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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Eastern Conf. Finals: Miami Heat vs Indiana Pacers

I’m glad fate has allowed the Heat and Pacers series to be tied 1-1 before I had a chance to share my thoughts on what many thought would be an easy trip to the NBA Finals for the Miami Heat. I’m glad because when I told many it would be closer than most expected they laughed. It’s common for many to spend hours making predictions and share opinions about matchups and then end with a comment that basically states it's up to LeBron James whether the Heat win or lose. The unfortunate thing about those types of closing statements is that it makes everything leading up to that statement irrelevant. Let’s not kid ourselves either, the Heat made a complete 180 degree turn since LeBron joined the roster. However the often criticized bench are the ones doing the little things that make LeBron’s greatness shine through even brighter or cause his efforts to be completely futile.

Aside from the Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel’s questionable decision to sit Roy Hibbert allowing James to score a Game 1 winning layup, fans, haters and everyone in between are about to learn that Indiana is as balanced an Eastern Conference team anyone could have asked for this post season.

Numbers don’t lie: Since the Voltron like formation of the Miami Heat trio, there has been no question they are the faces at the forefront of every victory. However there is more to it than just James, Wade and Bosh showing up to the gym and walking out with wins. During the Miami Heat’s 2010-2011 playoff run that ended with a Finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks, the Heat’s big 3 averaged 66.8 points while the rest of the team earned 36.7. In their 2011-2012 championship run James, Wade and Bosh scored 67.1 points with the remaining 39.9 coming from the rest of the team. Too small a margin to be noteworthy? Well consider this year’s stats which has the Heat trio averaging 53.2 points with the rest of the team chipping in with their highest output since 2010 with 49.3 points. From a team perspective and considering who makes up the remaining roster that is a huge improvement. That statistic could end up being the difference maker allowing the 3 Amigos an opportunity to rest longer than usual and perform at their highest level.

The Indiana Pacers on the other hand are the complete opposite in terms of how the team is built and performs. During this Pacers’ postseason Paul George, David West, Roy Hibbert and George Hill are averaging 66.4 points while the while their teammates do their share with 33.2 points. If you throw in the Pacers’ 78% Free Throw shooting versus the Heat’s 66.6% over the last 2 games, you begin to see that this series is far from over. Another noteworthy statistic is the Pacers ability to out rebounded the Heat so far 71 to 68 which plays a huge part when you consider both games were won by an average of 2.5 points. The Heat should consider themselves lucky in this category when you realize the Pacers were ranked 1st in rebounds compared to the last place Heat during the regular season.

Bottom Line: Whatever theories that exist about this series the truth is that both games were extremely close and one should expect this trend to continue. With most NBA teams top heavy it’s often easier for the Heat to wear out their opponents. In the case of the Pacers where there are far more players in need of wearing out, we could see ourselves with a Game 7 or even a first time Finals appearance since 2000 for the Indiana Pacers.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Western Conf. Finals: Grizzlies vs Spurs

It has come down to this: the Memphis Grizzlies or the San Antonio Spurs are headed to the 2013 NBA finals. Whether advertisers are concerned about low ratings or conspiracy theorists believing the NBA matrix will somehow force the Miami Heat through to appease the masses is irrelevant. The bottom line is that everyone is in for some team basketball at its best. I’m in no way trying to downplay the leaders of either team which are comprised of champions, Finals MVPs, All-Stars and NBA award winners. I’m simply trying to highlight the fact that these teams continue to be successful without playing the now often preferred and very popular 'hero' type basketball.
The above may come off as me speaking as a bitter fan born in the 80s. Perhaps. Although I wouldn’t use the word bitter. I prefer the term nostalgic, as I am a fan of the tough team concept basketball I watched growing up as a kid. Believe me, witnessing Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James and Kevin Durant among other players have outstanding single performances is fantastic and is needed in all sports. I simply feel it unfairly sheds a light on individual success and overshadows what allows that success to exist. In the case of the Grizzlies and Spurs both the teams' stars are well known; not popular by mainstream standards, but extremely successful and the biggest threat to whichever team makes it out of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Numbers Don’t Lie:
The Grizzlies averaged 93.4 points which was 26th in the NBA this season. The Grizzlies beat both the Clippers who average 101.1 ppg at the 8th spot and the Thunder with 105.7ppg who owned 3rd place in the NBA scoring category. How did this happen you ask? Simple. The Grizzlies defence only allowed opponents to average 89.3 points per game in the regular season. Yes, you guessed it. They were 1st in the NBA in that category.
The Spurs are dangerous in their own right as they don’t sacrifice scoring for defence and rank high in both categories. Spurs were 9th in points allowed with 96.6 and 4th in scoring with 103. The Spurs swept the Lakers who ranked 6th in the NBA by scoring 102.2 points on their opponents and allowed them to score 101 for the 21st spot in the NBA. If you add the Warriors to the mix, who were 7th in scoring during the regular season, with 101.2 allowing 100.3 at the 19th spot, then it's clear why all of the above happened. Oh, I’m sure you saw this coming. Here it comes! Defence wins championships, or the very least, gives you the best chance at winning one.
“With our powers combined”:
We know that the Spurs have their own big three with Duncan, Parker and Ginobili, while the Grizzlies have a scary dynamic duo of their own in Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. The key factor for both teams is often opposing defenders who keep forgetting to put pressure on lesser known players until it’s too late. So far in this post season, the Spurs have had five players averaging 10 or more points totaling 76.9 which is more than most teams can say. The Spurs' bench players refuse to ride the starters coattails scoring 31.1 points per game respectively with less than twenty minutes of playing time. Almost mirroring the Spurs, the Grizzlies have four players averaging double digits for a total of 66.7 points, with the bench chipping in with 39.7 in under twenty minutes as well.
Bottom Line:
Even with all the numbers in the world any player can get hot at any time just as they can get cold. As much as the “defence wins championships” is a beaten to death cliche, so is “key matchups”, and with the Grizzlies and Spurs so well balanced I’m guaranteed at least two more series of my preferred nostalgic, defensive, textbook basketball.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Game 4 R2: Spurs vs Warriors

With Round 2 of the 2013 NBA playoffs upon us I thought it might be fun to try and see what advantages teams have over their opponents and which ones could come out with a win. Don’t get me wrong, I have no plans of predicting the outcome of any series, but I will at least put my money where my mouth is on a per game basis.

Western Conference
Game 4: San Antonio Spurs @ Golden State Warriors

Advantage Spurs: Although Andrew Bogut has been able to play quality minutes replacing the injured David Lee, Tim Duncan is still one of the most unguardable Power Forwards in the NBA. Carl Landry has been able to hold his own in the paint to a certain extent, the problem is that the Spurs still have two more big bodies in Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw to throw at the Warriors who have no answer after that.

Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are hands down one of the best backcourt duos in the NBA. Both extremely skilled at driving to the paint and scoring, kicking it out to the open man or taking perimeter jump shots. That versatility often leaves Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Jarrett Jack on their heels often becoming victims of screens and picks, never quite sure of what to expect every time one of the two guards brings the ball up the court.

Coach Gregg Popovich knows his stars needs rest and this keeps his bench involved and experienced. A bench that is capable of protecting, increasing the lead and in some cases go on a scoring run is the key to success for any championship contender with its stars comprised of veterans. A full team commitment to defence and textbook basketball rounds of the long list of advantages the Spurs have over the Warriors.

Advantage Warriors: Let’s face it. The Warriors have been fun to watch all season and they have brought that type of uptempo high scoring basketball with them to the playoffs. The guard play of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Jarrett Jack are making it difficult for the Spurs to keep up when they get hot from the outside, making them virtually unstoppable.

Harrison Barnes and Carl Landry are benefiting from forcing the Spurs’ Forwards and Centers to come out of the paint to defend them due to their mid range shooting, resulting in mismatches in favor of the Warriors’ guards. Unselfish play is also getting Golden State open shots and easy layups which all take place early in the shot clock not allowing the Spurs to get settled on defence.

The Warriors 3 point shooting is one of their greatest advantages as it can help them come back when down or build on a lead when they get hot and go on scoring runs late in games.

Prediction: Spurs win Game 4

Although fun to watch, it’s always hard for me to believe in a team littered with youth that plays fast pace basketball and choose to live and die by the 3 pointer during the playoffs. Whenever a team decides to play that style of basketball their wins are based on whether or not their shooters are hot on that particular night. 

Even though 6 Warriors scored in double digits compared to the Spurs’ 4 players in Game 3, the Warriors shot 39% to the Spurs 50% who won that game by 102-92. The Spurs are efficient, disciplined, defensive, methodical, experienced and more than happy to let the Warriors gamble on their outside scoring to win the series. The reason being of course, the odds are in the Spurs favor.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Game 1 R2: Memphis Grizzlies vs Oklahoma City Thunder

With Round 2 of the 2013 NBA playoffs upon us I thought it might be fun to try and see what advantages certain teams have over their opponents and which ones could come out with a win. Don’t get me wrong, I have no plans of predicting the outcome of any series before a Game 1 tip-off, but will at least put my money where my mouth is on a per game basis.

Western Conference
Game 1:  Memphis Grizzlies @ Oklahoma City Thunder

Advantage Grizzlies: The biggest advantage that Memphis has going into today’s game happens to be what they do better than anyone else in the NBA, defense. The Celtics, Bulls and Heat are all rightfully praised for their outstanding defense, however it is the Memphis Grizzlies that are 1st overall in the NBA this season when it comes to points allowed with 89.3 per game.

A big part of that amazing defense rests on the shoulders of the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol and partner in crime Zach Randolph. Together they average 15.5 rebounds and mirror that with 38.1 points. Let’s not forget their presence alone forces those who would consider going for layups to think twice about running into one of two brick walls. 

Expect Serge Ibaka who many felt was snubbed for the  Defensive Player of the Year award and Kendrick Perkins who made those feelings public, to get tangled up under the basket often as these four beasts try to mark their territory today for the rest of the series. These playground tussles might favor Memphis as the Thunder don’t often get bullied down under when playing their preferred fast paced style of basketball.

Advantage Thunder: One has to find this series interesting once you realize the Grizzlies are 1st in points allowed per game and the Thunder are 3rd in the NBA when it comes to points per game with 105.7. With the loss of Russell Westbrook many assumed the Thunder’s scoring would drop dramatically when in fact it has remained relatively the same at 105.8 during their series against the Houston Rockets. The majority of the scoring predictably came at the hands of 2 time scoring champion Kevin Durant and it’s something he can no doubt continue to do as long as he stays out of harms way.

Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are likely one of the toughest inside duos in the NBA and there is no doubt that Kendrick Perkins ability to never be intimidated and Serge Ibaka’s 8.3 rebounds and 3 blocks per game will be ready for battle. Other Thunder cast members such as James Harden’s replacement Kevin Martin, Thabo Sefalosa, Russell Westbrooks substitute Reggie Jackson and even Nick Collison who performs well while staying off the stats sheet will all have to fight through the fatigue left over from the Houston series and help Kevin Durant protect home court advantage. 

A motivating factor for Oklahoma besides keeping home court advantage should be the Grizzlies polar opposite rank of 27th in the NBA when it comes to points per game with 93.4, reminding Oklahoma although it’s not always the best or prettiest option, they can save their strength on the defensive end and simply try to outscore the Grizzlies.

Prediction: OKC wins Game 1

The Thunder were 34-7 at home this season, are known to feed off one of the best crowds in the NBA and have the best consistent pure scorer in the NBA with Kevin Durant. The Grizzlies may have been 24-17 on the road but are in no way interested in or intimidated by flash as they convincingly eliminated the Clippers and Lob City in 6 games. 

The Thunder have a lot more to prove in Game 1 after the world saw them struggle with what should have been a sweep against the Rockets and I expect them to have figured out a solid game plan that doesn’t involve Westbrook. The Oklahoma bench also tends to perform better than opposing benches and are all decent shooters in their own right who seem to always find themselves open for an easy jumper.