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Tag:second-round playoffs
Posted on: May 9, 2011 6:02 pm
Edited on: May 9, 2011 6:05 pm
 

Udonis Haslem finally active for the Heat

Posted by Royce Young

All season long, there has been talk about the Heat's role players, or lack thereof. Bench production has been an issue for a while. Outside of the so-called Big Three (or Big Two and Chris) the Heat struggle with answers.

A reason for that? Probably their best role player has been hurt most of the season.

But he's finally back tonight in uniform as Udonis Haslem is active for Game 4 against the Celtics.

Haslem has been out since November because of foot surgery and has flirted numerous times with coming back. He targeted a return to begin the playoffs, but wasn't ready. Then he wanted to make his first appearance in the second round. Not ready.

Now, evidently he is. And it'll be very interesting to see what he adds. His health and effectiveness as a result of that is the first question but let's not forget that Haslem is a pretty darn good big man. He gives the Heat a much better bench immediately and a lot more depth up front. No more will it be Juawn Howard logging big minutes behind Chris Bosh. Those will go to Haslem -- depending on health of course.

How many minutes he gets is another question, but even if it's just five, that's better than five more to Howard or overplaying Bosh.

Haslem's a tough, rugged power forward that is tough on the glass and has a nifty little 15-20 foot jumper. He's good as a bailout option late in the clock and can buy extra possessions hitting the offensive boards. Is he a major, series-swinging difference? Most likely not. But with Haslem, the Heat are better than without him. They're deeper, tougher and have a much improved front line to trot out.
Posted on: May 9, 2011 2:16 pm
 

Lakers backing gently off "blow up" talk

Mitch Kupchak says not to worry too much about Magic's "blow it up" comments. But if not a complete self-destruction, is a major remodeling on the way,and how does a new coach fit into this?
Posted by Matt Moore




Sure, you were just swept out of the playoffs in what should have been the culmination of so much work, effort, and money spent in order to achieve a three-peat and send your expensive Hall of Fame coach out in style. Sure, your roster was relatively exposed as lackadaisical, lacking in focus, determination, heart, and eventually class. And yes, the idea has always been to reload when the shots don't quite hit their target, which is always championship gold. 

But the Lakers? They're not looking to follow Magic Johnson's advice and blow it up. Not yet, anyway. And not completely. 

From Sports Illustrated: 
(Lakers GM Mitch) Kupchak cautioned against the idea that Johnson's recent comments on ABC were an early indication of things to come. The Lakers' legend had all but written his favorite team off during his television analysis, then recommended Kupchak "blow it up" by trading one of his frontcourt players for Orlando's Dwight Howard as a means to keeping the dynasty intact.

Jackson called the comment "unnecessary" before tip-off, while Kupchak largely dismissed the notion raised by some fans that it was an in-house sentiment being shared publicly. Howard is believed to be eyeing the Lakers as a possible landing spot when he becomes a free agent in 2012, however, meaning this storyline won't be going away anytime soon.

"I thought Earvin was trying to motivate our players," Kupchak said. "He's great at cheering for us, and a lot of times saying stuff like he said can motivate a player to play harder. That's how I took it.

"I talk to Earvin from time to time, and I think Dr. Buss [owner Jerry Buss] does from time to time, and this moves too quickly for him to be intimately involved in what's going on day to day, so I would hesitate to think that was the case."
via Lakers fall apart against Mavericks in Phil Jackson's farewell - Sam Amick - SI.com.

Not surprising that Magic isn't plugged into the day to day ops, especially having sold his stake, despite retaining a front office position. But the question is whether the Lakers are correct in this train of thought. One issue that isn't being talked about here is pretty obvious. This roster was constructed to play for Phil Jackson. 

And that definitely won't be the case next season. 

From ESPN:
Jackson might've played coy in what was likely his final postgame press conference, joking "I haven't answered that, have I?" when pressed for a definitive statement on whether he'd coached his final NBA game Sunday. But Kupchack says he believes Jackson's decision to retire is final this time.

"I think this is it," Kupchak told ESPNLosAngeles after the Lakers were swept out of the playoffs by the Dallas Mavericks 122-86 on Sunday. "We'll sit down and talk, but I've gotten no indication that he won't retire.

"We just talked briefly and I thanked him for what he's done for the organization. It was a pleasure to work with him. Everybody who is a coach in this league works endless hours. I'm not going to say he works harder than any other coach in this league. He certainly works as hard as any of them.

"But he's different. He's got a feel that I think a lot of coaches don't have."
via Los Angeles Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak senses Phil Jackson set to retire - ESPN Los Angeles.

With Jackson gone, Brian Shaw is the favorite to get the Lakers' head coaching job. But after the abject meltdown that occured on a chemistry level, the job will probably be open to several applicants. ESPN also reports the job is "wide open" and with candidates like Jeff Van Gundy, Rick Adelman, and Larry Brown on the market, you have to think ownership will take a long look at its options. And if there is a change in the coaching line, the new coach will want players to fit his personnel. 

The question of Dwight Howard will come back around again and again this summer once the CBA is resolved (if it's resolved). In case you missed it in the fall of Rome, here's Ken Berger of CBSSports.com on Howard and the Lakers: 
Everybody knows that Dwight Howard wants to be a Laker," said a person familiar with the All-Star centers plans. "Theyre going to lose Dwight Howard for nothing. Hes not staying there. Dwight Howard is going to be in the same mode as LeBron James."

So would the Magic, facing the reality of losing their franchise cornerstone and getting nothing in return, accept Gasol and Odom, Bynum and Odom, or even Bynum and Gasol as the centerpiece of a Howard trade?"Probably," said a high-profile agent with a hand in past maneuverings for both teams.
via Fast-approaching offseason critical for Lakers - NBA - CBSSports.com Basketball.

Landing Howard would automatically put the Lakers back at the top of the contenders list, though they may be there anyway, even with the Dallas Meltdown. But it comes with its own set of issues, including giving the reins of a veteran club to a younger player. How's Kobe Bryant going to react to being the No.2 for the first time since the first W. Bush term in his final ride into the sunset? Will the Magic really want Andrew Bynum after he embarrassed himself, his family, and his organization with (another) needless foul that could have resulted in injury and will definitely result in his suspension for multiple games next year, along with his injury issues on a long contract? 

There's time for all this, and the Lakers will take it. They are unlikely to "blow it up" and more likely to simply try and pick their favorite from the NBA's buffet as in year's past. But deals like the Pau Gasol trade don't come along twice in a four-year span, and with the franchise tag a possibility to come out of the CBA, life may be significantly different for L.A. after the seconds ticked off the Phil Jackson era in Dallas. 

Things aren't as simple as pushing the "self-destruct" button and starting over. Even Athens fell, and an immediate return to glory isn't always guaranteed for those blessed by the Gods for so long. 

But I wouldn't bet against them.
Posted on: May 9, 2011 1:42 pm
Edited on: May 9, 2011 1:48 pm
 

Pau Gasol had a bad week

Pau Gasol loses fiance, has tension with Lakers, is swept from playoffs. Other than that, things aren't bad for the 7-foot Spaniard. 
Posted by Matt Moore




Let's take a look at Pau Gasol's week: 

  • Dumped by his long-time girlfriend: check. 
  • Challenged and pushed physically by Phil Jackson, who notoriously does not get up in player's faces or ever touch them during games: check.
  • Dominated against Euro 7-footer, exposing him as an inferior to Dirk Nowitzki: check.
  • Swept from playoffs in attempt for three-peat, and failed to send arguably the greatest coach in NBA history out on a high note: check.

Yeah, that's a pretty bad week. 

Gasol was reported to be upset with Kobe Bryant over his wife's involvement in Gasol's girlfriend's decision to break up with him earlier in the week. Gasol admitted there was some tension in the locker room, but also denied Bryant's involvement. It's not really worth pursuing, since it's none of our business and it doesn't change the result. It's understandable that Gasol would be upset about something in his personal life like that, but in the biggest series of the year for the Lakers, they needed their big man, and he wasn't there. It's a rough patch of luck, but you have to fight through it if you want to be a champion, as cliche as that sounds. 

Perhaps more important, though, is this point. Regardless of what was going on with Gasol, he still could have dominated had the Mavericks not played him so well. They sent effective doubles, brought help when he got to the corner, challenged his turnarounds enough to drive him too deep baseline, and stayed aggressive on the defensive boards to not allow those tip-ins.  Pau Gasol has a terrible week, one that has changed Laker fans' perception of him despite his pivotal role in the Lakers' two championships, but it should be noted that it was a two way street. Gasol fell apart when the Lakers needed him most, and the Mavericks did what they had to in order to take away the Lakers' second best player. 

If the last few weeks have been interesting for Gasol, the next few months could be even moreso. 
Posted on: May 9, 2011 11:36 am
 

Playoff Fix: Bears smell fear

Questions abound for the Thunder going into Game 4, but one thing's for certain: It's a must-win. 
Posted by Matt Moore




One Big Thing: What did Game 3 really tell us? The Oklahoma City Thunder played really well for about 42 minutes. The Memphis Grizzlies played terribly for about 42 minutes. Grizzlies won, Thunder lost. So the questions we have to ask are: 
  1. If OKC simply held its composure for another five minutes, they win. So are they doing the right things, and just had a bad spell, or is this a warning that playing well but not great (as they played great in a Game 2 victory) will not be enough against a Memphis team that has zero quit?
  2. Memphis nearly let the game get out of hand, then stormed back to win. Can the Grizzlies afford to play subpar for long stretches and hope to create another epic collapse as they have several times in these playoffs?
  3. The Thunder have lost when role players like Eric Maynor, Serge Ibaka, and Nick Collison haven't stepped up. Does Kevin Durant need more of the offense to compensate, or can OKC trust its supporting cast?
  4. Memphis has won once with a terrific game from Zach Randolph, and once with a high-usage, low-efficiency performance that was deceptively poor. Do they have to get a masterful game from Randolph, or just make sure he gets his 20+ points by hook or by crook? 

Game 3 feels like it may have revealed the identity of this series. We're just not sure yet what that identity is. We'll know more after Game 4. A win for OKC makes Game 3 seem like a fluke, while a loss? That calls into doubt just how much the Thunder really are in this series. 

The X-Factor: Turnovers. Memphis creates so many, but the Thunder have done well in containing theirs in this series... until that last five minutes of Game 4. Then things completely fell apart. If the Thunder don't contain their turnovers, Memphis gets out in transition. Easy buckets negates the advantage the Thunder have defensively. It's in some ways a Catch-22 for the Thunder. They're supposed to have more ball movement from Russell Westbrook, but more ball movement increases the chances of the Grizzlies' hyper-aggressive play of the passing lanes leading to turnovers. Crisp, smart offense is a must for the Thunder. They did so well for most of Game 3. But if that was an outlier and the end is the pattern for this series, the Grizzlies will be playing their game on their floor. 

The Adjustment: O.J. Mayo has had a bounce-back series. He's playing well enough to start Game 4, but Lionel Hollins will stick with his rotation. The issue is that Sam Young had advantages in size versus the Spurs, but the Spurs never exploited him in terms of perimeter speed. The Thunder are very intent on doing so. Mayo did a shockingly good job vs. Russell Westbrook in Game 3, and his speed on the perimeter allows Conley to play the off-guard which is also helpful. Even though Mayo won't start, expect more lineups and time for Mayo. If he gets his shot to where it needs to be and makes plays like he can, the Grizzlies are going to neutralize a big advantage the Thunder thought they'd have coming into the series. 

The Sticking Point: Oklahoma City has looked like a better team in this series for seven of twelve quarters, but are down 2-1. If the Grizzlies have a good game vs. a good fourth quarter like they had in Game 3, the Thunder could be down 3-1, going back to OKC and in a huge hole. They have matchup advantages, no one can stop Kevin Durant, their defense has been superb, their role players have stepped up, Serge Ibaka is hitting jumpers, Zach Randolph is no longer dominating, the Thunder are controlling the paint, and James Harden looks like a sixth man of the year candidate. And the Thunder are down 2-1. Game 4 is the one where either the seemingly superior team asserts itself and gets back on track, or we start wondering just how much lightning this Thunder has. 
Posted on: May 9, 2011 11:25 am
 

Playoff Fix: Will the legend of Rondo grow?

Posted by Royce Young



One Big Thing: Amazing how a series can turn a bit just on one win. The Heat still have commanding control, but things feel like they're turning a little bit for the Celtics. Rajon Rondo played terminator, coming back from an ugly elbow injury to spark Boston to a big finish. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett played big time games. And the Heat's big guns weren't so big. Chris Bosh even admitted he felt nervous and rattled early on in the game. (Good idea letting that out, Chris.)

A lot of people were prepared to pile on and declare the Celtics sunk after starting out 0-2. But all it takes is another win tonight and things are even all over again.

The X-Factor: Rondo's left elbow, duh. Well not really, but Rondo's health is the question. He's almost definitely playing and while he finished with a flurry in Game 3, it'll be interesting to see if he can gut it out again after DISLOCATING HIS ELBOW just two days ago. Without Rondo, the Celtics are absolutely not the Celtics. Having him on the floor is an emotional kick and even one-armed, makes the Celtics much, much more dangerous.

The Adjustment: The Heat simply have to play better. That's not a big, smart adjustment, but they didn't execute, didn't take good shots, didn't move the ball and just played really uncomposed basketball. Fifteen turnovers, 23 3-point attempts and only 19 free throw attempts say a lot. Now most would say you're not going to get calls in Boston, but you still have to attack towards the rim. Settling for outside jumpers isn't a winning strategy for the Heat, especially against the Celtics.

The Sticking Point: I'm not sure Boston can really count on 55 combined points from Garnett and Pierce again tonight. LeBron and Wade combined for just 38. That doesn't seem likely to happen again either.

So this game really comes down to Rondo's health and the role players. Bosh was awful in Game 3 (1-6, six points) but the Heat stayed somewhat in the game because Miami's bench -- specifically Mario Chalmers -- hit some shots. Don't think they can bank on that either. Boston beats the Heat when Miami can't score. Once the Miami offense is frustrated, its defense opens up. The Celtics are very good at home and that arena is still cooking after what happened with Rondo's comeback in Game 3. Emotion sometimes is the greatest trump card and that's in the Celtics corner right now.
Posted on: May 9, 2011 10:38 am
Edited on: May 9, 2011 11:23 am
 

Ref admits blowing call vs. Bulls

Official admits mistake in key call against Bulls in Game 4.
Posted by Matt Moore

Against the Hawks in Game 4, Derrick Rose tried the old "pump-fake and draw" approach on a 3-pointer. The defender was moving when contact was drawn, and refereee Bennett Salvatore blew the whistle. Then, he ruled it an "inadvertent whistle," no foul, and there was a jump ball. Steve Aschburner spoke to Salvatore post-game , and in a rare instance of transparency, a league official admitted his mistake. 

"I was positive it was not a foul. ... Having watched replay, it was a foul."


Well, then, that settles it. The league obviously has a vendetta against the small-market Chicago Bulls. Had that foul been awarded, Rose clearly would have hit all seven free throws necessary for the Bulls to take the lead and held off the Hawks for the remainder of the game. I mean, despite the fact that the Hawks outplayed the Bulls for four quarters, who comes back from from that kind of play?

Oh, wait, it would have only been three free throws when the Bulls were down six, and would have done nothing to change the fact that the Bulls couldn't hit sand if the dropped from the sky into Death Valley. And while momentum definitely would have shifted, let's not forget the way the Hawks responded to every Bulls charge in this game. It was a blown call. They happen. But no one is out to get the Bulls, and especially not the MVP. It was a tough break, but if the Bulls had played offensively with any sense of focus or coherency, they wouldn't care about this call. 

Nothing to see here, folks. Move on. 
Posted on: May 8, 2011 8:54 pm
Edited on: May 8, 2011 9:28 pm
 

Tyson Chandler: The man who ended an empire

There were dozens of reasons (that came in 3's) why the Mavericks were better than the Lakers. But the man in the middle gave Dallas the chance to down the champs.
Posted by Matt Moore



  There will be talk of Dirk Nowitzki's excellence. There will be talk of the outright barrage that Jason Terry helped lead, along with Peja Stojakovic and Jason Kidd from the perimeter. There will be time to talk about the Lakers' abject mental and emotional collapse. But we should take a moment and recognize that, while the 3-point bombs may have given the Mavericks the points to overcome the Lakers, it was a man who was cast off years ago who truly brought the Mavericks to the Western Conference Finals. 

In the early months of 2010, Mark Cuban recognized the real problem with facing the Lakers. Sure, Kobe Bryant was going to hurt you and Pau Gasol's touch and post moves were going to seem overwhelming. The athletic talent is incredible. But the biggest advantage the Lakers have? Size and length. Pau Gasol, 7-0. Andrew Bynum, 7-0, Lamar Odom, 6-10. That's an absolutely humongous front line, even if only two of them are in the game at the same time. The advantage doesn't just come in first-shots or defending the rim, or offensive rebounds. It's in interrupting passing lanes and tipping in shots from six feet out. You could survive Kobe Bryant's perimeter onslaught. But the Lakers' massive size advantage could not be bested unless you brought in bigger and better players. 

Which is what Cuban did. Cuban first traded for Brendan Haywood and Caron Butler. When that didn't work out, the Mavericks' management team, with Donnie Nelson at the helm, acquired Tyson Chandler. And all of a sudden, the Mavericks' entire identity changed. You had to really watch this year to notice it, and not just get caught up in the "same ol' Mavericks" talk that permeates so much discussion.  The Mavericks were tougher inside, able to counter off the bench with Haywood. Dirk Nowitzki was no longer the tallest or most active defender. 

Against the Lakers. Pau Gasol got a healthy dose of Chandler. While Gasol's failures are a whole other discussion in and of themselves, Chandler's defense both man-up and on help were a huge part of why the Mavericks were able to contain the Lakers defensively. No longer able to overwhelm the Mavericks inside, despite a stellar series from Andrew Bynum (right up until the point he committed one of the most embarrassing flagrant fouls in NBA playoff history), the Lakers just kept chucking 3-pointers. And they were unable to hit anything that even resembled a shot. Seriously, most of us thought many of them were passes. 

The Lakers' problems go deep, and the Mavericks' successes even deeper. But Tyson Chandler not only helped negate the Lakers' biggest advantage, but even landed a few alley-oops. Chandler set the tone and brought the Mavericks a new attitude. It takes a lot of toughness to make the champs into wimps, to turn a dynasty to dust. After so many years as an after-thought, Tyson Chandler is the first line of defense for a team headed to the Conference Finals. 
Posted on: May 8, 2011 6:48 pm
Edited on: May 8, 2011 7:21 pm
 

The Mavs shoot the Lakers down from deep

Posted by Royce Young



One way to close out the two-time defending champions and leave no doubt of a historic collapse? Make everything.

That's pretty much what the Mavericks did to complete an unexpected sweep of the Lakers with a 122-86 destruction in Game 4. The story is, of course, the Lakers, along with Phil Jackson and the team's embarrassing, classless finish. Which is a shame because the Mavs shooting was something else. I still can't decide what was dirtier: Andrew Bynum's foul or Jason Terry's 3-point shooting. Because both were pretty sick.

Terry went 9-10 from deep, which tied an NBA playoff record (shared by Vince Carter, Ray Allen and Rex Chapman). Peja Stojakovic went 6-6 from 3 and, as a team, the Mavs tied an NBA playoff record with 20 makes from beyond the arc. In all, they shot 62.5 percent from 3 (20-32), with seven guys hitting at least one.

After the game, Terry was asked when he knew it was going to be a good day for him. Here's what he said: "When I woke up this morning. Mom's cooking. It's Mother's Day. I know she's here and I love and I thank God for her."

Here's how good it was for the Mavs on this day: Even Brian Cardinal was 1-1 from 3.

Now you've got to wonder... Were the Mavs just hot, or was the Lakers' perimeter defense that bad? It was both. Those two things worked hand-in-hand. The Lakers presented the Mavs' shooters a number of good looks, but the Dallas marksmen did the hard part -- they knocked them down.

Some days, it just gets rolling for you. Terry had it working, and tied the NBA record in just three quarters. Stojakovic was disciplined, taking only the wide open looks the Laker defense presented. And the entire team had a great offensive pace and look about it for four quarters. Cool, calm confidence and smooth execution. The drive-and-kick worked like clockwork as Mavs shooters -- Terry and Stojakovic specifically -- basically just waited for their next open shot.

But in a game that held quite a bit of pressure and anxiety, the fact the Mavs kept their heads clear and hands steady, and knocked down such a ridiculous rate from outside, says a lot about them. They weren't about to let any doubt creep in about a Laker comeback. They were going to snuff that out entirely. And they did it from outside.
 
 
 
 
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