Well, the Lakers and the Spurs meet this evening in game 1 of the Western Conference finals (that has to be in the running for the most often written sentence over the last decade). I don’t really know how much this “the Spurs had to sleep on the plane” business will affect the outcome but I sure hope it doesn’t. It could only affect the Spurs negatively, but even more so I just hate it when the press scrambles for off the court excuses like that. Anyways, before we get to that I wanted to discuss some other NBA matters:
Despite last night’s game, I still think the Pistons are going to take this series, and I still think they can do it in 6. It’s much too early to jump on the “the Celtics are back to their old-selves!” bandwagon. The Pistons were unfocused and played poorly on the offensive end of the ball. Boston’s defense was good, but mostly I thought the Pistons offense felt forced and lacked energy. Hamilton was trying to create in situations where a little ball movement would have sufficed, and every shot Sheed took down the stretch didn’t really seem to be there. I just think the Pistons have the match-ups in almost every situation. I like Prince guarding Pierce. I like the Billups-Rondo matchup (although Rondo did outperform Chauncey last night), and Ray Allen is a ghost out there, so you can’t really compare him to Rip Hamilton.
Really the best thing about this series for me is the Garnett-Sheed matchup. I am not sure there are two players who I find to be more dynamic and engaging when on the court. Certainly no other NBA player is as comically loquacious as Wallace. I just think you have two guys with high basketball I.Q.’s who can get it done on both ends, and have very distinct but equally charismatic hardwood styles, and for me that’s a recipe for exciting basketball.
As a resident of Chicago, I am pretty pumped that the Bulls nabbed the number one pick in the draft. The only thing that could have made it better would have been if Miami had slipped further down than just second. And I’m pretty unequivocally on the “pick Rose” train. I’m not historically a Bulls fan, but while living in the Chi, I’ve watched more WGN than Carl Winslow and have subsequently become pretty familiar with their current squad. Simultaneously I’ve grown to believe that Kirk Hinrich cannot run an offense. I toyed with the idea that he could work in a D’Antoni led system, thinking that maybe his days in Lawrence might serve him well in such a scenario. But alas, D’Antoni decided the calm, relaxing waters of Madison Square Garden would be more his style.
Ok. Wait. Before I go on, can we just talk about how unbelievably hilarious it is that D’Antoni chose New York and then the Bulls nabbed the 1st pick? God continues to prove time and time again that he has a wonderful sense of humor. Although I must admit, even though I thought, like the rest of the global population with the capacity for reason, that D’Antoni should choose Chicago over New York, the media love-fest that would go down if D’Antoni were in Chicago and the Bulls had the first pick would have been unbearable (After that run-on I am thoroughly convinced I need an editor).
But let’s get back to Rose. I watched the Memphis Tigers a lot this year, and I believe this kid is the real deal. He could really develop into one of the NBA’s premier floor generals. The kid is tough (an unspecific adjective you know I love) and his diverse offensive arsenal and eyes-on-the-back-of-his-head court vision lead me to believe that he could be one of the best PG’s in the league. Let’s be honest, a really reliable point guard is hard to come by.
Beasley, on the other hand, although extremely talented and very potentially a franchise player, reminds me a little too much of Lamar Odom for me to be confident in him. Not in any psychological or personal way, but in the way his game has this nebulous inside, outside air. I could easily see him being trapped in a system where a coach has consistently got him on the block when in fact he’s more productive when given space to work out on the wing. See why I make the Odom comparison? He clearly has all the talent in the world, but the combination of player potential and current roster necessity makes believe Rose is the better choice.
It also frees up the Bulls to toss around some pretty sizeable bargaining chips. Now that you know you will have a PG, you can automatically include Hinrich and either Gordon or Deng in a deal for someone who can actually score off the dribble, something nobody on this Bulls team can do consistently. No NBA franchise has as many off-season questions and consequently has more next-season potential than the Chicago Bulls.
Alas, we have finally made it to the Spurs-Lakers series. No offense to the Jazz, Nuggets, Hornets, Rockets or Suns (maybe a little offense to the Suns), but looking back doesn’t this conference final feel like it was a bit of an inevitability? Is that the least original thing I have ever said? No, but it’s in the running.
Close on its heels is the comment I’m about to make: You cannot judge this series based off of regular season meetings. That is generally true for the Spurs, but it’s especially true for this series. First, any pre-Gasol Lakers-Spurs meeting is just shy of completely irrelevant whatsoever. Second, in their fourth and final meeting, the Spurs were a) in a particularly bad slump and b) didn’t have Ginobili on the floor. Plus I watched this game at a bar that is packed with anti-Spurs mojo, so that’s the real reason we lost.
I’ll get this out on the table now rather than let it lurk in the shadows of everything I write over the next two weeks. I think this Lakers team is the best team in the NBA right now. I absolutely believe the Spurs can take this series, but it’s going to take some serious soul excavation to find the level of fight we’re going to need to do it. The Lakers are an incredibly impressive squad on the offensive end of the ball. Their combination of savvy veteran leadership, clever and confident ball movement and clutch scoring ability makes them a very potent unit.
In order to win this series we are going to need some serious offensive production out of our big three. In particular I think parker has a huge advantage against Fisher given his quickness. I think Parker can be intimidated by other point guards. I think Devin Harris used to intimidate him, and I think Chris Paul did a little as well. I don’t think he is intimidated by Fisher, and I hope his confidence will allow him to have a big series.
This is also a big moment for Ginobili. Duncan went up against Shaq. Last series was Parker’s chance to go toe-to-toe with the premier point guard in the league. Now it’s Manu’s turn to meet the man who perennially overshadows him. Bowen will probably cover Kobe, so it’s not really a face off in that sense, but it would make me oh so happy if Manu took it personally every time Kobe scored nonetheless. We’re going to need every bit of fight that fiery little Argentine has got.
Part of me wants to say I learned my lesson with David West and that Duncan, being our best frontcourt defender, should cover their best frontcourt scorer, Pau Gasol. But you and I and everyone knows that Popovich is going to start Oberto on him, so I’ll hold off until after game 1 to call for that move.
As far as guarding Kobe goes, and despite what I said about the irrelevance of our regular season match-ups, I’ll go back to some thoughts I had the last time we played:
“You cannot double Kobe when he goes to the hole from the wing. It is a trick, a clever rouse. He is not gonna dunk on Bowen, he wasn't beating Bowen to the hole, Bowen was consistently still square in front of him. At worst he was gonna pull up for a fade-away. If he goes through the middle of the paint, yes, clog the lane, put another body in front of him. But oftentimes (and Thomas had multiple offenses on this front) the weak side guy was collapsing on the drive from the corner and Kobe, with his excellent court vision, would find Gasol or Odom or Turiaf for the dunk or easy layup. It just leaves so much open space if you trap him once he gets to the low post. Kobe may be the best player in the league, but Gasol's percentage of open dunks made is still better than Bryant's percentage of circus shots made. I am not opposed to the trap, in fact I like it when we show a little bit of guts on the defensive end of the ball, but Kobe is gonna find the open man, so we have to be more judicious about when we double up on him.”
For other notes on successfully guarding Kobe check out Jeff Van Gundy’s interactive analysis for Play, the New York Times Sports Magazine.
My next remark is going to shock you, so buckle up: We should give Ime Udoka a lot minutes. I know, when have I ever said that before? But seriously, we need him on the floor because I think Odom creates match-up problems for us. Now that they’ve got Odom out on the wing we end up having either Ginobili or Finley guarding him oftentimes, and his size becomes a factor in those scenarios. Udoka has the foot-speed to stay with him on the wing, as well as the toughness to bang if Odom slides into the post. As I said earlier when talking about Beasley, Odom has a nebulous inside/outside game that Udoka’s defensive flexibility counters well.
I could go on about this for days, so I’ll just stop now. I’ll probably be back tomorrow with not only extended thoughts on game 1, but also some reflections on how to best counter the triangle offense, something I’ve been doing some research on for a while now. I'll also get back to you on the results from the refereeing analysis the guys at At The Hive and I did. I’ll leave you with some thoughts my pop had on the other Pop after game 7 of the Hornets-Spurs:
“Pop was brilliant last game. He put players in to contribute and pulled them before they thought they were so hot that they started to take bad shots. Guys hit two in a row and start to think it is their night (e.g., the Hornets final minute of play). There is a reason the Spurs bench is more effective and it does not stop with the players.”
UPDATE: Two quick things. First of, I totally forgot. Spurs in 7. Second, check out Dr. Lawyer IndianChief's preview of Spurs/Lakers over at Deadspin. Suffice it to say, knowing the boys over at FreeDarko, I was shocked this was the direction he went in.