Tag:2011 NBA Playoffs
Posted on: April 20, 2011 2:42 pm
Edited on: April 20, 2011 5:37 pm
 

Series Reset: A must-win for the Lakers?

We reset the Hornets-Lakers series with Game 2 set to tip Wednesday night. L.A. needs to even the score. Posted by Ben Golliver.
chris-paul-baby


The Narrative:

The underdog New Orleans Hornets -- smaller, less talented and with a weaker bench than the favored Los Angeles Lakers -- played a near perfect Game 1 . That meant protecting the ball, getting huge contributions from their reserves and enjoying a masterful performance from point guard Chris Paul. Paul's huge night -- 33 points, 14 assists, seven rebounds and four steals -- and late-game efficiency clearly had the Lakers on their heels. Aside from Kobe Bryant, whose 34 points led the way, and some flashes from Andrew Bynum, the Lakers mostly no-showed. Pau Gasol was passive and unproductive -- eight points and six rebounds in 38 minutes -- and has taken a lion's share of the blame.

The Hook:

Quite simply: Do the Lakers finally flip the switch in Game 2? L.A.'s late-season play (they lost five of their last seven entering the playoffs) and lackluster effort have been well-chronicled. Despite that, the Los Angeles continues to possess match-up advantages all over the court. The Hornets have no real answer for Bryant, shouldn't have an answer for a motivated Gasol, struggled to contain Bynum's length, and could easily become the victim of a monster performance from Lamar Odom off the bench on any given night.

In essence, Game 2 boils down to whether the Lakers core players show up, as a group, locked in. If they do, L.A. should be able to restore order fairly easily on their homecourt. If not, it will be panic time.

The Adjustment:

Flipping that switch will start on the defensive end, where the odds dictate that the Hornets' bench will not shoot a combined 16-22 again. Expecting the role players to fall back to Earth doesn't solve the Chris Paul conundrum, though. Keeping Paul in check is a difficult proposition for any team. Expect the Lakers to throw multiple looks at him, and to work extra hard to get the ball out of his hands. The return of reserve guard Steve Blake, who was battling chicken pox , can't hurt. Blake's not a Paul-stopper by any means, but his ability to give some minutes allows L.A. to return to its usual guard rotations, lessening the burden on Derek Fisher, who played 39 minutes -- 11 more than his season average -- in Game 1.

The X-Factor:

On Tuesday, the NBA awarded Odom its Sixth Man of the Year award , and his teammates reportedly celebrated the occasion by offering him a standing ovation. Wednesday would be a great time for Odom to deliver on that adulation with a game-changing performance. Odom scored 10 points in Game 1 but his all-around play was lacking. He had just one rebound, two assists and he committed more turnovers (one) than he registered steals and blocks combined (zero). New Orleans' team intensity level offers some explanation for why L.A.'s bench came up small in Game 1, but there's no excuse at this point. Odom is a more skilled all-around player than every frontcourt player on the Hornets' roster. Even though it's only Game 2 of the opening round, we've reached "making presence felt" time for Odom.

The Sticking Point:

Reserve big man Aaron Gray is questionable for Game 2 with a sprained ankle , which usually wouldn't matter. But Gray played out of his mind in Game 1, holding Gasol in check for stretches, making all five of his field goal attempts to finish with 12 points, and posting an astonishing +25 in the +/- category. Gray was so good that Paul called him the MVP of Game 1. Without Gray, New Orleans is left with a frontcourt rotation that includes Emeka Okafor, Carl Landry, D.J. Mbenga and Jason Smith. Both Okafor and Landry have their hands full avoiding foul trouble and Mbenga showed in Game 1 that about all he was good for was hacking Bynum. Gray, however improbable it might seem, is a difference-maker because the Hornets' are simply that desperate for big bodies. If he can't go, it could be another long night on the boards for the Hornets, as the Lakers won the rebounding battle, 41-33, in Game 1. [Update: following Wednesday's shootaround, Gray says he will give it a go.]
Posted on: April 20, 2011 1:06 pm
Edited on: April 20, 2011 1:42 pm
 

Series Reset: Changing course on Durant

Posted by Royce Young



The Narrative: Does anybody really feel like they have a good handle on the direction of Game 2 tonight? I definitely don't. After the drama of Game 1, it's hard to have any idea which way this thing is going to turn.

Of course, there are two major storylines coming in: 1) How do the Nuggets guard Kevin Durant and 2) can they bounce back from a devastating Game 1 loss?

With the first one, Kenyon Martin already talked yesterday about the Nuggets needing to adjust on Durant. I'm expecting to see him being doubled more often. Denver tried that once, back in December, after Durant dropped 21 in a quarter on them. He entered the fourth with 40 points, and I guess you could say the double worked, because he only finished with 44. Except the Thunder won comfortably because Durant did well passing out of that double-team.

For the second, that's up to George Karl. With his laid back demeanor and seemingly carefree attitude, he's a terrific coach for this Nuggets team. I think that'll come in handy tonight when he tries to get his guys to forget about Tip-In Gate.

The Hook: I agree with George Karl. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook aren't going to average 70 points a game together for this series. They're really good, but not that good.

But here's news to Karl: James Harden isn't going to average just five a game, either.

That was the Thunder sixth man's output from Game 1, where he went 0-4 from 3 and 1-5 from the field. Since the trade that sent Jeff Green to Boston, Harden averaged more than 16 points per game and almost 20 the last couple weeks of the season. He's a legit third scorer for the Thunder and a player Scott Brooks can turn to when in need of extra offense. But shutting down Durant is priority one for Denver. Westbrook is second. And then Harden. The Nuggets caught a break with him being off in Game 1. Don't count on that happening again.

The Adjustment:
I already mentioned it, and while the Nuggets adjustment on Durant is the biggest key, there's another question they need to answer: How do they score in the last five minutes?

Denver really had no idea where to go with the ball in late in Game 1. They tried Danilo Gallinari. Then J.R. Smith. Then Raymond Felton. There was just no good sense of where to put the ball. George Karl didn't sound concerned about it postgame, but I can promise you it's something he's been thinking about the last two days.

The X-Factor:
Where, oh where, was J.R. Smith in Game 1? He's likely the key to the series and he was virtually non-existent. He can make Nuggets fans pull their hair out sometimes, but he didn't do that once. He tried too hard to fit in to the flow of the game, and when Denver needed points late, he didn't seem to be willing to pull the trigger.

Denver has scorers, but the one that can truly isolate and score on his own is Smith. He's capable of lighting up OKC for 15 in a quarter if he gets going. And I can almost promise you, if Smith scores 20 tonight, the Nuggets win.

The Sticking Point: Both teams shot the ball extremely well in Game 1. Durant and Westbrook combined to go 18-25 on jumpshots. Can these teams keep it up? Both teams are gifted offensively and have scorers all over the floor, but maintaining a 50 percent clip, in the playoffs no less, is difficult. Will it continue? I say no. Which means this game will likely be more about defense and rebounding. Who has the edge there? Probably the Thunder.

Posted on: April 20, 2011 12:22 pm
Edited on: April 20, 2011 1:21 pm
 

Series Reset: Manu Ginobili and the Memphis fits

Can the Spurs get back on track now that Manu Ginobili returns? Will Marc Gasol keep up his production? What about all the fouls? 
Posted by Matt Moore




The Narrative: Manu Ginobili's going to help. A lot. That's why he's Manu Ginobili. The Spurs very nearly beat the Memphis Grizzlies without Ginobili, and since he's the Spurs best/second-best/third-best player (depending on who you talk to), it's not arrogance for a Spurs fan to feel like all will be well once Manu hits the floor for Game 2. The Grizzlies have two of the best perimeter defenders in the league in Tony Allen and Shane Battier. Allen will try and body Ginobili, to wear him down physically, specifically on that sore elbow. Battier will try and distract and frustrate him with precision and consistency. 

Neither is likely to succeed. 

Ginobili has a wide range of basketball talents. Shooting, driving, particularly to his left, and a hesitation dribble followed by a burst where applicable. The Euro-step. But also among those talents is flopping -- the art of drawing the foul. Allen has a reputation for falling for the pump-fake. Combine the two and you've got a recipe for three quick fouls in the first half on Allen, and five by the 10-minute mark in the fourth. Battier will do better in avoiding said fouls, but he also doesn't have the speed anymore to stick with Ginobili on the drive. Considering the Grizzlies' notoriously slow rotations in the paint, Ginobili could have a big game in his return. 

The Hook: And all of Ginobili's wiles won't help with the biggest problem the Spurs had in Game 1. He can't guard Marc Gasol nor Zach Randolph. More than one Spurs fan remarked after Game 1, "There's no way Marc Gasol goes off for 24 points again!" Then they guffaw. There's much general guffawing. This is likely due to their not being aware that Gasol was one of the league leaders in field goal percentage last season. He shot 53 percent from the field this season, and it was a down year for him. He struggled with his shot for most of the year before correcting it in the last two months of the season, and shooting 56 percent. As for why his point totals never got that high? He's not often asked to be a big scorer in the Grizzlies' offense. His responsibilities are more focused on facilitating ball movement at the pinch post, working the offensive glass, and setting screens. But to confuse his versatility with an inability to convert his opportunities into buckets is to short-change Gasol. Tim Duncan said after Game 1 than he didn't focus on Gasol because he was concentrating on Randolph. That's going to be key in this game. Antonio McDyes can't check him, Gasol has too much quickness. DeJuan Blair can't, Gasol has too much length and agility. Matt Bonner can't because... well, he's Matt Bonner. So it comes down to whether Duncan can shut down Gasol. Zach Randolph's going to get his. But if Duncan can shut down Gasol, it will put the Spurs in a much better position. If he can't, it's going to be an issue for San Antonio.

The Adjustment: The Grizzlies did what they do in Game 1, not sending help on perimeter penetration, letting the Spurs get where they wanted and picking up about seventeen hundred fouls. It worked out in some ways for Memphis, they avoided the Spurs' perimeter shooters daggering them to death.  But giving up so many free throws is not a sustainable approach.  Part of that will fluctuate from officiating crew to officiating crew. But I've yet to see a crew who doesn't give Tony Parker the benefit of the doubt when he launches himself to the floor following contact. Memphis has to be able to defend without fouling, which means smarter, better rotations and help defense, which the Grizzlies have not done well all season. If the free throw disparity keeps up in this series, Memphis' hopes for an upset are dashed. 

The X-Factor: George Hill was aggressive in Game 1, but eventually became frustrated as the Grizzlies switched off on him and Tony Allen got his legs under him. Allen may spend more time defending Parker in Game 2, and going forward. But more confusing was the solid defensive work O.J. Mayo did on Hill in Game 1. Mayo is not a great defender, but his lack of size isn't compromised against Hill, and Hill was unable to shake Mayo. Hill is the superior athlete and player, however, and could have a big impact if he shakes off his frustrations from the second half of Game 1 and gets back to the damage he did in the first half. The Grizzlies' bench is thick offensively to begin with. The Spurs can deliver a knockout blow if Hill leads a charge off the bench with Manu Ginobili back in starter rotations. 

The Sticking Point: How do you defend the drive-and-kick, ball-movement-led corner 3-pointer in the NBA? The traditional model is to "run it off." Close as hard as you can off the help defense, swinging your arms wildly and praying to distract the shooter enough to get his aim off. The Grizzlies did a fair amount of that in Game 1, but also threw in another element. Memphis' best defensive element is their ability to create turnovers by playing the passing lanes. The Spurs did a great job in Game 1 of avoiding turnovers, winning that battle 16-10. But the Grizzlies impact was in preventing opportunities, as the Spurs were cautious with those passes, and when they did make them, they were often adjusted to avoid interception. This strategy usually led to struggled catch-and-shoot situations, forcing a reset. The Grizzlies can't let the Spurs kill them with the corner three. If that happens, Memphis will drown under a tidal wave of the Spurs' biggest strength: their offense. 
Posted on: April 20, 2011 12:22 pm
Edited on: April 20, 2011 1:21 pm
 

Series Reset: Manu Ginobili and the Memphis fits

Can the Spurs get back on track now that Manu Ginobili returns? Will Marc Gasol keep up his production? What about all the fouls? 
Posted by Matt Moore




The Narrative: Manu Ginobili's going to help. A lot. That's why he's Manu Ginobili. The Spurs very nearly beat the Memphis Grizzlies without Ginobili, and since he's the Spurs best/second-best/third-best player (depending on who you talk to), it's not arrogance for a Spurs fan to feel like all will be well once Manu hits the floor for Game 2. The Grizzlies have two of the best perimeter defenders in the league in Tony Allen and Shane Battier. Allen will try and body Ginobili, to wear him down physically, specifically on that sore elbow. Battier will try and distract and frustrate him with precision and consistency. 

Neither is likely to succeed. 

Ginobili has a wide range of basketball talents. Shooting, driving, particularly to his left, and a hesitation dribble followed by a burst where applicable. The Euro-step. But also among those talents is flopping -- the art of drawing the foul. Allen has a reputation for falling for the pump-fake. Combine the two and you've got a recipe for three quick fouls in the first half on Allen, and five by the 10-minute mark in the fourth. Battier will do better in avoiding said fouls, but he also doesn't have the speed anymore to stick with Ginobili on the drive. Considering the Grizzlies' notoriously slow rotations in the paint, Ginobili could have a big game in his return. 

The Hook: And all of Ginobili's wiles won't help with the biggest problem the Spurs had in Game 1. He can't guard Marc Gasol nor Zach Randolph. More than one Spurs fan remarked after Game 1, "There's no way Marc Gasol goes off for 24 points again!" Then they guffaw. There's much general guffawing. This is likely due to their not being aware that Gasol was one of the league leaders in field goal percentage last season. He shot 53 percent from the field this season, and it was a down year for him. He struggled with his shot for most of the year before correcting it in the last two months of the season, and shooting 56 percent. As for why his point totals never got that high? He's not often asked to be a big scorer in the Grizzlies' offense. His responsibilities are more focused on facilitating ball movement at the pinch post, working the offensive glass, and setting screens. But to confuse his versatility with an inability to convert his opportunities into buckets is to short-change Gasol. Tim Duncan said after Game 1 than he didn't focus on Gasol because he was concentrating on Randolph. That's going to be key in this game. Antonio McDyes can't check him, Gasol has too much quickness. DeJuan Blair can't, Gasol has too much length and agility. Matt Bonner can't because... well, he's Matt Bonner. So it comes down to whether Duncan can shut down Gasol. Zach Randolph's going to get his. But if Duncan can shut down Gasol, it will put the Spurs in a much better position. If he can't, it's going to be an issue for San Antonio.

The Adjustment: The Grizzlies did what they do in Game 1, not sending help on perimeter penetration, letting the Spurs get where they wanted and picking up about seventeen hundred fouls. It worked out in some ways for Memphis, they avoided the Spurs' perimeter shooters daggering them to death.  But giving up so many free throws is not a sustainable approach.  Part of that will fluctuate from officiating crew to officiating crew. But I've yet to see a crew who doesn't give Tony Parker the benefit of the doubt when he launches himself to the floor following contact. Memphis has to be able to defend without fouling, which means smarter, better rotations and help defense, which the Grizzlies have not done well all season. If the free throw disparity keeps up in this series, Memphis' hopes for an upset are dashed. 

The X-Factor: George Hill was aggressive in Game 1, but eventually became frustrated as the Grizzlies switched off on him and Tony Allen got his legs under him. Allen may spend more time defending Parker in Game 2, and going forward. But more confusing was the solid defensive work O.J. Mayo did on Hill in Game 1. Mayo is not a great defender, but his lack of size isn't compromised against Hill, and Hill was unable to shake Mayo. Hill is the superior athlete and player, however, and could have a big impact if he shakes off his frustrations from the second half of Game 1 and gets back to the damage he did in the first half. The Grizzlies' bench is thick offensively to begin with. The Spurs can deliver a knockout blow if Hill leads a charge off the bench with Manu Ginobili back in starter rotations. 

The Sticking Point: How do you defend the drive-and-kick, ball-movement-led corner 3-pointer in the NBA? The traditional model is to "run it off." Close as hard as you can off the help defense, swinging your arms wildly and praying to distract the shooter enough to get his aim off. The Grizzlies did a fair amount of that in Game 1, but also threw in another element. Memphis' best defensive element is their ability to create turnovers by playing the passing lanes. The Spurs did a great job in Game 1 of avoiding turnovers, winning that battle 16-10. But the Grizzlies impact was in preventing opportunities, as the Spurs were cautious with those passes, and when they did make them, they were often adjusted to avoid interception. This strategy usually led to struggled catch-and-shoot situations, forcing a reset. The Grizzlies can't let the Spurs kill them with the corner three. If that happens, Memphis will drown under a tidal wave of the Spurs' biggest strength: their offense. 
Posted on: April 20, 2011 11:24 am
Edited on: April 20, 2011 11:27 am
 

Collison says he'll play if he's not 100 percent

Posted by Royce Young

The Pacers were dealt a big second half blow against the Bulls in Game 2 when point guard Darren Collison rolled his ankle on a baseline cameraman. He tried to come out for the second half but was forced to shut it down.

Coach Frank Vogel said he was "going with the mind frame that they'll be without Collison in Game 3." But Collison said he liked his chances of playing Thursday against the Bulls.

"If I'm at 60-70 percent, I'm going to play," Collison told the Indy Star. "This is the playoffs. I was disappointed I couldn't get in the game in the second half (Monday night), but it's unfortunate it happened."

Having Collison is a near must for Indiana. The Pacers nearly pulled off a Game 2 upset without him, but he's a very valuable piece to their offense, especially in crunch time situations where the Pacers have struggled.
Posted on: April 20, 2011 4:06 am
 

NBA Playoffs Knicks-Celtics Game 2 Reactions

Reactions from around the web on the Celtics' second close win over the Knicks in their first round playoff series. Is there a problem with Boston? Can the Knicks handle many more close losses? Are the Celtics worried at all?
Posted by Matt Moore




We begin with the Knicks' side: 
Once more, the closing moments were a matter of inches in either direction, and the team with the edge in seasoning, personnel, and home court (and, if you want, late-game coaching. D'Antoni has been mostly fine, in my opinion, but Doc Rivers has been wizardly.) seized those inches.

The inches thing is what's haunting me, I think. I've always been fascinated (and tormented) by the infinitesimal difference between triumph and heartbreak in basketball, and tonight's biggest moments were, in fact, practically atomic. Look no further than New York's ill-fated final play, in which Kevin Garnett's hand occupied exactly the same slot of airspace as that bedeviling Jared Jeffries pass and his dive for possession grazed the last of the unpainted grains on the parquet floor. Those of you crushed by some decision from any party involved all have your reasons. Me? I'm going to lose sleep because something uncontrollable and imperceptible could have rendered the Knicks winners, but it didn't. Again.

Those tyrannical minutiae governed the game's final moments, but it shan't overlooked, not by those of us that care, how incredible it was that the Knicks even got there. I'm proud of them. You don't have to be.
 via Celtics 96, Knicks 93: "I'm crushed, but I’m still really proud." - Posting and Toasting.

Put this into context. A woefully undersized forward-center was traded to Houston in order to make cap room to sign Amar'e Stoudemire which allowed for the team to become relevant enough to trade half their roster to acquire Carmelo Anthony, and in an effort to fill out the rest of the team, the same player traded to Houston was re-signed after a buyout was reached. That same player then scored the go-ahead bucket against one of the greatest defensive players of all time, off the dribble, at the rim, no less, then was backed down and summarily scored upon by said defensive player to surrender the lead. At which point this same castoff caught a pass from a violently doubled Anthony, and attempted to make the right play, passing to the cutting player behind him rather than going up and getting blocked by a longer, tougher, more experienced defender, again, the same defensive mastermind. In doing so, said defensive force manages to get his hand directly in the path of the ball, at once a brilliant stroke of defensive prowess and a terrifying example of just how wrong things can go when the simplest and best play is detonated by a single well-placed palm. 

That's why the Knicks lost. It defines both Boston's ability to harness that infinitesimal level of effort and focus that determinses champions and the running theme that the Knicks just can't seem to catch a break no matter how much they improve. The first two games of this series have been decided by six points and yet the result is the same. 2-0 Celtics. 
This one shouldn't have been anywhere near that close with Billups already out and Amare Stoudamire leaving the game early with back spasms.  The Celtics are a few clutch plays away from being 0-2 but because they are the Celtics and they (usually) make those plays when they matter most, we're sitting on a 2-0 lead headed to New York.

More notes:
  • One reason it was so close: Knicks outrebounded the C's 53 - 37
  • I was very disappointed in the subs for much of the game - they gave up a 10 point lead in the first half and only contributed 14 points as a unit.
via KG The Closer Shuts The Door - CelticsBlog.

This is the kind of thing that makes you question the validity of how close these first round series are, with the underdogs playing so well. The Celtics are a terrible rebounding team, have been all year. But the Knicks should not be killing them on the glass this badly by any means. And the bench? Glen Davis was a sixth man of the year candidate until about February 27th.  Did he just suddenly become a terrible player? Or is this a result of matchups, timing, and chance? Just as a few more things going their way would have meant a 2-0 series lead for the Knicks, a few things going normally for the Celtics would mean a more comfortable point differential for Boston in this series. 

That said, if you're getting out-produced by the Knicks' bench? You have issues. 
“I thought Rondo was aggressive,” Kevin Garnett said. “He was overly aggressive tonight. Rondo played excellent on both ends.”

In the opening quarter, Rondo repeatedly meandered his way through a thicket of Knicks the way a swift-moving river cuts through a mountain range. He went where he found the least resistance and, for a time, that was pretty much anywhere he wanted to go.

“Kevin and Paul (Pierce) got me great outlet passes and I attacked the rim,” Rondo said. “I think I tried to attack in Game 1 but my layups were getting blocked and I didn’t make a couple. Tonight I made them. I stayed aggressive and tried to expose them because I don’t think they did a great job getting back in transition. They made an adjustment in the second half and I tried to go to my guys, Paul, Ray (Allen) and Kevin.”
via Rajon Rondo drives this team - BostonHerald.com.

It was weird to see Rondo streaking out for catches of outlet passes, and that's a large part of what got the Knicks so off-guard about it. Rondo's almost always retreating to the backcourt to set the offense. He's usually patiently waiting for the right time to execute the play. But in the first quarter, he was just blistering guys in foot races and the result was a whole lot of layups. 

It's odd  that the Knicks can be so disciplined and well-conditioned in getting out in transition offensively, but can't translate those principles on the defensive end. It's one thing to struggle with half-court defense thanks to personnel, scheme and principles (like D'Antoni's forwards traditionaly leaking out early instead of pursuing rebounds which surrenders a lot of extra possessions which hurts the defensive numbers, an element often overlooked because we associate defense with effort). But transition defense whould be a point of proud and an easy translation for the personnel on D'Antoni's teams. They can at least hang with being bludgeoned to death. But letting the Celtics carve isn't going to work, not even in New York. 
You could look at that stat two ways: that the Celtics held one of the best offensive teams in the league to a poor shooting night, or that the Celtics barely eeked out a win despite the Knicks shooting so poorly.

Both are correct.

“It was really good to get the win, but we’re disappointed with the way we played tonight," said Paul Pierce. "We gave up a big lead and with the circumstances I thought we should have pushed the lead ... We shouldn’t be satisfied with the way we played today. We’ve got a lot of things to clean up but hopefully we can play better when we get to New York.”

Glen Davis put it simply, "We gotta play better if we want to be champions."
via Celtics blog - Boston Globe basketball news.

Maybe that's what's so confusing about Rondo's performance tonight. It was almost ineffective. It's easy to argue it won the Celtics the game, in terms of total effort, en masse. But you got the feeling that the Celtics were trying to send a message, to finish the Knicks early. Kick them in the stomach, throw them off the pier and be done with it for the night. But instead, the Knicks keep responding to Celtics' rampages with calm, cool, coollected responses. The Celtics have won two games on account of their ability to make the most out of a handful of possessions at both ends late, but they also need everyone they can convert. This series could go five games, but it's got the feel of a drawn out series in which the Celtics are trying to find themselves and keep coming up without answers. 
On Sunday, Anthony was criticized for shooting a deep 3-pointer over a double-team with time running out. This time, he chose to pass and still walked away with a loss and facing more scrutiny.

“I made the right play,” Anthony said. “The right play was to go to Jared.”

Jeffries, who finished with 10 points and 6 rebounds, said that Garnett closed on him too quickly to get a shot up. But, he added, “I should have went ahead and shot the ball.”
via Celtics 96, Knicks 93 - Anthony Gives His All, but It Isn’t Enough - NYTimes.com.

Easier said than done when Garnett's breathing down your neck. The better option in this situation from a set standpoint would have been for Melo to make the pass to Jeffries, but when the defense collapsed, to reset to Melo. By that time Davis would have had to started to rotate back to his man, which would have provided an opportunity for Melo to go one-on-one for a few seconds with Pierce, enough to get the shot off. In general, I'm a big proponent of always working to create a good shot, versus just giving it to your best player and hoping for the best. But with the Knicks' roster, especially without Billups or Amar'e Stoudemire? Melo should have been their one, last, and only hope. Getting him open would have been more difficult than just saying so, but that's the best scenario. Instead, New York faces a must win in the Garden in Game 3. 


Posted on: April 20, 2011 3:50 am
Edited on: April 20, 2011 4:10 am
 

Blazers G Brandon Roy near tears during Game 2

Portland Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy says he nearly cried during a Game 2 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. Posted by Ben Golliver. brandon-roy-falling

Portland Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy showed up to training camp a lesser player, no longer as explosive as he had been in back-to-back-to-back All-Star seasons. After two midseason knee surgeries, he's been even more limited, shifting from his starting two guard spot to a reserve role during the playoff drive and struggling through the least productive month of his NBA career.

During a Game 2 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, Roy and the rest of Portland's bench struggled badly to produce. Roy saw his minutes cut from 26 in Game 1, in which he played virtually all of the fourth quarter, to just eight in Game 2, where he sat for the entire third quarter and the final 9:42 of the fourth. Roy finished with 0 points, 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 steals and one turnover.

After the game, Roy told The Oregonian that he nearly cried during the game because he wasn't getting much run.
“There was a point in the first half, and I was thinking 'You better not cry,''' Roy said. “I mean, serious. I mean, there was a moment where I felt really sorry for myself. Then I was like, nah, you can't be sorry for yourself. I'm a grown man, but there was a moment there that I felt sorry for myself. Especially when I think I can still help.''
Roy was one of the first players to leave the locker room, but when he was stopped in the hallway, the hurt and confusion were still evident.
“I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little hurt, or disappointed,'' Roy said. “But the biggest thing is to keep moving, to try and keep my spirits up. But it's tough man. I just …. I just always thought I would be treated better. That was a little disappointing for me.''
Roy has maintained for the last month that his struggles are mental and that his knees feel fine after arthroscopic surgery earlier this season. He's also talked at length, since before the surgeries, about his need to adjust his game to accomodate his physical changes.

There is a clear disconnect for Roy. While his knees feel good that doesn't necessarily mean that he's the player he once was, nor even a productive player. A lack of swelling or pain doesn't equal 25 points a night, or 10 points a night. Or, even, a single point on Tuesday night. Playing without pain doesn't mean he's playing well. Those two have long gone hand in hand for Roy in the past, but that simply hasn't been the case for months now.

When Roy says his struggles are purely mental, he's either kidding himself or he hasn't fully come to terms with his current abilities. Scouts, former players, media observers and fans see a player whose quickness and power off the dribble have disappeared, a player whose ball fake and dribble combinations no longer mesmerize, a player whose lift is gone, a player who has been a defensive liability -- slow laterally, slow to rotate, slow to close out -- for the entire season, and a player whose confidence is clearly shaken. 

Is it possible that Roy regains his form in the future? Absolutely. Is McMillan correct to pin Roy to the bench during the playoffs right now? Absolutely.

No one wants Roy to succeed more than McMillan. The two share a bond, having literally turned a franchise around together. Few coaches would have let him play 26 ineffective minutes in Game 1 -- Roy shot 1-7, scored two points, grabbed two rebounds and dished three assists -- before pulling the plug. McMillan arguably gave Roy more power and offensive control than he should have for the better part of three seasons, and he unfailingly backed Roy as the team's best option no matter the results. McMillan wants Roy to be able to play well as much as anyone besides Roy himself and Roy's immediate family members.

Seen in that context, it's clearly no easy decision for McMillan to sit Roy. But it is the right one. Roy, who has been honest to a fault since he entered the NBA, isn't expected to be happy about that. With that said, a level of composure is required, especially during the middle of a playoff series. The last thing the Blazers need -- down 0-2 to a deeper and more talented Dallas team -- is a distraction. 

And Roy's comments will surely become exactly that.
Posted on: April 20, 2011 3:07 am
Edited on: April 20, 2011 3:33 am
 

NBA Playoffs Blazers-Mavericks: no Portland bench

The Dallas Mavericks held serve at home, and head to Portland with a commanding 2-0 series lead over the Blazers. Posted by Ben Golliver.
blazers-mavs-game-two


We said it in the series preview, and we noted it again in Tuesday's reset : the Portland Trail Blazers are not the team many thought they were and they're not the team they were as recently as a year or two ago. They're simply not deep. That point was made abundantly clear during Portland's 101-89 Game 2 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night.

Depth in the NBA can vanish in the blink of an eye, and the Blazers represent that truism to the fullest. Over the last 18 months, Portland has: watched Greg Oden, Jeff Pendergraph and Elliot Williams go down to season-ending knee injuries; traded Martell Webster for a draft pick that became unused rookie Luke Babbitt; traded Jerryd Bayless for a draft pick; traded two rotations players in Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw in a consolidation trade for Marcus Camby; and traded two rotation players in Dante Cunningham and Joel Przybilla for Gerald Wallace

Add that up: eight players that saw minutes, plus Williams, are out with just two players coming back in return. That's six lost bodies -- players whose roster spots have been filled by unused rookies (Babbitt and Armon Johnson), D-Leaguers (Earl Barron and Chris Johnson) and one free agent signing (Wesley Matthews). That qualifies as an overhaul.

Portland's management can still argue that the trades improved Portland's top-end talent. Indeed, Camby and Wallace have been mainstays down the stretch for Portland, while Matthews has been a valued addition. All three are playoff starters. But the series of moves and the injuries -- including dual knee surgeries for Brandon Roy -- have decimated Portland's depth, leaving coach Nate McMillan with just one reserve player that he can regularly turn to and expect meaningful contributions from: Nicolas Batum

During Game 2, Portland's lack of depth was so tragic that it was almost comical. Aside from Batum's 10 points in 25 minutes, Brandon Roy, Rudy Fernandez and Patty Mills combined to shoot 0-4 in 23 minutes, scoring just one combined point, grabbing four combined rebounds and dishing three combined assists. This on a night when aging Mavericks forward Peja Stojakovic outscored Portland's entire bench (including Batum) by himself and added five rebounds to boot. The falloff from starters to second unit for Portland was like a Mt. Hood cliff rather than a Pacific Ocean sand dune.

The lack of bench production -- and, frankly, energy and confidence -- led McMillan to play starters LaMarcus Aldridge (44 minutes), Marcus Camby (36 minutes), Andre Miller (39 minutes) and Wesley Matthews (36 minutes) more minutes than they played in Game 1, while the only starter who didn't take on extra burn was Gerald Wallace, who still played 38 minutes (down from 39). Before the game we wondered when in this series Portland's rotation would tighten even further than it already had. Immediately was the answer.

While the Blazers didn't look tired down the stretch, they certainly weren't the aggressors and often looked overwhelmed. With the score 90-84 with 3:57 to go in the game, Dallas began an 11-5 run. Scratch that: Dirk Nowitzki began an 11-5 run, as he scored Dallas's last 11 points after Stojakovich's outside shooting and J.J. Barea's forays into the paint destroyed Portland's defensive confidence and shape earlier in the final period. 

All Portland had to show in response to Nowitzki's barrage, which included a dagger jumper and a boatload of free throws, was a pair of Andre Miller free throws and a desperation Miller three-pointer. Aldridge, who had been beaten up all night by Dallas's interior defenders, scored his last point with 5:53 left in the game, a sure sign that Portland did not do what it needed to do from a late-game execution perspective. 

McMillan corrected his one big rotation error from Game 1 -- overplaying Roy, especially in the fourth quarter -- but the result was ultimately the same. His team was badly outplayed in the final six minutes. His starters looked overwhelmed and a half-step late on defense, and alternated between "unsure" and "forcing it" on offense. That's generally what happens when a team with eight or nine quality, productive players faces a team with six or seven.

The eternal optimists in Portland -- and there are many -- can take solace in the fact that Fernandez, Mills and Roy may get a boost from the Rose Garden crowd during Games 3 and 4. Fernandez, in particular, is notorious for playing better and more energetically at home. On the season, he averaged 10 points per game, shot 39.3% from the field and 35.1% from three-point land at home. Meanwhile, he averaged 7.2 points, shot 34.6% from the field and shot 28.9% from deep on the road. 

The pessimists, though, will say that Portland's bench simply can't play worse than it did Tuesday.

The realists will conclude that Portland's bench will likely play better -- because it can't play any worse -- but that it must play much, much better if Portland is to stand a chance at making this a true series against a deep, talented, balanced and motivated Mavericks squad. 
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com