Tag:2011 Playoffs
Posted on: April 19, 2011 10:19 am
 

Arron Afflalo out for the Nuggets Wednesday

Posted by Royce Young

The Nuggets will still be missing one of their key parts Wednesday night in Game 2 versus the Thunder as guard Arron Afflalo will miss another game because of a pulled hamstring.

"Zero (percent chance)," he told The Denver Post. "It hasn't even been 10 days yet (of rest). I've made a mistake three times (by coming back). It's not even being cautious, it's just not healed. I've tried to come back in the regular season. I'm trying to get past that marker."

Afflalo not only is a good offensive weapon for Denver, but he's another body and long defender to throw at Kevin Durant. Durant of course lit the Nuggets up for 41 in Game 1.

Game 3 is still a question mark and for Afflalo to say zero percent makes me think he's in serious doubt for this series entirely. Hamstring injuries aren't something to mess with and they are extremely easy to set yourself back on. Afflalo, like he said, has already had that happen.

George Karl will likely stick with his starting five of Wilson Chandler at shooting guard, but he hinted a bit at starting both Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson together in the backcourt. Karl likes to play those two down the stretch in games anyway, so maybe with the way things went in Game 1, he'll think about making that change.
Posted on: April 18, 2011 4:22 pm
Edited on: April 18, 2011 4:28 pm
 

League: Perkins' tip shouldn't have counted

Posted by Royce Young



The league issued a statement telling us something we all already knew: Kendrick Perkins' basket with 1:05 remaining should not have counted. The statement reads:

"Kendrick Perkins was improperly credited with a basket that should have been ruled offensive basket interference with 1:05 remaining in last night’s game.  Although a player is permitted to touch the net while the ball is in the cylinder above the rim, Perkins also touched the ball while it was still in the cylinder which is a violation and constitutes goaltending.”

I love when these type of things happen. Yes, it's better that the league acknowledges the gaffe, but it doesn't mean Denver gets its two points back. The tip came at an extremely critical time in the game with the Nuggets leading by one. The basket put the Thunder on top, eventually helping OKC to go on to win a hard fought Game 1 107-103.

George Karl said of the tip, "It very obviously should not have counted."

Matt Moore gave a terrific explanation of the rule and a breakdown of the play last night after it happened. He wrote, "Half the ball is in the cylinder. So it's in the cylinder. But the NBA rulebook does not  define "in the cylinder." It's a judgment call, likely left open to protect the officials, like a lot of rule interpretations. But without that, you can make the argument it was in, and out, of the cylinder."

It's very easy to point out how it was a blown call, but basket inference calls have always been one of the very most difficult ones to judge for officials. Not only does it happen in a couple tenths of a second, but the refs almost never have a good angle on it. Perkins' tip though did look a bit more awkward than most because his hand got tangled in the net as he went for it.

From my perspective in the arena, I actually thought Russell Westbrook's shot had dropped through. Most of the other writers around me thought the same thing. So you can imagine the position the officials were in during that situation. They got it wrong. They know and the league knows it. We all figured out what happened on the tip after watching the replay three or four times. The officials didn't have that luxury. Maybe that's the real question though: Why didn't the officials have that luxury?
Posted on: April 18, 2011 1:48 am
Edited on: April 18, 2011 2:33 am
 

Thunder-Nuggets: Interference call costs Nuggets?

No-call on basket interference call may have cost the Nuggets dearly late in a close game vs. the Thunder
Posted by Matt Moore

In the Thunder's epic Game 1 against the Denver Nuggets, there were an incredible amount of seemingly big moments. Every time one team would land a haymaker, the other would respond. Just when Denver thought it had buried the Thunder, Kevin Durant would land another three. Just when OKC thought it had finally cemented the comeback with a six-point lead late, Nene charged back. And then, this play happened to give the the Thunder a one-point lead late. 



It's a close call, but...
Here's the definition from the NBA's rulebook. The one most will look at is Rule 11, Section 1-A, b.:

b. Touch the ball when it is above the basket ring and within the imaginary cylinder


But it's not that simple. Nowhere in Rule 11. is the definition of "in the cylinder" defined. The ball is clearly in the cylinder... partly. Take a look. 




So it seems easy, right? Half the ball is in the cylinder. So it's in the cylinder. But the NBA rulebook does not define "in the cylinder." It's a judgment call, likely left open to protect the officials, like a lot of rule interpretations. But without that, you can make the argument it was in, and out, of the cylinder. 

But what about the net? That's the obvious thing, right? Funny thing. Here's the only place the net is mentioned in the interference/goaltending section outside of coming up from inside it, from the full rulebook:

h. Vibrate the rim, net or backboard so as to cause the ball to make an unnatural bounce, or bend or move the rim to an off-center position when the ball is touching the ring or passing through.



Okay, so grabbing the net obviously will vibrate it. But a. the ball is neither touching the ring nor passing through, and b. he did not cause the ball to make an unnatural bounce nor c. move the rim. Unless you want to get into chaos theory, which is a slippery freaking slope. 

So. The ball was both in and out of the cylinder. And Perkins did touch the net but did not create an unnatural bounce, nor move the rim. But wait, there's more! How about G.? 

g. Touch any live ball from within the playing area that is on its downward flight with an opportunity to touch the basket ring. This is considered to be a "field goal attempt" or trying for a goal.



Okay, so it's a live ball. It's in the playing area. And it's on its downward flight with an opportunity to touch the basket ring (the ball winds up hitting the rim as Perkins guides it down). so it's the equivalent of a defensive player swatting a ball on the way down. Except the ball has already hit rim. So it's not really applicable here. Plus, if this was taken literally, the alley-oop would be illegal off a missed shot. 

So we're back to b. and h.. Is the ball in the cylinder? Is using the net causing an unnatural bounce? 

Then there's this video. It walks you through a similar situation, and the determination is that the call is interference because the base of the ball is on the rim. As the ball's path leads it to bounce off the rim and out,  you could argue that's not the case here. And since Perkins touches it just before it hits rim, it also gets out of that. 

At its heart, this comes down to the cylinder. The most widely accepted terminology is that if any part of the ball is in the cylinder, it's a violation. But since the NBA rulebook doesn't define that, it leads to situations like this. Which is going to make tomorrow tons of fun for Stu Jackson. 

The reason the play was important was because it gave the Thunder a one-point lead. A Westbrook jumper would give the Thunder a three-point lead, and the Nuggets faced a three-point deficit instead of a one-point deficit. 

Now, from there, Raymond Felton blew a possesion in a terrible way, which is on him. The Nuggets missed a ton of free throws, which is on them. The Nuggets had every opportunity to win this game and did fail to close the deal. But it does create a really bizarre situation. 

We'll update you with the league's explanation for how this play was correctly, or should have been called. 

Update from a Twitter follower, from an NBA explanation post:
Once the ball is on or directly above the rim, no player can not touch the ball.



Of course whether the ball is directly above the rim...
Posted on: April 17, 2011 5:35 pm
Edited on: April 17, 2011 6:14 pm
 

NBA Playoffs Grizzlies-Spurs: The joy of one

Memphis wins first playoff game in franchise history as unlikely heroes come full circle. Oh, yeah, and there's a whole series in front of them.

Posted by Matt Moore




Joy comes in the morning . The Memphis Grizzlies entered the postseason 0-12 in postseason play. They walked out of the AT&T Center in San Antonio with a 1-0 series lead and their first ever franchise playoff win. 

It would be really easy to put this win in terms of the culmination of questionable moves the franchise has made, the history of failure and how far the team has come in getting one measly win in a playoff series. A win in series in which they are a considerable underdog to the very model of a small-market franchise that has won four NBA championships in the past ten years. 

I will do so now. 

The Grizzlies won behind two huge efforts from their frontcourt. Zach Randolph led the way with 25 points. Randolph was acquired ina  trade from the Clippers for Quentin Richardson. At the time, it was considered terrible, since Randolph was known as a locker room cancer who never won anything. Instead, he became the Grizzlies' first All-Star since Pau Gasol, and, on Sunday, did what he does: create shots underneath the basket where there's seemingly no room to create one. Without a legit player with length underneath, Randolph was able to create slight tip-ins. Throw in some poor defense by DeJuan Blair, and you've got a big day for Randolph.

In one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history, the Grizzlies traded their All-Star Pau Gasol for the expiring contract of Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, and the rights to Gasol's brother Marc who was playing in Spain. Randolph gets all the attention, and rightfully so. But Marc Gasol is as big a part of what the Grizzlies do as any player. He's a tremendous defender, both down low and on pick and rolls. He shows hard on screens and recovers, runs off mid-range Js (as he did Sunday), and has a wide offensive repertoire. While Tim Duncan was taking him one on one in the post in the first half, Gasol was getting his own, and wound up outscoring Duncan 24-16.  Anyone have that figured to start the day? 

Memphis made a series of terrible decisions in trading a first-round pick for Ronnie Brewer last season, then renouncing his right as a restricted free agent. They then used that money to acquire Tony Allen, another player with questionable skills and reputation, who wound up with a huge fourth quarter. Allen was plagued by foul trouble, but still managed to have an impact on the game with a series of gritty late-game defensive plays and some key buckets. 

The Grizzlies nearly traded O.J. Mayo at the deadline before the deal fell through and they got the trade request in too late. Mayo had 13 points off the bench. 

Memphis signed Mike Conley to a 5-year, $40 million contract, and were blasted for it. Mostly by me . (I made amends later after Conley continued to show his improvement, though the decision at the time was still irresponsible). Conley had 15 points and 10 assists and actually held his own offensively against Tony Parker (defensively, it was a different matter). 

The list goes on and on.

Then there's this. The Grizzlies drafted Hasheem Thabeet, one of the biggest busts of the decade with the No.2 overall pick in 2009. They had to send Thabeet along with a pick just to get rid of him. Houston took him on, in exchange for an expendable veteran defender who can hit the occasional 3-pointer. The Grizzlies got Shane Battier


Seems like a lot to make out of a Game 1 win when Memphis is just as likely to get blasted in the next four games, especially considering Manu Ginobili's absence. But, for a franchise trying to establish some level of legitimacy and momentum, it's a big deal. They won that first playoff game, and now have stolen homecourt advantage from the No.1 overall seed. This series looks long, it looks physical, and it looks exciting. And for the first time in franchise history, Memphis fans have to feel like they actually have a shot. 

You want some perspective on this? How about Manu Ginobili's absence? The Spurs' best element today was drawing fouls against a perimeter Grizzlies' defense that couldn't stop a drunken toddler from getting into the lane and resorted to just beating them up. The Spurs shot 15 more free throws than the Grizzlies, and hit 15 more. When Ginobili returns in Game 2, as he probably will, that number may actually increase. Ginobili and Parker are two of the best at drawing fouls (and some would say flopping). There may actually be dents in the AT&T center hardwood if the pattern from Game 1 keeps up.

The Grizzlies won despite only forcing 10 turnovers and losing the turnover battle. The Spurs were deliberate with their attack, and while the Grizzlies did succeed in forcing the Spurs off the 3-point line, outside of a handful of Richard Jefferson threes and two Matt Bonner bombs late to make everyone forget how terribly, terribly awful he was in guarding Marc Gasol. The Grizzlies outshot the Spurs by 12 percent, holding the Spurs to 40 percent from the field... and only won by three. That's a bad sign. 

If the Grizzlies don't figure out how to keep the Spurs out of the paint on the drive, or not foul them every single time they do enter, they're going to go down in flames. They gave up 29 free throws to George Hill and Tony Parker. That may seem like an outlier that won't hold. Given Memphis' style, it's likely not an outlier. 

But at the end of the day, Memphis did what they've done all season. Find a way to beat a better team by grinding it out, making big shots, and playing remarkable defense. For a day, it was good for a win, the biggest in franchise history. 
Posted on: April 17, 2011 1:19 am
Edited on: April 17, 2011 2:09 am
 

George Karl has had some words for OKC -- why?

Posted by Royce Young



George Karl has been talking a bit of smack about the Thunder talking smack. Him, and the Nuggets, have accused their first round opponent of being "cocky" and talking a larger-than-usual amount of junk.

Karl said this recently: "There’s no question there’s a cockiness to Oklahoma City ... We know what they were saying after the game here. We know what they were saying. We know. I’m not going to bring it to the public, but we know."

But Karl took it even farther, calling his former assistant and current Oklahoma City head coach Scott Brooks, "cocky." "He’s confident and his team is confident,” Karl told reporters in Denver recently. “At times when you get beat by him, you think they might be too cocky." Brooks, who is decidedly uncocky responded in a very Scott Brooks way.

“I’ve been called a lot worse. Trust me,” Brooks said Saturday. “My mom calls me a lot worse after we lose.

"You guys know me,” Brooks continued. “I worry about what we do with our team and focus on what we do. My job is to get our guys ready to play. We’ve done a pretty good job with that. … I care about what I do. I care about what our players do, and that’s where it ends. Denver, they can do the things they do. That’s on them. That’s on George, that’s on their staff. I focus on our team, our guys and I believe in what we do.”

I have a pretty good feel for Brooks -- and the Thunder -- because I live in OKC and cover the team up close. And I have never seen anything out of them that I'd call cocky. I do think there's a new confidence to them and maybe a bit of swagger since the Kendrick Perkins trade, but I wouldn't call it cockiness. Especially when it comes to Brooks. "Scott Brooks" might as well be the antonym for "cocky." He is easily one of the most humble coaches in the league.

So of course it makes me wonder: What is Karl trying to achieve here by going on the offensive? It almost seems like he's trying to manufacture bulletin board material for his team. Almost like he's trying to bait the Thunder into giving him some. Could he really be that desperate for motivation? Possibly. Especially when you consider that Karl went on record saying he wanted to avoid Oklahoma City, and with the Thunder beating the Nuggets rather solidly twice in the past two weeks.

So far -- if that is indeed Karl's intention -- it's failed. Kevin Durant wouldn't bite when Jim Rome asked him about it. "We just play basketball. We don't do any talking other than letting people know how good a team they are and how tough the series is going to be." Durant made it a point to say a number of times how tough he thought the series would be and how good he thinks the Nuggets are. If Karl's trying to bait the Thunder, he's going to have to take it up a notch.

A big reason for OKC avoiding it? They fall in step behind their soft spoken leader. Brooks has set a very humble, respect-your-opponent, turn-the-other-cheek tone with his group. When asked if he had a response for Karl's claims, Brooks once again took the high road.

“I don’t think we need to warn our guys,” he said. “Our guys are basketball players. We play basketball. We’re into our team. We’re into what we do on the court. That stuff off the court…why worry about that? That has no bearing on this series at all. Our guys love to play, they’re gym rats, they care about the game, they respect the game. They care about what they do. They represent themselves, the organization and the city well. That’s all I care about.

“I don’t get into going back and forth and I don’t tell our guys, because that’s not who they are. We don’t have to address an issue that’s not there. … I’ve been with George for a few years and he does his thing his way, and he’s very successful. I have a lot of respect for him.”

Karl no doubt has never been shy about speaking his mind and being candid with reporters, but this just feels forced to me. He's been around the block and has won a lot of games so I'm sure it's calculated. If he's pulling out all the stops to motivate his guys, that's his prerogative. He might be trying to get in the heads of the young Thunder squad. He might be trying to make them play with the wrong kind of emotion.

Whatever Karl is up to, I think he's got his reasons. Doesn't stop me from thinking it's probably a bad move, though. In trying to make some bulletin board material from scratch, I think he just gave some to the Thunder.

Posted on: April 15, 2011 6:38 pm
Edited on: April 15, 2011 6:56 pm
 

NBA Playoffs Western Conference First Round Picks

The NBA playoffs are here. We've previewed the Western Conference. Now here are our picks along with the rest of the CBS NBA staff for you to mock or praise. Be gentle. 




Here are the EOB picks for the Western Conference, with a little 'splainin. Leave your picks below. 

8 Grizzlies vs. 1 Spurs

Ben Golliver: The Manu Ginobili elbow sprain is a real drag and Memphis will surely give San Antonio all it can handle in the paint, but the Spurs are near untouchable at home and this isn’t their first rodeo. The Grizzlies deserve all the credit in the world for how they played the second half of their season – especially given the absence of Rudy Gay – but disciplined, experienced veterans with a clear system almost always beat out the enthusiastic, aggressive upstarts during the post-season. Look for Tony Parker to introduce Mike Conley to a crisis of confidence. Prediction: Spurs in five.

Royce Young: The Grizzlies wanted the Spurs, well now they're going to get them. It's silly to wish for things, but man, I can't help but think what the Grizzlies would look like with Rudy Gay. Alas, it's not meant to be. The Spurs are proven winners and the Grizzlies are the young, talented kids. It's not going to be easy for San Antonio, but Memphis just isn't ready to move on. Prediction: Spurs in six.

Matt Moore: It wouldn't surprise many to see Memphis take two games in this series. It also wouldn't surprise many to see a sweep by the Spurs. I'll aim for the middle. A five-game gentleman's sweep, which means Memphis wins a playoff game, and that's a step forward for the franchise. Prediction: Spurs in five.

Ken Berger: There are two big health questions for the Spurs: Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan. The Grizz have a lockdown defender, Tony Allen, capable of minimizing Manu's impact. The Grizzlies are a dangerous offensive-rebounding team, and they're second in the league in turnover differential. But the Spurs have the experience and presence to win on the road, they have enough big bodies to contend with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, and Tony Parker will be the best player on the floor in this series. Prediction: Spurs in five. 

7 Hornets vs. 2 Lakers

Ken Berger: This could get ugly for the Hornets, who I fear will be seeing the Lakers team that won 17 of 18 after the All-Star break, not the team that got bored and lost six straight at the end to nearly squander the second seed. New Orleans is among the grittiest defensive teams in the league, but not against the Lakers; Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum combined to shoot 67 percent in the four-game season series, swept by the L.A. Even if Bynum isn't 100 percent, the defending champs should cruise. Prediction: Lakers in four.

Royce Young: With David West being out, I think the Lakers are privately saying it's sweep or bust. Everyone is expected a sweep and it's hard to argue it, but with the semi-uncertainty of Andrew Bynum's knee and the fact Chris Paul is very, very good, the Hornets might be able to sneak up and steal a game. That would be the goal for New Orleans because they are climbing a mountain here and they're barefoot. Lakers in four.

Ben Golliver: Los Angeles got its dream match-up – finally – when it put away the Sacramento Kings in overtime on the last day of the regular season. The Hornets enter the series without their All-Star forward, David West, and with question marks surrounding Chris Paul, who recently had his knee drained of fluid and was held scoreless for the first time in his career. The Hornets don’t have much of a bench and certainly can’t compete with LA’s monstrous, versatile frontline trio of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. Forget about it. Prediction: Lakers in four.

Matt Moore:  HORNETS SEASON = OVER; OVERMATCHED = VERY YES. Prediction: Lakers in four.

6 Blazers vs. 3 Mavericks

Matt Moore: When was the last time a three seed was slept on this much? All of a sudden the Blazers, with Wesley Matthews as a key weapon (fine player that he is) are going to knock off a team with playoff experience who shored up their biggest weakness with Tyson Chandler? The Mavs miss Caron Bulter. They're not going to miss him that much. Prediction: Mavericks in six.

Ben Golliver: Mavericks/Blazers has become the hot upset special pick, but I see Dallas eventually pulling it out because Portland has struggled to win on the road, has dealt with inconsistent outside shooting all season and isn’t nearly as deep as everyone thinks they are. The Mavericks have the cohesiveness factor on their side and Portland doesn’t have a good option for defending Jason Terry. The Andre Miller / Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby / Tyson Chandler match-ups are very much toss-ups, and the Mavericks will need to pay extra attention to Gerald Wallace, but it’s difficult to see Dirk Nowitzki and company not taking care of homecourt. Prediction: Mavericks in seven. 

Ken Berger: What does it mean that this is the only first-round series I'm picking to go seven games? It means that I'm too much of a wimp to pick an upset. There is ample evidence to support the theory that Portland could dump the playoff-fragile Mavs, not the least of which are the Blazers' advantages in turnover differential (No. 1 in the league) and offensive rebounding rate (third). This could come down to a really fun Dirk Nowitzki vs. LaMarcus Aldridge show. But even after the trade for Gerald Wallace, the Blazers haven't won on the road consistently enough to suggest they could pull off a Game 7 upset in Dallas. Prediction: Mavericks in seven. 

Royce Young: I like the Blazers. It's almost irrational, but I can't help but like them. I see them as a team ready to challenge almost anyone. But the Blazers have almost become too much of a chic pick to be entirely comfortable with it. The Mavs are good. They won 55 games. They have Dirk. But it just seems like Portland is the better team. Blazers in seven.

5 Nuggets vs. 4 Thunder

Royce Young:  Why is everyone acting like this will be a high scoring, up and down series? The two games these teams played in the last couple weeks were won by the Thunder by an average score of 102.5 to 91.5. Oklahoma City plays some serious defense now. They match up well with the Nuggets and Denver doesn't have anyone to defend Durant. But getting a healthy Arron Afflalo is a wildcard and as we know, don't doubt the Nuggets. They're dangerous. Thunder in five.

Matt Moore: We have yet to see the Thunder in a series where Kevin Durant just takes over (because they've only been in one series). Durant could choose to end this series if he hits that level. But until he does, you have to believe George Karl will have some tricks up his sleeve, that the Nuggets will continue to play hard, and that the Thunder will have some trouble with dispatching the Nuggets. Prediction: Thunder in seven.

Ben Golliver: Thunder/Nuggets has epic potential given how well each team has played since making massive moves at the trade deadline and how selfless each team’s overall approach to the game is. In a nailbiter, I give the Thunder the edge because both of their stars score efficiently, can get to the line and because newcomer Kendrick Perkins fits in with the rest of the starting unit perfectly. Denver’s depth is second to none but Oklahoma City’s bench is no slouch, either, and when it comes to crunchtime I have a feeling Kevin Durant will add to his legend in a big time way. Prediction: Thunder in seven.

Ken Berger:  Along with Blazers-Mavs and Knicks-Celtics, this will be among the most entertaining and competitive first-around series. The Knuggets like to push the pace, shoot threes, and exploit mismatches in the pick-and-roll game by getting opposing bigs on the move and forcing them to make decisions. The Thunder are almost as efficient offensively, though at a slightly slower pace. Both teams are better defensively after their major deadline trades, though the Thunder are more consistent in that area. It could come down to which team has a superstar to make big shots and carry the load down the stretch. The Knuggets traded theirs, Carmelo Anthony; the Thunder acquired a diabolical screen-setter, Kendrick Perkins, to make things easier for Kevin Durant. Prediction: Thunder in six.
Posted on: April 15, 2011 6:14 pm
 

Lawson expects to be ready for Game 1 against OKC

Posted by Royce Young

Ty Lawson sprained his anke in Denver's final game of the regular season. It wasn't seen as anything too serious, but according to the Denver Post , Lawson did not practice Friday. He said he will try and practice on Saturday though.

Lawson did say he expects to be ready for Game 1 against the Thunder in Oklahoma City Sunday night. With him sitting out though, there will be a question as to if he's 100 percent or not.

Of course the Nuggets do have Raymond Felton, a very good point guard, behind Lawson. But George Karl likes to play the two together. The Nuggets need to get healthy if they want to push the Thunder. Right now, Denver comes in a bit wounded with Arron Afflalo's and Chris Andersen also ailing along with Lawson.

Posted on: April 15, 2011 3:02 pm
 

Thunder-Nuggets Preview: There will be blood

Posted by Royce Young



I. Intro:  No. 5 seed Denver Nuggets (50-32) vs. No. 4 seed Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27)

It's already being looked at as the "fun series" to watch. The young, athletic Thunder versus the young, athletic Nuggets. Some seem to be torn on the outcome which says one thing -- it should be a fun series.

Both teams underwent pretty serious transformations near the trade deadline. One was shipping out its star and replacing him with a gaggle of above average players. The other was shipping off one of its young pieces and replacing him with a championship tested big man.

At the time, it looked like the two franchises were headed in opposite directions. It looked like the Thunder were setting up to contend in the now, while the Nuggets were attempting to restructure for the future.

Except Denver kept winner and actually probably became a better team. In the end, we settled in on a unexpected series pitting division rivals against one another. Already the two teams are talking a little smack and already they've tussled. I get the feeling they don't like each other one bit. Did I say it should be fun?

II. What Happened: A look at the season series

Throw out the first two meetings because they don't count at all (Denver and OKC split 1-1 anyway). The teams that faced off in those first two games aren't the ones you see now. A lot changed.

And more than really any other series, we got the best taste of what to expect over the last couple weeks with this one. Not only did the Thunder and Nuggets play each other -- home and home, too -- but the games were important at the time. The Northwest Division title was still on the line.

OKC took the game in Denver 101-94, handing the Nuggets their first loss at home since the Melo trade and snapping a seven-game win streak. Then back in Oklahoma City a week later, the Thunder dropped the Nuggets 104-89 with a relentless defensive effort.

III. The Easy Stuff: Denver has no one to guard Kevin Durant

In the two recent games, Durant averaged 30.0 points per game on 45 percent shooting and really didn't get much of a challenge from Denver defenders. Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari shared the assignment, but the Nuggets tried switching on every screen Durant ran off of.

What result was a bunch of mismatches with Durant catching Nene or Kenyon Martin one-on-one. That wouldn't be a problem, except Durant is taller than both and can shoot over anyone on top of driving past them.

OKC is 22-1 this season when Durant shoots better than 50 percent from the floor. Read that last sentence again. Really, without Ron Artest last year holding Durant down against the Lakers, that series might've been very different. The Nuggets have to find a way to check Durant, otherwise they'll have a hard time checking the Thunder.

IV. Secret of the Series: The three P's: Pace, Perk and perimeter defense

The Nuggets play at the second fastest pace in the league (95.6). They want to run. They want to get Ty Lawson, Chandler, Martin and everyone else out in the open floor.

Oklahoma City isn't opposed to running by any means, but the Thunder definitely want to keep the Nuggets off the highway. In the last game in OKC, the game was played at a pace of just 90.0, something that definitely favored the Thunder. In the halfcourt, the Nuggets struggled scoring against OKC's man-to-man defense.

To go with that, inside Kendrick Perkins gives OKC the ability to leave single coverage on Nene. That means the Thunder's perimeter defenders can hang on Denver's list of good shooters. The Nuggets want you collapsing and rotating everywhere so they can find a marksman open on the outside. OKC didn't afford Denver that, holding the Nuggets to just 10-30 from 3 in the last two games.

V. The Dinosaur Narrative : "He who scores most will win"

Why is everyone acting like this will be a high scoring, up and down series? The two games these teams played in the last couple weeks were won by the Thunder by an average score of 102.5 to 91.5. Oklahoma City plays some serious defense now. Since Perkins joined the starting lineup, the Thunder are only second to Chicago in defensive efficiency.

Obviously the Nuggets like to run and the Thunder aren't shy about it, but if these games are 120-117 like everyone is acting, Scott Brooks might throw up. Kendrick Perkins most definitely will. (You know, from the running.)

This series will be more about stops and rebounding than anything else. Denver struggled in the halfcourt against the Thunder the last two games and OKC excelled, especially late. It's not about outscoring or outgunning each other. It's about out-stopping each other.

VI. The Line-Item Veto: Who wins each match-up?

PG: This will be fun. Speed on speed. I'm not sure anyone is faster than Russell Westbrook end-to-end with the ball in his hands. Except Ty Lawson (and maybe Derrick Rose). Westbrook is bigger and stronger though, which gives him the edge. But Lawson is the most important part to the Denver offense. He scored a then career-high 28 points against OKC in Denver two weeks ago.

SG: Assuming Arron Afflalo is healthy, this is a big edge for the Nuggets. Thabo Sefolosha doesn't add much on the offensive side and his defensive skills aren't needed that much on Afflalo. But OKC does use James Harden off the bench much in the same way Dallas uses Jason Terry. Then again, Denver has J.R. Smith who is maybe this series' overall X-Factor...

SF: I already went over it, but Denver just doesn't have a good defender for Durant. Both Gallinari and Chandler will have their chances, as well as Afflalo, but we're talking about maybe the most gifted offensive player in the game.

PF: Really this is a push because both Kenyon Martin and Serge Ibaka, while good players, aren't going to do a ton more than block, rebound and score occasionally on put-backs.

C: Other than the point guard matchup, all eyes will be here. Perkins and Nene already tussled once and there's no doubt that they'll likely go at each other again. Perkins did a really good job on Nene in the first meeting holding him to just 3-10 shooting, but Nene came back with a solid 6-9 effort in the last meeting.

Bench: Both teams have very strong benches. As mentioned, Harden is more of a bench starter for OKC. Eric Maynor is a terrific backup point guard. Daequan Cook a nice specialist. Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed good veteran big men. Denver has excellent weapons too with Raymond Felton, Chander, Smith and Chris Andersen. The benches will be big and both are very good.

Coaches: George Karl and Scott Brooks know each other well. Brooks was an assistant under Karl for three years. Karl is the more experienced one and has been both the favorite and the underdog before. This is Brooks first rodeo as a playoff favorite. But this series is more about the players than the coaches, so I don't really think this matchup matters a whole lot.

VII. Conclusion

This will be a terrific series, no matter the number of games it takes. Some are feeling the Nuggets in an upset as that's what a lot of the numbers suggest. But I don't see it. I think everyone agrees that the Nuggets may have actually become a better team trading Melo, but against the Thunder, it hurt them. Kevin Durant gets an easier job, the Nuggets don't have a good halfcourt option late in games and OKC actually matches up really well with Denver now.

The Nuggets are dangerous, especially when a couple guys get hot. But that's what it'll take. They'll have to have big games from J.R. Smith (good luck relying on him), Gallinari, Lawson and Chandler to move on past OKC. The Thunder know what they're getting from Durant and Westbrook. They know they can play defense. I like this Nuggets team a lot. Just not against Oklahoma City. Prediction: Thunder in five.

 
 
 
 
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