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Tag:2011 First Round
Posted on: April 28, 2011 9:40 am
Edited on: April 28, 2011 9:45 am
 

Playoff Fix: Hornets-Lakers Game 6

The Los Angeles Lakers can advance to the second round with a Game 6 win over the New Orleans Hornets. Posted by Ben Golliver.
odom-lakers


One Big Thing: After a lackadaisical and lost Game 1 effort that allowed 109 New Orleans points, the Los Angeles Lakers have locked in on defense, holding the Hornets to an average of 85.5 points in Games 2 through 5. Playoff basketball always starts on the defensive end, and the Lakers have proven that in this series, doing their best to win the battle on the glass and contain a plucky, overachieving and fearless Hornets team to take a 3-2 series lead. In Game 5, the Lakers were able to force 19 Hornets turnovers, a number that isn't sustainable for New Orleans if it hopes to stave off elimination at home in Thursday night's Game 6. 

The X-Factor: In a series with such a disparity in talent, length and bulk in the frontcourt, it's been a bit surprising to see how closely tied L.A.'s success has been to Kobe Bryant's performance. In Game 5, Bryant changed the complexion of the game with two monstrous dunks. His teammates obviously fed off of the spark, playing more loosely and with that Laker swag/confidence that has been absent for much of this series. All five Lakers starters scored in double figures and shot 50% or better, reaching a level of balance that is simply overwhelming for New Orleans, who can match Bryant with Chis Paul but have no answer for the Lakers 2-8. The overlooked aspect of Game 5? Bryant scored just 19 points and played only 29 minutes. He's got plenty left in the tank for Game 6, despite the tweaked ankle.

The Adjustment: It's been an ongoing process, but the Lakers have begun to lean more heavily on their interior tandem of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum offensively. Their combined point totals in Games 1 through 5: 21, 23, 31, 27, 34. Game 5 was really the model they'll look to reproduce in Game 6, as the 34 combined points came on just 23 attempts and included 12 combined trips to the foul line. Getting to the stripe on the road is generally a difficult proposition, but the Lakers were able to bully their way to 24 free throw attempts in Game 3 and 30 in Game 4. They shot 30 free throws again in Game 5 and will look to continue the parade in Game 6. New Orleans has three possible hopes here: L.A. reverts to ignoring its bigs in the halfcourt offense, Gasol shrinks back to his Invisible Man form from game 1, or Bynum gets in early foul trouble himself.

The Sticking Point: The Lakers' intensity level has been up and down this series, and they'll be walking into a cauldron in Game 6. Hornets fans, uncertain of their team's future, have been out in full force throughout the series, and Paul has ranged from amazing to spectacular through the first five games. One of the league's great competitors, Paul has already delivered the "this is all or nothing" quote in advance of Thursday night's game and has made his appeal to the home fans. The Hornets haven't looked afraid of the defending champions once during this series and Paul and company won't go down without a fight. 
Posted on: April 28, 2011 8:52 am
Edited on: April 28, 2011 5:44 pm
 

Playoff Fix: Blazers-Mavericks Game 6

The Dallas Mavericks have their first chance to close out the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday during Game 6. Posted by Ben Golliver.
dirk-blazers

One Big Thing: The Dallas Mavericks, up 3-2 over the Blazers in the series, look to be in full command. The last time we said that, though, Brandon Roy turned everything upside down by exploding for a miraculous fourth quarter in Game 4. Portland doesn't necessarily need another miracle, some consistent scoring from the backcourt would do just fine. Dallas, meanwhile, has been efficient offensively this series, even if it hasn't led to huge point totals, but it must find a way to get to the free throw line on the road. Their Game 3 effort (23 attempts) was much better than Game 4 (10 attempts). DallasNews.com notes that the Mavericks are 1-9 in Game 6s and 0-5 on the road. Continuing to contain Portland's backcourt while also getting to the free throw line is a solid formula for putting a dent in those numbers.

The X-Factor: The Blazers' offense has been anemic all series, cracking 90 points just once in five tries and shooting 25% or less from three-point land three times in the five games. The long ball, and the offensive balance it provides, is key: Portland's offense produced 97 points and looked best when guard Wesley Matthews caught fire early in Game 3. Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge is seeing increasing amounts of attention inside -- with his scoring production dipping every game so far -- and someone must step up to stretch the defense or it will be another long night. The candidates: Matthews, Roy, guard Rudy Fernandez and forward Nicolas Batum.

The Adjustment: The Mavericks haven't received enough praise for their ability to make the necessary defensive adjustments in this series. They've mostly shut down Portland's famous lob plays to Aldridge. They've crowded and frustrated Roy into a 2-7 shooting night in Game 5 following his Game 4 explosion. They've succeeded in containing Gerald Wallace throughout the series, more or less. The final necessary adjustment isn't about Xs and Os, it's more mental: they need to seal the deal on the road. To do that, the Mavericks need to protect the ball. Portland is now 9-0 in its last nine home games against Western Conference playoff opponents, winning the turnover differential battle by an average of 6.4 in those games. That's an astounding number, and it speaks to the Rose Garden's ability to rattle opponents and Portland's ability to step up its defense at home. Dallas was -7 in Game 3 and -4 in Game 4 on turnovers. They'll need to cut down on some of the sloppy, unforced errors if they way to erase the Blazers' dominant homecourt advantage.

The Sticking Point: We're just five games into the playoffs but Portland has already done its fair share of public complaining. Coach Nate McMillan questioned the officiating after Game 1. Aldridge has made mention of his fatigue multiple times. Matthews and guard Patty Mills took exception to a hard screen by Brian Cardinal during garbage time in Game 4. Aside from Roy's rally, the Blazers have appeared to be a very disjointed bunch on the court, and the talk off the court has given off the impression that perhaps they've bitten off more than they can chew mentally. Dallas, meanwhile, withstood the emotional Roy rollercoaster to dominate at home in Game 5. Portland has banded together multiple times this season -- in the wake of injuries to Roy and center Greg Oden, some early season road struggles, after the midseason trade for Gerald Wallace -- and they'll need to do it one more time if they hope to stave off elimination.
Posted on: April 28, 2011 12:59 am
Edited on: April 28, 2011 1:38 am
 

Grizzlies-Spurs: A question of luck or fate.

There are times in sports when you wonder what the line is between fate and luck. Manu Ginobili's improbable step-back and Gary Neal's desperation 3-pointer make up one of those times. 
Posted by Matt Moore




O-Ren Ishii: "You didn't think it was going to be that easy, did you?"

Beatrix Kiddo: "You know, for a second there, I kinda did." 

- "Kill Bill"



"I don't think we showed the heart of a champion. We got lucky."

-Manu Ginobili via Chris Vernon on Twitter



What's the difference between luck and fate? What separates grit, will, determination, and the ability to make the biggest plays from abject desperation and the right bounce at the right time? How do you define what's true greatness and what's the unpredictable flow of random events? The lens of sports is such an infinitely trivial window trough which to view such things, but after Grizzlies-Spurs 5, the most wild game of the most unpredictable series in the 2011 NBA playoffs, those are questions that have to be running through the mind of everyone who has borne witness to what happened in San Antonio, Texas. 
The scene:

The 4-time champions were up against the ropes, and up against an upstart 8th seed who has dominated what feels like at least 16 of the 20 quarters played. Down three points after a flurry of clutch free throws from Zach Randolph; the redeemed All-Star for a small-market franchise. A tipped ball. Another tipped ball. And then, of course, Ginobili. 




There was an inbounds pass. It was tipped up in the air. It was tipped again. It landed in Ginobili's hands. A desperation heave, good. The tip goes any other direction, the game is over. The ball isn't tipped, the Grizzlies may be in position to defend the shot, and the game may be over. But it winds up there. And Ginobili hits it. Afterwards, after what happened later, he's the deferential. He admits it was luck. But was it? How many times have we seen him hit that kind of shot? I've kept track in this series. Ginobili has hit four 3-pointers off of broken plays. Does that invalidate them? The opposite. How big is it when you can make a non-possession into a 3-pointer? How much can that change a series that has seen three of the five games decided by five points or less (not including the overtime period in Game 5)? You have to believe that, if that shot wasn't due to Ginobili's undeniable focus and concentration, there was some sort of intervention by whatever you choose to reference as the "Basketball Gods". Random chance? Perhaps. But, if so, then the Spurs have a keen way of turning those instances of random chance into points. Maybe that's just "valuing each possession." 

But even then, his foot was on the line. It's just a two. Are you kidding me? The Grizzlies have avoided the dagger? All they have to do is hit free throws, deny the 3-pointer, and it's done? How kind can those Basketball Gods be to a franchise that drafted Hasheem Thabeet? Z-Bo sinks two free throws. Clutch, from the player so often derided for not being "a winner." Just deny the 3-pointer. That's all that separates Memphis and the proverbial "Shock of the World." 

The inbounds, you can deny it to Manu, you can deny it to Parker. But you're going to have to let one of the others get free. Gary Neal? Sure. The undrafted rookie the Spurs picked up in Europe and really decided to keep in Summer League? Sure. He can have it. O.J. Mayo will contest, but from that distance, with the series on the line? There's no way. There's just no way. 


Buckets. Onions. Glory. Pain. The whole thing. Sports. 

In overtime, and the Grizzlies had no legs. There's nothing left. Parker does his damage. The Grizzlies fight back, but not enough defense. The shots fell, and that's what happens. Spurs win. 3-2, going back to Memphis, and all the pressure is on the Grizzlies now. Lose in Game 6, and that feeling, the one where it was so close they could taste it when the ball was tipped on the Ginobili possession? It's going to be the opposite. The knowledge that it's all slipping away. The Grizzlies have fought through being the underdog. They've fought through being without homecourt advantage. They've fought through being down 16 in a desperation elimination game for the opponent, on that team's home floor. 

But can they fight the Basketball Gods? 

At some point you recognize that things fall into place for teams, in part because of those random chances, and in part because of that team's determination to seize the moment provided. It wasn't that Memphis didn't seize them. It's simply that the Spurs were granted them. 

In the larger scheme of things, this was simply a Game 5 between a perennial power and an upstart trying to establish some sense of legitimacy. The veteran team executed down the stretch, by hook or by crook. But you still have to wonder, where is that line between fate and luck, and how, in the name of Naishmith's Nets, did that just happen? 

Game 6 is Friday, in Memphis. 
Posted on: April 28, 2011 12:14 am
Edited on: April 28, 2011 1:04 am
 

Heat-Sixers Series Recap: Heat a step above

Chris Bosh leads the way (?!) as the Heat close out the Sixers and advance to meet their destiny versus the nemesis, the Boston Celtics
Posted by Matt Moore




It wasn't pretty, it wasn't perfect, it was closer than it should have been. But the Heat have closed out the Sixers, and advance to the second round. The clutch hero was naturally... Joel Anthony?! Moving on, here's how this series wrapped up. 

Series MVP: Chris Bosh. Who would have thought the most-criticized of the Triad would step up like this? 19.8 points per game for Bosh, and he finally showed the kind of aggression you would have hoped to have seen more of this season. Bosh found Elton Brand at the elbow, and Brand was too old to match him in speed, and not big enough to match his length. Bosh was consistently aggressive, and it paid off. The Sixers were supposed to have a better set at the 4-5 matchup, and instead, Bosh, alongside Joel Anthony, turned it. Like a Bosh.

It was over when: Game 2 when the Heat blew them out. The Sixers had shown life in Game 1, but Game 2 really showed that the talent differential was too great. The seeds of doubt were cast then. The Heat made the statement and it held through for a five-game win. 

Goat of the Series: Andre Iguodala. Iguodala had his best game of the series in Game 5, but also shot 32 percent in the other four games. And on the key possession for the Sixers late in the game, after nailing huge shot after huge shot, Iguodala missed a pull-up jumper. The Sixers needed Iggy to take it to another level in this series, which was obviously a tough matchup. That's the playoffs, though, and he couldn't get it done. Iguodala will be a superb 2nd to 3rd best player on possibly a championship team. But as "the guy" he's just not a good fit. 

Going forward, the Sixers should: Feel good about the progress they've made. Their first year under Doug Collins they made a miraculous turnaround, made the playoffs, won a game, and developed some good young talent. It may be time to cash in Iguodala as a building block and move towards Evan Turner. Especially after Turner's performance in the playoffs, dealing Iguodala makes sense, and would net them a huge array of talent. Jrue Holiday looks legit, as does Lou Williams, and Turner. With Brand getting back to decent performance, even at his age, a better starting center would set their future up nicely. They still need a star player, but sometimes the search for those takes time. 

Going forward, the Heat should: Be grateful they didn't blow this one. Pushing this to a Game 6 in Philadelphia would have sent up "Oh My God, the Heat are choking again!" panic attacks. They now get time to prepare for Game 1 against Boston on Sunday. And they're going to need it. The Heat had so much momentum going into Game 4 and lost some of it. Even Game 5 felt like more of an exhalation than a victory roar. The Heat took care of business. Now the real playoffs begin for them. 

Winners: Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Joel Anthony, Mario Chalmers, Doug Collins, Jrue Holiday, Elton Brand, Thaddeus Young

Losers: LeBron James, Andre Iguodala, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Spencer Hawes, Mike Bibby

Posted on: April 27, 2011 2:52 pm
Edited on: April 27, 2011 2:53 pm
 

Boston is the best reason for Heat to close 76ers

Posted by Royce Young



It's never a good idea to mess around in the playoffs. Not only do you open the door to actually losing the series if you let it go on longer than it should, but you risk injury, give up rest and maybe most importantly, preparation.

The Heat have an opportunity to close out the 76ers tonight in Miami and while it's in their best interest to win for a lot of reasons, maybe the best reason is that they need an extra couple days. They need an extra couple practices to prepare. Because those Celtics are starting to look pretty scary again.

One guy has probably kept Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley up deep into the night the past week and it's not Troy Murphy. With the way Rajon Rondo appeared to get his mojo back against the Knicks, he immediately becomes enemy No. 1 for the Heat. Not only do the Heat have no one to guard him, but well, the Heat seriously have no one to guard him.

Rondo dominated the first three games between these teams in the regular season, getting into the paint at will which opened up the entire floor to Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. He is the most dangerous man on the floor for the Heat. When Rondo is rolling, the Celtics are really good. They're tough for anyone to beat. But for Miami? It's darn near impossible.

Which is a pretty good reason to go ahead and wipe their hands clean of Doug Collins' energetic young bunch. Basketball isn't necessarily like football where you can spend hours watching game tape and developing a strategy for stop another offense or break an opposing defense. Basketball isn't a game for Bill Belichick.

But there is something to be said for preparation. Having a few days just to clear the mind of all the Synergy stats your coaching staff pounding in to your head about Lou Williams and Jrue Holiday and move on to Rondo is huge. Now the Heat can forget things like "When Holiday takes two dribbles with his left hand with 16 on the shot clock and opens his mouth, he's 72.8 percent likely to pass to Andre Iguodala" and start thinking about how Rajon Rondo could possibly kill them.

It's about getting your mind right. Forget the film study and walkthroughs. Just having a few days to mentally prepare and think about what a series it will be against Boston is more important than you think. The rest, the preparation, the confidence -- all that matters. Every little bit. When you're going into a series against a team like the Celtics, any little edge, no matter how small, is important.

Wasting time moving on is bad for a lot of reasons for the Heat. But having the Celtics on the horizon might be the best motivation for finishing this off. The Celtics have already handled their business. They're waiting for the Heat. You don't want to keep them waiting for too long.
Posted on: April 27, 2011 1:47 pm
 

NBA Playoffs Grizzlies-Spurs: Desperate measures

How can the Spurs survive versus the Grizzlies in an elimination game down 3-1? Here's the plan.
Posted by Matt Moore




Well, this is just not what we expected at all. 

It would be one thing if it were just an 8 seed. It would be another if it were just your typical 1 seed.  But this is the Memphis Grizzlies usually deemed a punchline in and of themselves, with a 3-1 seed against the top team in the West, the top team in the league for most of the season, and the 4-time NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs. If Game 1 was off-putting like a day where the sun just doesn't seem bright enough, and Game 3 felt like a rising surge of bile before you vomit, then Game 4 was seeing the meteor headed through earth's atmosphere. And now, before Game 5, there's a bizarre calm washing over San Antonio, as this simply cannot seem real. 

But it is.

The Spurs face an elimination game down 3-1 for the sixth time in the Duncan era. They are 0-5 in their previous attempts to come back. 

So how do the Spurs rally around the old Pop coach and push this thing back to Memphis with the pressure then on the Grizzlies? It's got to be a 3-part plan. 

I. Punish the jump: You may have noticed in this series that the Spurs are not shooting 3-pointers often, and not well when they do. You may also have noticed it seems like the Spurs can get layups when they really want. Both of these things are true. The Grizzlies are not playing position like most defenses; they're not trying to intercept Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, or Geroge Hill on the drive. They're playing to the ball. They're trying to force turnovers, disrupt passing lanes, force the Spurs' offense to consantly reset itself. It's a bold and unusual approach, which is partly why the Spurs have had such trouble with it. The layups are contested, sure. But it's not the same kind of wall they face when they play the Lakers, the Celtics, even the Mavericks. The Grizzlies' goal is to disrupt the corner-three kickout from San Antonio, and it's worked to perfection. If the Spurs want to gain control, they have to force that defense to collapse so far in, that the space on the perimeter opens. Which means Tony Parker has to be as aggressive as he was in Game 4, and Manu Ginobili as aggressive as he was in Game 3. They'll ratchet up fouls, those passing lanes will clear, and the 3-pointers will fall. It's odd to think of the Sprus that way, but without the 3-pointer, they're doomed. If the Grizzlies want to keep playing to that, the Spurs have to punish them at the rim.

II. Pick the perimeter poison.  On the flip side, the Grizzlies are not a good 3-point shooting team, but have been hitting in this series. So much so that the Spurs' defense has been sent scrambling to recover. In turn, that means more spacing in the lane. The Grizzlies are an exceptionally good interior passing team. In Game 2, the Spurs clamped down on the paint, forcing the Grizzlies to hit mid-range jumpers instead of punish them on the inside with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. In Games 3 and 4, the Spurs got caught up in the up and down style of the Grizzlies, and went back to guarding ther perimeter. The result is more points for the Grizzlies inside, and more opportunities for offensive rebounds, which the Grizzlies finally started to assert. Memphis is not a great jump-shooting team. The Spurs need to commit to containing Randolph, Gasol, and Arthur (who they may be doomed against as he has the most reliable 18-footer of any of the three, believe it or not), and if the Grizzlies beat them with outside shooting, so be it. You have to pick your poison down 3-1, and San Antonio should pick the unreliable perimeter shot. 

III. Hold on to the freaking ball. The Grizzlies are a great team at creating turnovers. That's their biggest defensive asset, in all reality. They are exceptional at wreaking havoc. So to say that the Spurs are beating themselves is an abject lie. The Grizzlies are beating the Spurs by creating loose balls and then getting to them first. But that's not to say that the Spurs haven't done their fair share of shooting themselves in the foot. Tony Parker, in particular, has struggled with passing and handle. He's missing passes high, wide, short, all-over. Mike Conley has managed to get the upper hand in a matchup he's at a severe disadvantage at in terms of ability due to his approach. Again, just like stated above, Conley's not playing position, he's playing the ball. He's attacking Parker's dribble instead of trying to stay in front of him. And Parker's obliging him. The Spurs cannot win this game without winning the turnover battle. 
Posted on: April 27, 2011 12:16 pm
Edited on: April 27, 2011 1:13 pm
 

LeBron James says Sixers are 'breakfast'

Miami Heat forward LeBron James compares closing out the Philadelphia 76ers to breakfast. Posted by Ben Golliver. lebron-eating

LeBron James and the Miami Heat are about to get eliminated by the Boston Celtics in the second round of the NBA Playoffs beginning next week, but that isn't stopping him from talking a little trash in advance of Game 5 against the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Palm Beach Post quotes James comparing closing out the 76ers to a morning meal
When asked about whether the three days of prep — rather than one — would make a big difference, LeBron James said tonight was about this: “Just finishing our breakfast.”
Continuing this logic, the Celtics become lunch, the Chicago Bulls serve as dinner and the NBA Finals would be Fourth Meal. James' breakfast line is heard in Jay-Z's Public Service Announcement and attributed by the Miami Herald to John Strickland, a friend of both James' and Jay-Z's.

In all seriousness, it's good to hear James so focused on the task at hand. There's nothing worse than an early round playoff series dragging out unnecessarily because the more talented team isn't totally locked in. (Loking at you, Los Angeles Lakers.) Just finish the deal so we can get to the real action.

Bottom line: the Heat should have swept the Sixers, and they know that better than anyone. In other words, tonight could get ugly. Look for the Heat to devour some scrambled Iguodala, a Brand muffin and maybe even a few Hawes cakes. OK, I'll stop. But only because you insist.
Posted on: April 27, 2011 1:53 am
Edited on: April 27, 2011 2:10 am
 

Lakers hit their form in Game 5 win over Hornets

The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the New Orleans Hornets on Tuesday night to take a 3-2 series lead. Posted by Ben Golliver.



The Los Angeles Lakers have come and gone multiple times already this series, but they were back again on Tuesday night, polishing off the New Orleans Hornets, 106-90, to take a 3-2 series lead.  

The Game 5 headlines will go to Kobe Bryant's dunks, as well they should. On two separate occasions, Bryant displayed the aggression, athleticism, agility and opportunism that turned him into a Jordanesque global icon. First, he banged hard on Hornets center Emeka Okafor; then, he cruised past Hornets forward Carl Landry for a crafty lefty flush.  

Dunks aside, this was L.A.'s most impressive performance of the series, because they took a very solid punch from the Hornets and didn't flinch. The Hornets came out firing and didn't look back. They got big nights from all the guys they've needed to get points from; Trevor Ariza (22 points) and Marco Belinelli (21 points) in particular. More important than the output was the efficiency: New Orleans hit nearly half of their three-point tries and shot 49.3% from the field. Aside from some shaky foul shooting, the Hornets were about as good as they could have hoped to be on a night when Chris Paul (20 points and 12 assists) was merely excellent rather than transcendent.

The Lakers clearly rose to the challenge, inviting the back-and-forth, up-and-down exchanges. All five Lakers starters scored in double figures, as did Lamar Odom ... and those numbers were representative. Bryant got a bit of extra rest for his sprained left ankle in the first half, and it was a team effort to fill in the gaps. The ball was moving, the big men were finally pounding the rim regularly, and Ron Artest and Derek Fisher were doing enough to stretch the floor. This was the Lakers starting unit -- on both ends -- that strikes fear in people's hearts. They dominated the rebounds 42-25 -- as they should -- and won the battle for second chance points by an astonishing 22-2.

Perhaps the biggest win for L.A., though, was Bryant's playing time. Given the Lakers' double-digit lead late, and Jackson's early rotation tweak, Bryant played just 28 minutes. If his ankle was an issue, and it certainly didn't seem like it when he was looking down on Okafor, Bryant leaves Game 5 not only with the highlight reel dunks, but also with a bit of extra rest that's precious this time of year.

The Lakers are playing on their own timeline, clearly indifferent to outside expectations or pressure. They've flipped switches on and off at will over the last week. Will they show up to Game 6 on Thursday to lay the hammer down? Does Paul have one final Magic act up his sleeve? 

Those remain open, good questions. But L.A.'s Game 5 performance served as a not-so-gentle reminder that it will take a minor miracle for the Hornets to send them to an early offseason.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com