Posted on: April 7, 2011 10:42 am
Spurs clinch top seed in the West. How the West was won.
Posted by Matt Moore
Not a bad way to finish a season you were expected to land middle of the pack. The San Antonio Spurs crushed the Sacramento Kings Wednesday night (while Tyreke Evans crushed Gary Neal in all sorts of dirty ways), and the Lakers dropped a bizarre game to the Golden State Warriors (their third straight loss, and so the Spurs wind up with the Z. As in the Z in the standings signifying they have clinched homecourt advantage in the Western Conference Playoffs.
There are questions about the Spurs, let's be clear. This thing became a race down the stretch because San Antonio started to show some very real weaknesses, particularly on the defensive end. But now's not the time for that. Now it's time to celebrate the Spurs for one of their best seasons in history and Pop's work in turning a team that was ousted in the second round by the Suns last season into the West's top slot.
The Spurs' offense really is a thing of beauty. It's not the constant-ball-movement, high-pace dervish that the Phoenix Suns were a few years ago, and in fact, it has slipped to third in the league in recent weeks. But it's still the very model of efficiency. It relies on individual players creating mismatches with ability, not necessarily athletic prowess, like Manu Ginobili's ability to slip between defenders and then whip passes to the corner, and Tim Duncan's ability to pass out of the low post to kick start rotations. If the defense remains set, they have playmakers to finish at the rim, like Tony Parker and George Hill. But if it starts to commit, the Spurs will punish you with a flurry of perimeter movement to find the open shooter. They have mainstays, like Tim Duncan's short game, and can hammer the glass with DeJuan Blair and Antonio McDyess.
Richard Jefferson's perimeter ability has been a monumental reason for the Spurs' offensive up-tick. Jefferson jumped 12 percent from long range from last season, going from a 32 percent shooter to a 44 percent shooter. Much of this is attributable to his devotion to working out of the corner. Spurs' shooters have always made their money from there, and Jefferson finally bought in to that tactic. When he did, he found open look after open look. With his size and length, he's got an advantage on defenders trying to close, and he's lived up to the contract he signed this summer with San Antonio which was questioned.
The Spurs have won their fair share of big games against tough opponents, with wins over the Lakers, Heat, Mavericks, Bulls, and Magic. They feature a deep and formidable bench with shooters like Matt Bonner, rugged frontcourt rebounders like Blair and McDyess (depending on who's starting), and George Hill is a nice change of pace guard. Rookie Gary Neal has come on and shown that even rookies can get minutes in Popovich's rotations. This may be a deeper team than some of the championship squads.
But in the end, their hopes rest with the Big 3. Tim Duncan has said publicly several times this season that he knows his time is growing short. Manu Ginobili is no spring chicken. Popovich will only want to continue doing this for so long. And eventually the time will come for Peter Holt to trim down his expenses on a small market franchise. If this is the last ride for the Duncan-era Spurs, it will be the Big 3 that will have to carry them to glory in the face of the most loaded league they've ever had to battle through. But, quietly as always, this team has shown it knows how to win, and it's hungry for that fifth piece of jewelry.
Yes, there are defensive issues, but the fact remains: this is the best team in the Western Conference in 2011, and if they hit that playoff gear, there's every reason to believe they'll be right there competing for the title deep in the playoffs.
Posted on: April 6, 2011 3:09 pm
Dwight Howard wants Magic fans to believe in the team. He should start believing his shooters need to step up.
Posted by Matt Moore
What a difference two years can make. Two years ago, the Magic entered the postseason as the underrated team with something to prove. They were ranked third in efficiency differential, and had a better defense than the defending champion Boston Celtics. Now? They've dropped to sixth in efficiency differential, and third in defense. They're stumbling to the finish line, having lost 3 of their last 5 games. Things look as remote for their championship chances as ever. But Dwight Howard has the answer.
You gotta believe!
From the Orlando Sentinel:
“We’re not perfect, we’re going to make mistakes, we’re going to miss shots, we’re going to make bad turnovers, bad decisions with the ball, but we just need everybody to believe in us,” Howard said. “We are going to continue to believe in ourselves and believe in each other, but we need our city to continue to believe in us.”via Dwight Howard to Orlando Magic fans: We need our city to believe (Video) – Orlando Magic BasketBlog – Orlando Sentinel.
This from a guy who's pretty much asking the same fans to believe he'll come back in 2012. Magic fans are smart fans. They know good basketball. And the kind this team has been playing lately isn't.
It wasn't a bad plan, the midseason trades. Jason Richardson has a gear and toughness Vince Carter doesn't. Earl Clark is a nice young player. But in key ways, it hasn't worked out. Specifically, the Magic's biggest weapon, which made them such a threat in 2009, their three-point shooting, hasn't come around. The Magic are still No.1 in made and attempted three-pointers, but are 12th in percentage. They were 3rd in 2010, and 7th in 2011.
But there's still hope. If the Magic shooters can catch fire, their system makes it nearly impossible for teams to counter their offense. They're set on defense. So the only real question is if that will happen.
But for Dwight, that development won't come from belief.
Posted on: April 6, 2011 12:38 pm
Caron Butler was supposed to be out for the year with a ruptured patellar tendon. But he's pushing to make an unlikely return in the playoffs for a Mavericks team that desperately needs him.
Posted by Matt Moore
The Mavericks haven't really been the same since Caron Butler went down to injury. Before Butler ruptured his patellar tendon, the Mavericks weren't just good. They were great. For most of the season they held the second spot in the West. They were right there with San Antonio, vying for the top spot. Then Butler went down, and the Mavericks elected, in a rare moment of restraint, to not replace him through trade. The result has been a slow and gradual slide that has them clinging to the third seed over Oklahoma City. They went from a team that looked like a Finals contender to a team opponents are vying to play in the first-round. Butler's absence has been a big part of that. Without him for the rest of the season, their prospects seem dim.
Yeah, about that whole "Butler being out the entire season thing."
Butler has been making significant progress in rehabbing from his injury. To the point where there's starting to be some rumblings that we may see the veteran wing back in the postseason. From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
Rick Carlisle said the prospects of a return at some point in the playoffs still hinge on the medical aspect of the situation. Butler has been out since Jan. 1 when he ruptured his patellar tendon in Milwaukee.via Full-Court Press: Mavericks' (and UConn ex) Butler doing better Tuesday than Butler U..
That's pretty tough stuff from the guy they call Tuff Juice. Butler's shopping for a new contract after this season, and while you could argue that might be behind his drive to return and up his value, the risk is much greater in showing poorly or suffering another injury. Butler is 30, and should be looking for that last long-term contract. But instead, he's aiming to return.
Butler wasn't playing great for the Mavericks before his injury. 15-4-2 isn't a huge contribution. But his defensive work was a significant boon for the Mavericks, and something they will desperately need, regardless of who they face in the playoffs. Getting him back could put them back on the playoff map. It's a long way back for Butler, and it's unlikely he manages to return from that kind of injury. But if he can and provide the Mavericks any significant contribution, the Mavs may turn this thing around, which would be bad news for the rest of the West, considering how strong the Mavericks still are.
Posted on: April 2, 2011 1:54 am
Edited on: April 2, 2011 3:49 am
Sixers clinch playoff spot as Detroit is eliminated. But why isn't Evan Turner playing?
Posted by Matt Moore
They were supposed to be an afterthought. Many, including this here blogger, thought it was time for a proper blowup. How far could they go with a broken down Elton Brand, a regressing Thaddeus Young, an inexperienced point guard in Jrue Holiday, and the ultimate jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none Andre Iguodala who had been on the trade block for what felt like a decade?
Turns out pretty far. As in, the playoffs.
From the Philadelphia Inquirer's Deep Sixer blog:
With tonight’s 115-90 win over the New Jersey Nets, the Sixers have clinched a playoff berth with exactly six games remaining in the NBA’s regular season schedule. Considering the Sixers are multiple games ahead of the New York Knicks and multiple games behind the Atlanta Hawks, it’s safe to assume they’ll end up with the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference. Their opponent, likely either the Miami Heat or the Boston Celtics, is yet to be determined.via Deep Sixer: Inquirer Sports.
The Sixers are in, Detroit is out. The Pistons were eliminated with the Pacers win over Milwaukee (which pretty much, but not officially sunk the Bucks as well). The Pistons never got it together this season, despite some promising young players, mostly because their older players undermined their coach, who also did a pretty terrible job. The roster needs a major overhaul, and fast. The entire team needs a new coach, a new identity, and a new emphasis on the young core they have. Oh, and a new owner. That'd be good, too.
Back to the Sixers, Philadelphia is as playing as well right now as any team outside of the elite teams in either conference. While Boston is their likely opponent, and will likely dispatch them post-haste, the Sixers do have some matchups they can throw at either Boston, Chicago, or Miami. Perhaps most importantly, the Sixers are getting even contributions from multiple sets of players, from the bench, from the bigs, from the guards, and the wings. The team believes in itself, and that can be a scary thing to try and overcome for a favorite in the first round. Throw in some Coach of the Year quality work from Doug Collins, and the Sixers haven't just assured they'll be in the dance, they're goin to be a tough out.
Lost in all this is the fact that Evan Turner yet again did not play Friday night. Turner has been DNP-CD'd multiple times down the stretch, in favor of... Andres Nocioni. Doug Collins is the guy who turned this team around and got them into the playoffs, so you have to extend a modicum of respect for his decisions which have gotten them this far. But the absence of the Sixers' second overall pick remains a curious question mark for the team going forward.
The Sixers are very near a mathematical certainty to play as the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. For more on the playoff picture, check out Royce Young's comprehensive look.
Posted on: March 29, 2011 12:41 am
Edited on: March 29, 2011 12:51 am
The Magic fail to bring the defense agains the Knicks and wind up 18-19 against playoff teams this season.
Posted by Matt Moore
The Orlando Magic are now 18-19 this season against (current) playoff teams this season after their 113-106 loss to the Knicks Monday night. Granted, the Magic were without Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick from the start and lost Chris Duhon to a jammed thumb during, but the result is the same. The Magic already won the season series with the Knicks, but now, just when they're trying to get momentum headed into the playoffs, they surrender this loss.
There will be talk of Dwight Howard's phantom sixth foul, of Carmelo Anthony initiating a trip of Jason Richardson that was responded with a trip on Melo by J-Rich that was the only one called. There will be talk of the injuries and a lot of random buckets that fell, but in the end, it was the Magic's usually stout defense that failed to get the job done.
The Knicks' defensive effort really focused around turnovers. They turned over the Magic on 21% of their possessions, and held them to 43% shooting. For the Knicks, that's a Celtics-like performance. In particular, the Knicks' perimeter defense stepped up, a big reason why Chauncey Billups was +4 for the game. Keeping the perimeter attack in check, with good rotations, communications, and contests? Basically the Knicks did everything they haven't done in their woeful recent performances. Whether it was just an off night for the Magic, or as Jason Richardson said post-game, the Knicks were "starved" for a win, it's a game to build on for New York.
This was a must-win for the Knicks, and a game where the Magic just wanted to get through as they try and get healthy. But with the Magic taking 32 3-pointers, hitting just 11, it's a sign that this team isn't close to the roster make-up, nor the momentum of the '09 team. There's a five game gap between Orlando and Atlanta.
The difference feels much closer.
Posted on: March 24, 2011 7:36 pm
Edited on: March 24, 2011 8:42 pm
The results of the first two rounds of the CBSSports.com Eye On Basketball NBA Tournament Bracket. Posted by Ben Golliver, Matt Moore and Royce Young.
Last week, we kicked off the CBSSports.com Eye On Basketball NBA Tournament Bracket. That’s right, we seeded the top 16 teams in the league into four regions of four teams each to set up an NCAA-style win-or-go-home tournament.
It's time to break down the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 rounds so that we can narrow the NBA down to its Final 4. Please note: Teams have access to the players who are expected to be healthy when the real NBA playoffs start in April. Winners were determined by a poll of Eye on Basketball staff.
Sweet 16 Round
The Houston Rockets are your prototypical scary upset alert team. They started so slow that expectations evaporated and they are doomed to being overlooked because they play in such a tough conference. Now that they’ve rounded into shape at just the right time and squeaked into the field, thanks in large part to the recent play of Kyle Lowry, all of a sudden no one wants to play them. Still, in a one-game set, the top overall seed San Antonio Spurs wouldn’t sweat this match-up too much. Both Texas teams can put up points in bunches, but only San Antonio has the commitment and system to take opposing offenses out of what they want to do. The Spurs are the ideal team to avoid an early round bracket upset: They’re experienced, talented, disciplined and well-coached. Gregg Popovich is really the anti-Rick Barnes when games start to matter. Winner: San Antonio by a consensus 3-0 vote.
Every year, there’s a game that leaves fans from both sides slapping their foreheads, thinking, “We could make a serious run if we played anybody except these guys!” The new-look Nuggets are one of the hottest teams in basketball, committed on both ends and playing for one of the most respected (and yet still chronically underrated) George Karl. They have a Michigan State of recent memory feel to them, a team that you’re constantly hoping is on the other side of the bracket because they will keep coming at you no matter what. Plus, the Nuggets bring with them a solid frontcourt and the ability to Heat up, the biggest pull in the tournament. If J.R. Smith lights it up, that's the ballgame.
The Thunder, though, armed with the league’s best scorer and one of its most dynamic point guards are a nightmare match-up in a one-and-done format too. They've shown in recent weeks the ability to rise to the occasion (that win in Miami, anyone?) and have a year of postseason seasoning under their belt (plus blood in their mouth from last season's early exit). In the game that would surely set the opening round television ratings record, we think the Thunder would emerge victorious from the dogfight. Winner: Oklahoma City by a 2-1 majority vote.
Here’s the match-up where the underdog team’s fans don’t even bother to purchase plane tickets to fly out and watch the game because they already know they’re going to get demolished. Carmelo Anthony has been scientifically proven to be allergic to winning and the mish-mashed Knicks simply cannot execute well enough yet to overcome LA’s powerhouse depth advantage. Maybe next year, New York. But probably not! Lakers roll by 30. The Knicks leave their fans wondering whether they would have been better off being relegated to the NIT. Winner: Los Angeles by a consensus 3-0 vote.
Now this is a must-see first round matchup as the re-made Blazers match up extremely well with the Mavericks. This format is a relief for Brandon Roy, who only has to focus on one game instead of potentially seven. Able to focus on a single game, he potentially adds a completely different offensive dimension for Portland and makes it much tougher for Dallas to match up. Not to mention, LaMarcus Aldridge inside is a tough matchup for Dirk Nowitzki and Andre Miller is outstanding at controlling a game, while Marcus Camby and Tyson Chandler sort of cancel each other out.
These two teams have already played some classics this season, and the Eye on Basketball staff is split on who wins out when the game comes down to a couple of key final possessions: Roy and Aldridge or Nowitzki and Jason Terry. Dallas’s season-long consistency and Dirk's singular proven greatness sees the Mavs through, but this is surely an upset special. Winner: Dallas by a 2-1 majority vote.
Jrue Holiday’s speed alone is enough to swing the entirety of the casual fan set behind Philadelphia’s bid to overthrow the reigning Eastern Conference champs. The Sixers also have the team defensive and rebounding chops to push the Celtics to the wire. Ultimately, and sadly, this is a case of Boston having too many weapons and next-level chemistry. Kevin Garnett will ensure Boston comes to play out of the gate and Ray Allen is already spotting up outside the three-point line, ready to close it down late. Plus, Rajon Rondo knows all the tricks to harass Holiday during his first trip to the national stage. And ... we haven’t even mentioned Paul Pierce. Winner: Boston by a consensus 3-0 vote.
Here’s a geographically unconventional match-up that might give you pause, but only because pairing these teams could never happen in the NBA’s conference format. Shake off the surprise and the Magic have got this one locked down: they’re playing better basketball than the Hornets lately, they’re deeper, they would own the paint and they’ve been through the fire before. Fifth year senior Hedo Turkoglu is back from his year of studying abroad in Canada and ready to reclaim his reputation as a tournament darling. While Chris Paul is capable of beating just about any team on any given night, his supporting cast is just too hit or miss to put New Orleans over the top. That’s too bad, because we hear the Hornets Athletic Department is considering eliminating Men’s Basketball after this season. Play like your school's future depends on it, Hornets. Gulp. Winner: Orlando by a consensus 3-0 vote.
If you haven’t heard yet, Derrick Rose is the single greatest basketball player to ever live and, while unfailingly humble, inspires everyone in his presence to provide maximum effort through the ferocity of his desire to win. With Rudy Gay unable to play due to shoulder surgery, Memphis runs into Chicago’s brick wall defense, led by a point guard with no prior tournament experience and a massive hole on the wing. The Bulls have plenty inside to offset Zach Randolph. For a first-time head coach like Tom Thibodeau, Memphis, an undermanned cupcake, is really the ideal entry into the pressures of post-season play. Winner: Chicago by a consensus 3-0 vote.
Miami Heat vs. Atlanta Hawks
Miami goes through by default here, as playing basketball with intelligence and heart for three quarters beats playing basketball with intelligence and heart for zero quarters. The Hawks are basically the Pitt of the NBA: looking decent on paper before laying an egg as quickly as humanly possible. Miami wins this one by 50 but rightfully receives no credit despite the obscene margin of victory. Larry Drew is an in-studio guest commentator within 48 hours after the final whistle. Winner: Miami by a consensus 3-0 vote.
Elite Eight Round
Well, as you can see, lots of chalk here. As a staff, it looks like we overwhelmingly favor the favorites, trusting that their professional instincts and experience playing together are enough to stave off any upset bids, even in a one-and-done format. Now that the Elite 8 is set, who goes through to the Final Four?
South: San Antonio (1) vs. Oklahoma City (2)
This is about as classic a “youth vs. experience” match-up as you can get in the NBA. In truth, Oklahoma City matches up very well with San Antonio: Russell Westbrook has the quickness to stay with Tony Parker, Thabo Sefalosha is a fine defensive match-up for Manu Ginobili and the Thunder have multiple bigs to throw at Tim Duncan now that Kendrick Perkins is on board. Plus, Kevin Durant should be able to do whatever he wants. Really, he could embarrass some people here.
The X-factors are San Antonio’s ability to hit from outside and Popovich’s coaching acumen. Nobody in the league has the ability to prepare a team for a one-game stand or find a way to gimmick out a victory like Pop. In an exhausting nailbiter that leaves the Thunder players lying on the court afterwards, the Spurs go through. Winner: San Antonio by a 2-1 vote.
West: Los Angeles Lakers (1) vs. Dallas Mavericks (2)
Los Angeles enters this game with a big-time advantage, as they had the luxury of cruising past the New York Knicks while Dallas had to fight and claw past the Portland Trail Blazers. They seize that advantage and don’t look back. L.A.’s biggest weakness, athleticism at the point guard position, isn’t exploited by Dallas, and their biggest strengths – balanced offensive attack, length down low – are overwhelming to a team that asks Tyson Chandler to do a lion’s share of its dirty work. Despite Dirk Nowitzki’s resilience and ability to get to the line at will, the Lakers pull away for a comfortable win. Then they gloat about it afterwards. Coach K really should coach this team next year. Winner: Los Angeles by a 2-1 vote.
East: Boston Celtics (1) vs. Orlando Magic (2)
One crucial post-season X-factor that we haven’t yet discussed: foul trouble. In a one-game format, a single careless decision by a guy like Dwight Howard can alter his team’s entire post-season. Nobody is better at upping the intensity and drawing that kind of carelessness out of opponents than the Celtics, plus they have a morgue full of stiffs to hammer Howard relentlessly knowing full well that the referees will shy from the moment and avoid whistling any flagrants. Sure, it’s an ugly formula, but it’s enough to see Boston through, as Paul Pierce will be able to do what he wants against Orlando’s perimeter defenders down the stretch. Based on past history, there’s also a 50% chance Jameer Nelson no-shows, which would make this even easier. Winner: Boston by a consensus 3-0 vote.
Midwest: Chicago Bulls (1) vs. Miami Heat (2)
America’s Team vs. America’s Most Hated: the dream Elite 8 match-up for television analysts who enjoy praising sacrifice, defense and single-minded dedication to the craft. Those are all factors in our decision to send Chicago through to the Final Four, but the biggest issue is that Miami’s recruiting class was simply too top-heavy and egocentric. Too many weak links and too little faith in a not-yet-established coach: even in a one and done format that might favor raw talent, that’s a recipe for disaster. Chicago, meanwhile, has just the right combination of elite talent and chip on the shoulder mentality to knock off the Fab 3. Plus, when the game tightens up, the Bulls know who will deliver. Miami has no clue. After this win, Bulls fans look past the Final Four and stream to the internet to talk about the possibility of being repeat champions next year. Winner: Chicago by a consensus 3-0 vote.
Yes, embarrasingly, we collectively picked all four number one seeds through to the Final Four. We'll break down those match-ups next week and things should really start to get interesting.
Now it's your turn: Which upsets did we miss? Which favorites do you think are likely to go down early? Weigh in below in the comments.
Posted on: March 17, 2011 12:53 pm
Edited on: March 17, 2011 12:54 pm
We kick off our NBA Tournament seeding with the reveal of our bracket and seeds.
Posted by Matt Moore
With all the fun of March Madness, it brings out the stark difference between the tournament and the NBA Playoffs. While the playoffs are their own beast in terms of intensity, high level of play, and determining a legitimate champion, nothing matches the fun of a one-and-done tournament like March Madness. And the selection process alone is the kind of fun water cooler discussion that's enviable for NBA fans who have to rely on who actually won the most games against common competition to determine seeding. So that got us thinking? What would the NBA Playoffs look like if seeded like the tournament? Certainly not a wholly original idea, but one we thought would be interesting this season, with such competition at the top of both conferences.
Our selection committee seeded the top 16 teams regardless of conference, based on win total, signature wins, strength of schedule, notable upside, and overall performance throughout the season, mitigated by recent success. Over the next few weeks we'll give our predictions of who would win in a one-and-done tournament versus the seven-game trench warfare of the NBA playoffs. Here now, is our NBA Tournament Bracket, and some reasoning for our selections.
Notes on seeding:
The committee welcomes your thoughts, questions, comments, and inevitable outrage and insults in the comments below. More importantly, who do you think would have a chance to win this theoretical dance?
Posted on: September 29, 2010 2:53 pm
Celtics coach not thrilled with C's condition, looking to compete consistently throughout the season.Posted by Matt Moore
The Celtics know the score. They know what they're doing. They know how to win titles. They have experience. They don't need practice. We're talking about practice. Okay, bad example. But training camp means very little to a team that really couldn't care less until the flowers are blooming in April. But apparently, there is a floor the Celtics shouldn't drop to, and according to Doc Rivers, they're flirting with it.
Rivers wasn't exactly blooming with pride over his older club's condition. From the Boston Globe :
"...I think that we’re not in great shape personally. I don’t think that we’ve come back in the condition that we want. So we’re going to have to come back in better shape."
This goes in tandem with other comments he made in reference to the Celtics' late-late-late last second surge last season. In essence, they lost the championship because Game 7 was on the road. Game 7 was on the road because they weren't in a position to get those wins mid-season. From the Boston Herald :
“What we did last year was play Game 7 on the road,” Rivers said. “If Game 7 was in Boston Garden it would have been very different. So that was on us. Last year was out of necessity. It wasn’t planned. It was planned if we had the injuries, then we had to make a tough call to start resting guys in the middle of the season. I hope as coach I don’t have to make that call this year."
Doc is not messing around.
What this could mean is a Celtics team that coasts less during the late winter months, a period in which the Celtics admitted they were "bored" last year. The competition is higher this year, with the Bulls, Knicks, and, you may have heard, Heat all improved considerably. As a result, Rivers likely wants to have his team back in 2008 form, seeking to destroy each and every team on the schedule. That's the kind of effort it may take this season. Rolling through Christmas and coasting through March should be a strategy of last restort, not the prototype. For all the talk of how the Celtics don't care or worry about the regular season, the C's late season swoon obviously took its toll on Rivers, who very nearly failed to return this season.
So now we get to see what kind of C's are ready for the regular season. Because it would appear that they did not dedicate themselves physically to another run over the summer. This is the time for that. The window is closing on the Celtics. If they want to toss a brick in the frame to prop it open, they're going to need to toss the pounds and work to be in the best condition they can be. The stakes are higher, now.