but the Magic and the Nuggets have proven any one player can be stopped. Of course Nike, the networks, and all the 'evil empires' out there want to see the Lakers versus the Cavs in the Finals. That would be the only way to top last years classic rivalry revisited (if you want national ratings).

You want to know why the Cavs won? Mo Williams broke the 20 point barrier. LeBron has shown he is capable of scoring at will. While scoring 40+ points per game in the Eastern Conference Finals, it hasn't always added up to his Cavs winning. I like the facilitator LeBron that trusts his supporting cast and closes the game out in the final minutes.

At this point, it wouldn't surprise me if Nike and the media world got their wish for the dream match-up of Kobe and LeBron bringing the casual fans in front of the television. While Nike attempts to stuff LeBron and Kobe down your throat, it will be Lamar Odom and Mo Williams that decide whether or not this match-up happens. I would be just as happy to watch Magic versus Nuggets.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Cavs Have More to Lose Than Series

The implications of the Eastern Conference Finals go beyond earning the right to play for an NBA Championship. The outcome of this series will effect the future of the Cleveland Cavaliers as a franchise.

In the first three games of this series, LeBron James has scored over 40 points in each game, which tells me he doesn't trust his his team mates. Why should he? As I poured milk into my cereal bowl this morning, I looked on the side of the box and I saw Mo Williams' game. It has been missing for the last week. Williams has yet to score 20 points this series versus Orlando and it's not just Williams' game that has struggled. Aside from LeBron, no Cavs player has put up a 20 point game in the Eastern Conference Finals.

What happened to the Cavs group taking imaginary photos of each other, playing loose and trusting one another? What happened to LeBron's "best supporting cast of yet?" What happened to the team with the best reord in franchise history? This team is beginning to look like the 2007 Cavs that got swept by the Spurs in the Finals, but this team doesn't look like they'll get there. They should be down 3-0 to the Magic, if not for LeBron's improbable buzzer beating three in game 2.

If the Cavs lose this series, the chances King James will continue his reign in Cleveland drop exponentially. Orlando has proven to be a difficult match up for the team with the NBA's best regular season record. Where is LeBron's help?

The Lakers have the momentum at this point. Unlike LeBron, Kobe has support and would like nothing more than to see the Cavs get bumped along with their home court advantage.

The Cavs should have used real film during their cute mock photoshoots. It would be a way to remember LeBron when he goes to play for the Knicks in 2010.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Extra Rest Causes Rust

The team with more rest (10 days) has an advantage over a team that played just two days ago...or not. Both the Lakers and the Magic won a deciding game 7 just two days ago on Sunday, while their opponents had taken care of business a week before, left waiting on ice for the opponent.

Both game 1's of the Conference Finals shared common trends. The well rested teams (Nuggets and Cavs) dominated the first quarter, but allowed the opposing team to hang around, leaving the door open for a comeback, eventually losing by a slim margin. The well rested teams struggled at the free throw line at crucial moments of the game, with Cavs shooting 70% and the Nuggets 65%. Both the Nuggets and the Cavs looked tired at the end of the game, thanks to an extended layoff without real game speed conditioning.

I still don't believe in Magic, despite the improbable game 1 upset. LeBron got off to such a hot start and made spectators out of his team mates, as he got little support from his usually sharp shooting back court. The Cavs could lose game 2 and I still favor them to win the series, they just need to rebuild their momentum lost from being idle last week.

I still think the Nuggets will find a way to win the series over the Lakers. If they do, JR Smith's scoring off the bench will be the reason. Coach Karl needs to play Smith with Carmello, so JR can hit open shots when 'Melo draws the double team.

The rest will pay off later for the Nuggets and Cavs.

Of Note:

-The Draft Lottey took place Tuesday and the Warriors drew the 7th overall pick in the 2009 draft on June 25th. The Pacific Division rival Clippers wound up with the first overall pick and are expected to select the much coveted Blake Griffin.

-Former Warrior's guard Mickael Pietrus has upped the level of his play during the post season. He contributed 13 points, going 2-5 from 3 point range, and had the unenviable task as the primary defender on LeBron James. Good to see Pietrus get playing time and have success.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Final 4 Teams Decided

The Lakers and the Celtics both played game 7 in their respective conference semifinals on Sunday. Only one team would earn the opportunity to make it back to the Finals. That team is the Lakers. The Rockets competed as hard as any team in the playoffs, but the better team advanced to create a Western Conference Finals match that could easily go 7 games.

The Nuggets will give the Lakers more of a challenge than the Rockets. Denver has a stronger defensive front line and a variety of scoring options. The Nuggets are comfortable grinding it out in the half court offense, but have the weapons to run it back on the fast break. The biggest edge Denver holds over LA at this point is depth. The Nuggets have the best bench of all teams in the playoffs, led by JR Smith and Chris 'Birdman' Anderson.

The Nuggets have been playing at a consistently high level, while the Lakers have been more erratic. What Lakers team will we see in game 1 Tuesday? The impatient, low energy team or smooth executors, playing active defense? It always comes down to X-factors. The Stars (Kobe, Pau, Carmello, and Chauncy) will bring it for their respective teams, but who will provide the edge to get his team to the finals? For the Lakers, Bynum and Odom. For the Nuggets, JR Smith. Or someone else?

The Eastern Conference Finals will not go seven games. Orlando shot the lights out in game 7 to put away a depleted Boston Celtics team, good for them. Guess what, the Cavs are going to smother Orlando's perimeter shooters and frustrate Dwight Howard. Magic turn into a pumpkin, Cavs in 5.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Celtics' Green is Howard's Kryptonite

The Cavs and the Nuggets are awaiting an opposing team to play for their respective conference finals. Boston leads Orlando 3-2 and appears to control the momentum in this series, while the Magic are unraveling quickly. Glen Davis' game winning shot to tie the series at 2-2 in game 4, marks this momentum swing. In game 5, the Celtics finished the game with a 17-3 run. The Magic helped the Celtics run, changing their free play style to conservative in attmept to protect their lead, rather than do the things that allowed them to hold the lead for most of the game.

Dwight Howard publicly rebuked head coach Stan Van Gundy for Orlando's inability to close the game saying, "You have a dominant player (referring to himself of course), why don't you let him dominate?"

I don't believe Stan Van Gundy is a championship caliber coach. The Ron Jeremy look alike is the NBA coaching version of Mark Cuban, meaning he has no check on his emotions and therefore cannot lead when the stakes get too big. Look at the immature, unsportsman-like behavior of the Mavs fans. (Good examples: Pat Riley, Greg Popavich, Phil Jackson, Larry Brown, or George Karl) Don Nelson is emotional when he needs to be, but he always has a plan and seems to be in control, no matter what happens on the court. Van Gundy does not.

"He's (Van Gundy) is a master of panic," said Shaq during the regular season when the Orlando head coach made an unnecessarily big deal of Shaq Daddy of flopping.

Despite my lack of faith in Van Gundy as a high pressure playoff leader, Dwight Howard is equally guilty for the Magic not getting it done in crunch time. Sure, Van Gundy's play calling and substituting could have been better, but if you're a dominant player, that shouldn't matter. Back your way into the post and put up your hand like you mean business. Get in your team's faces and demand they throw the ball in the post. (See: Tim Duncan, Shaq, Karl Malone, Hakeem Olijawon, Charles Barkley) Jordan, Kobe, and LeBron will have the ball when it matters, no questions, all you have to do is look in their eyes. Howard is physically dominant, but still needs to develop his leadership skills. If your team won't feed the post because they don't want you on the FT line, you're not a leader. If you blame your coach for "not allowing" you to dominate, you are not a leader. Grow up Dwight. The Magic are not ready or deserving of a Conference finals series. At least it will save the embarrassment of getting swept by the Cavs...Congrats Boston.

I think the Lakers butts are still partially on fire from game 4, as they let the 'Yao-less' Rockets humiliate them, prompting Magic Johnson to say their performance was "an embarrassment to the Lakers organization." Well, let's see you do it Kobe, I mean Lakers. This team is not motivated every game and has inconsistent bench play. Good luck playing a the Nuggets who remind me of a higher scoring Detroit Pistons of 2004. Actually, good luck getting past the Rockets to get there.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Warriors Name New G.M.

The Warriors will name Larry Riley as the new General Manager tomorrow at 12:30 PST, replacing Chris Mullin. Riley, with 22 years of NBA experience, will be promoted after spending two years on the bench as one of Don Nelson's assistant coaches.

This move came as a surprise to few, as we've touched on it here a few times in the last couple of weeks. Mullin and team president Robert Rowell had a falling out, dating back to the preseason. Mullen virtually disappeared from the media last season, as Rowell took control of personnel (or gave it to Don Nelson).

I don't doubt Riley's capability as a GM, he's been in the front office a few times before with the Grizzlies (Memphis Grizzlies Schedule) and Bucks (Milwaukee Bucks Schedule), yet I will miss Chris Mullin. He will be remembered for making one of the most famous trades in team history when he dealt Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy, Ike Diagu, and Keith McCloud to the Pacers (Indiana Pacers Schedule) for Stephen Jackson, Al Harrington, Sarunas Jasikevicius, and Josh Powell. He also brought Baron Davis home to California and made the Warriors relevant again. This combination of players went on to make up one of the most exciting Warriors teams in 12 years, reaching the second round of the Western Conference Playoffs.

This change will mark a new era in the organization, the era of Robert Rowell, who has been criticized for his hefty fine on Monta Ellis for the moped accident, his three year contract extension of Stephen Jackson, and now running the beloved Chris Mullin out of town. The Warriors have the pieces to build upon, but if the W's fall back to mediocrity over the next few seasons, we will know who to hold accountable...Rowell.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Rockets Lose Yao for Postseason

Did the second round of the 09' NBA Playoffs just become much less interesting? The Nuggets beat the Mavs in dramatic and controversial fashion to go up 3-0 in the series. It was anyone's game to win, but with 5 seconds left, the Nuggets down 103-105 with possession of the ball, Antoine Wright appeared to intentionally foul Carmello Anthony. No foul was called, as Carmello pulled up subsequently nailing a game winning three point shot that left the crowd frozen in disbelief, along with the Mavs as they stood on the court looking around as if waiting for a review of the play.

The officials appeared to have blown the call, but the Mavs were and are not going to win this series regardless of what the result of Saturday's game.

After winning game three in Houston for a 2-1 series lead, the Lakers are showing more signs building momentum against the Rockets. The Lakers made the Rockets look bumbling on offense when they applied ball pressure and denied Houston to run the half court set through the post. Ron Artest took low percentage shots, Yao struggled to keep up in a fast paced game, and the Lakers scored on a multitude of Rockets turnovers. With momentum, the Lakers have another advantage over the Rockets. Yao will miss the remainder of the postseason with a stress fracture in his left foot.

Its not curtains for the Rockets without Yao. Playing without Yao will allow the Rockets to keep up with the faster pace established in Lakers' two consecutive victories. The games will be close, but Houston's lack of answer for Pau Gasol is enough for the Lakers advance to the Western Conference Finals. The Lakers versus Nuggets will be the best playoff series thus far, excluding the Bulls vs. Cetics first round. But this game will have better talent and NBA Championship implications.

The quality of teams drops off profoundly in the Eastern Conference, outside the Cavs. The Celtics are nowhere near the level they were playing last year, the Magic are not consistent enough, and the Hawks (Atlanta Hawks Schedule)...well, start planning your summer vacation now...

Friday, May 8, 2009

Warriors Wish-List

We wanted to break away from the NBA playoff talk for a post here and get back to the Warriors for a post.

In the last post, we placed a small notes section at the end of the post talking about how Chris Mullin is on his way out of Golden State and possibly on his way to New York. Assistant GM, Larry Riley, has taken over GM duties and is just waiting for things to become official. His first move could be trading Corey Maggette to Utah for forward Andrei Kirilinko. If that move were to go through, it would essentially be trading an offensive player for a defensive one, something that actually makes a whole lot of sense on the Warriors part. AK 47 isn't the premiere defender and shot blocker that he was 3-4 years ago, but he's still better than any other big man currently on the Warriors roster. Also, the Warriors have a surplus of swing man who can score the basketball, so Maggette isn't a necessity for them right now. There also was mention of the Warriors originally having interest in Carlos Boozer, but apparently they turned to Kirileno after hearing Utah's asking price for Boozer. Carlos Boozer would be just what the doctor ordered in Golden State, but Kirilenko is a more realistic possibility, and certainly makes some sense for this team.

The trade rumors had me thinking of checking into the upcoming free agent class and taking a look at potential matches for the Warriors, and there are a few interesting possibilities. If the Warriors are looking for a strong defensive presence in the front-court, they could also turn to Ron Artest, who will be free once the Rockets season ends. Lamar Odom, who the Warriors were briefly linked to during the season, is also set to become an un-restricted free agent. Even Shawn Marrion, who finished the year with the Raptors (Toronto Raptors Schedule), could come in and be a big help to this team. All of these guys would instantly make the Warriors a better all-around team, but their biggest need is in the back court where there are a few "natural point guards" set to be available.

As far as free agent point guards, Andre Miller and Jason Kidd are both scheduled to hit the market when free agency begins, though whether or not their respective teams allow it to happen remains to be seen. Kidd seems like he'd be an ideal choice as he has roots in the Bay Area (born in San Francisco and went to UC Berkley) and could come back here to finish out his career. He could also look at this team and see how close they are to having something and how much difference he'd actually make for them. I know he's no longer in his prime and isn't really getting any better, but Jason Kidd is still an impact player and if you put him on this Warriors team, it could provide Barron Davis-type results. Also, if the Warriors do end up drafting a point guard this July, what better mentor to have help them learn the league then Jason Kidd.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Lakers Win Dirty

The Lakers did what they should, beat the Rockets in game two and avoid going back to Housoton down 2-0. They accomplished the win by cheap, dirty, and scrappy basketball. Derek Fisher's forearm check to Luis Scola on a back pick, Kobe Bryant's no-look elbow to Ron Artest's throat, and the swiping claws of defenders mauling any Rocket driving the lane.

Are the Lakers a dirty team? Absolutely. Go back to Trevor Ariza's foul on Portland's Rudy Fernandez (Portland TrailBlazers Schedule) , maliciously upending the Spaniard in mid flight resulting in hospitalisation. The Lakers are the bad guy in the boxing movie that puts metal weights in their gloves. They talk smack and do what they can to disrupt the emotions of the opponent. Unless you are hitched to the Lakers bandwagon, this is a despicable group of players that feel entitled to win.

The Lakers are only using the formula that beat them last year by the Celtics. That's physical play bordering dirty, causing the opponent let emotions get in the way of execution. The Rockets lost due to turnovers. The Lakers turned up the defensive pressure, swarming Yao and preying on the sensitive and volatile emotions of Artest. The Lakers have figured out that activity and points off turnovers will win against the Rockets. If the Rockets will win, Yao must stay out of foul trouble and the pace of the game must slow to a scoring in the mid eighties to low nineties.

Note: Things have been extremely slow on the Warriors front. There has been rumors surfacing around the net that has them interested in Utah Jazz (Utah Jazz Schedule) Forward Andrei Kirilenko. However, their current GM, Chris Mullin, is no longer the person pulling the stings in Warrior land. Mullin, who's contract isn't expected to be retained by the Warriors, is no longer involved in the Warriors planning as he prepares himself to move into New York's (New York Knicks Schedule) front office. That should be the next piece of news coming out of Golden State..

Monday, May 4, 2009

NBA Playoffs 09': Houston Wins Game 1 in LA

The second round is upon us here in early May, as we see who really deserves a shot at a title. Okay, I was wrong about two of the Eastern Conference match-ups. I hitched my wagon to the Bulls as a David capable of knocking off a limping Goliath in the Celtics. The Celtics closed out the game better and Ray Allen showed up.

I was also off when I picked fast break Phily (Philadelphia 76ers Schedule) to get by the playoff inexperienced Orlando Magic, because I didn't think Turkaglu or Lewis would show up. They did along with some dominant play from the defensive player of the year Dwight Howard. Then the Hawks beating the Heat (Miami Heat Schedule)...ya, did anyone watch that? Didn't think so. Does any of this matter? No. The Cavs are going to run through every round with ease, like the expediting conveyor belt at the airport. Barring injury to LeBron or Mo Williams, no team can survive Cleveland's defense.

The Mavricks gave the Nuggets a game, but the Nuggets had more weapons and played more physical. The Mavricks are playing good basketball right now, but there's no way they will get past the Nuggets. The difference is Denver playing more physical than Dallas. Jason Kidd and especially Dirk Nowitski can be less effective when forced to work hard to score. If Kenyon Martin, Birdman Anderson, and Nene rough up Dirk, he will get frustrated and rendered less effective. Dante Jones, with his speed and strength could be even more effective on Dirk when he wants to play on the perimeter. Nuggets in five.

I'm not surprised to see the Rockets beat the Lakers at Staples in game 1. "Will Yao be able to handle two seven footers?" More like, can the two seven footers on the Lakers handle Yao? Bynum is not going to play a big part in this series. His knee will not allow him to have the mobility he needs to stop Yao. Phil Jackson's rotation is getting less sturdy the further the Lakes venture into the playoffs. Bynum is not mobile. Ariza is athletic, yet prone to the bonehead foul or turnover, Farmar still lacks confidence on offense, and Shannon Brown will turn back into a pumpkin sooner rather than later. If Artest and Battier continue to make life difficult for Kobe and let Brooks and Yao spark the offense, Houston could very well be taking on the Nuggets for the chance to play the Cavs.