NBA Playoffs 2009 Momentum: Just Don’t Lose.

April 12, 2009
Just Don't Lose.

Just Don't Lose.

With the playoffs 2009 just days away some teams are doing a better job than others in creating that all important momentum which is crucial to post season and more immediately, first round success. Regardless of how loaded a roster is on paper, very few, if any, teams in the NBA have the ability to turn match winning form on and off.


The Detroit Pistons are the most famous example of recent history, a team that believed it could shift momentum when it really mattered. To a certain extent their self belief was well founded: the Pistons having been a fixture in at least the Eastern Conference Finals during the period that their core of players has been together despite the fact that going into the playoffs they were far from on fire. When round one begun the Pistons were ready. Mostly any how.


So who in 2009 is ready for the post season and who is praying that they can flick the win switch in a week’s time. The teams occupying the 16 NBA playoff seeds in the East and West can be easily split into 4 groups according to how they are playing as the Big Dance approaches.


Firstly, there are the winners. Teams that have managed to find form at just the right moment. In the West, Houston and Portland are both on the back of 4 game winning streaks while the Dallas Mavericks go into this afternoon’s game against New Orleans with 3 straight victories.


Meanwhile, the hottest team in the League is out East with Boston winning 6 straight heading into today’s heavy weight showdown with the Cleveland Cavaliers. There are 3 other teams in the East streaking going into the playoffs: Chicago have 4 in a row while Cleveland and Atlanta both have 3.


Then, there are the losers. These teams are doing exactly what their coaches do not want them to. The worst of the bunch are the Philadelphia 76ers who have lost 4 straight, not only killing team momentum, but also, and crucially, slipping down the seedings in the East. The Western equivalent is the Utah Jazz who are marginally better than the Sixers having lost ‘only’ 3 in a row. Both of these teams face an uphill struggle to turn around their fortunes before round 1 starts.


The last two groups contain the teams that know that their season could sway one of two ways. Some of them lost their last game and are wishing that one loss does not become two. The others are on the back of 1 victory with high hopes of putting together a nice winning streak. Both groups of teams are all too aware that one victory, or loss could be enough to propel them into the first round as either hopefuls or down-and-outs.


A few of these teams, the Lakers and the Nuggets, will take confidence from their season records and will believe that they can stop the losing habit after only 1, getting back on track quickly and without crisis. Others, like Miami and New Orleans will be worried that one or two losses do not transform into a devastating streak.


The Big Mo is integral to playoff success. But it is a strange beast, unpredictable as it is useful. A win streak going into the first round can easily be crushed by freakish events in game one. For example, Miami might be losing right now, but with Dwayne Wade in the line up anything could happen regardless of streaks. A 50 point outburst could just be enough to sink a team that had previously been winning for fun.


Just ask Detroit. No team more than the Pistons know the importance of having more than momentum on your side. It sure does help for confidence and team chemistry, but it will not win games for you. One championship to show for numerous years as contenders is enough to illustrate that.


Who will Momentum smile upon this playoffs?


Phoenix Defeated By Worst In League Sacramento: Lottery Looks Likely For NBA’s Great Entertainers But Playoffs Still No Sure Thing For Rightfully Worried Dallas.

March 30, 2009
Phoenix Still Sporadic, Dirk Still Scared
Phoenix Still Sporadic, Dirk Still Scared

The NBA is full of guarantees. Shaq WILL insult just about every other player who even claims to play the center position in the League. Rip Hamilton IS cash money coming off of screens. Charles Barkley WILL make you laugh. The commentator in Cleveland will NEVER get tired of shouting ‘LEBRON THROWING THE HAMMER DOWN!’ There are many guarantees, but perhaps the most cast iron and absolute is the Phoenix Suns ability to entertain.


This entertainment can manifest itself in many forms but usually it is in 140 point outbursts where defence is disregarded and points mean prizes. It is perhaps fitting that as we continue toward the end of the regular season Phoenix has the entire NBA holding its breath as a result of a soap opera style cliff hanger that only the Suns could pull of: a ‘will they, wont they’ stumble toward the post season worthy of America’s finest melo-dramas.


Things were starting to look brighter for Phoenix. Despite lying in 9th in West’s standings, the Suns were on a hot winning streak, 5 games; their longest of the season. They were gaining on a faltering Dallas and it seemed inevitable that Nash and Co would squeeze into the second season.


If only it was that simple. In the Valley of the Sun simple efficiency is not the done thing. They prefer sporadic genius to sustained grind. So, now, fresh off of a 3 game losing streak, they drop back to 3 and a half games behind Dallas. Of those losses 2 were to playoff calibre teams, Portland and Utah. The third however was against Sacramento last night. The Kings are statistically the worst team in the NBA. Yet they beat Phoenix and in so doing may have spoilt the big playoff party for the Sunds.


However, as bad as the Suns were last night, the playoff door is still slightly ajar. They have 8 games to play, only 3 of these are against playoff teams: Houston, New Orleans, and of course, the Dallas Mavericks. The other 5 games provide the Suns with hope: Sacramento (again), Memphis (twice), Minnesota and Golden State.


The other reason for optimism lies in Dallas’s schedule: 9 games left, 6 of which are against playoff teams. Miami, Phoenix, Utah, New Orleans (twice) and Houston all stand lie between Dallas and the post season. 3.5 games back, but Dallas must be secretly cautious, especially with Minnesota the only sub .500 team in their final 6 games.


It seems inconceivable that either of these franchises will miss out on the playoffs this season. But it will happen. And one of them will be in the lottery for the fist time in what seems like forever. Surely, for either team, the lottery spells destruction. It is hardly likely that a Mavericks failure will be met with patience by Mr Cuban. Wide scale changes will surely occur. And Phoenix will almost certainly press the re-building button which will in all likelihood usher in a substantial period of basement dwelling as young pieces are given some time to develop a la Portland.


That would seem the most likely course for Phoenix. But the Suns are hardly known for following the script.


Everything will change.



Thundering Suns: Momentum Enough To Down Dallas?

March 24, 2009
170 pounds? We could do that.
170 pounds? We could do that.

Of all the teams not in a playoff position, which one would you most want to go and watch? If you are some sort of sadist, the kind of person who in their childhood pulled the legs off of grasshoppers, then you might answer Sacramento or Washington. But for all the people in the world who aren’t a little deranged, the answer has to be Phoenix.


A Phoenix team doing D’Antoni better than D’Antoni does D’Antoni makes for one of the most exciting teams in the league, regardless of standings, and it would seem that a looming trip to lottery land has not only caused a reversion to past strengths, but has also ignited the Suns into a late season push for the last playoff spot. This is where the Suns differ from the other great entertainers out West, the Warriors, who have all the flash but lack the purpose that has been instilled into a Phoenix team where failure is simply not an option.


Their win over Denver gives the Suns a 5 game winning streak, second hottest in the league behind the Cavaliers, and also, and most importantly, hope: Dallas is faltering and Phoenix is capitalising. Over the past 11 days the Suns have gained 3 games on the Mavericks, placing them just 3 games behind Los Mavs for the 8th seed. There is blood in the water and the Suns are closing in.


It would hardly be surprising if it emerged that mention of choking in Dallas had become an offence punishable by lengthy incarceration. Surely now would be the opportune moment for the Phoenix audio-visual team to mail the Dallas franchise a compilation of the Texas franchise’s ‘greatest hits’: first round exit to the Warriors, Finals capitulation etc. Maybe Steve Kerr could smuggle a new NBA ad onto our screens, ‘Dallas, where choking happens.’


The most worrying thing for the Mavericks is that so close to the end of the season the Suns are in possession of the most prized asset in sports: momentum. And, with Shaq acting as the Juggernaut from X-Men, the Suns look like an irresistible force that can’t be slowed down.


The team’s mission statement of 7 seconds or Shaq is looking real good right now. In their last 4 games they have averaged 131.5, passing Golden State as the League’s best scorers overall: 108.8. That is straight up madness. One reason for the Suns resurgence is their bench has started firing. On first glance the Phoenix bench looks weak when compared to certain other teams out West, especially as Leandro Barbosa is down for a few weeks. But they have seemingly found another gear and have started having real impact on games.


Check out Jared Dudley against Denver: 12 points and 8 rebounds off the bench. Goran Dragic had 8 points and 3 assists. Louis Amundson contributed 7 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 3 blocked shots. That is the type of bench that the Suns will need the next three weeks if they want to make the playoffs.


Can they do it? Yes. Definitely. 3 games are not many, especially for a team scoring the same amount of points as their point guard weighs.


And there is just something about backing Dallas in situations like this: you could set your watch by Maverick post season capitulation.


3 games up, 3 weeks to go. Mavs going home early?


Don’t forget your fishing rod, Dirk.