NBA Playoffs 2009 Western Conference Finals: Denver Evens Series While Kobe And Carmelo Share Exhaustion

May 26, 2009

by Jack Maidment

Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony have more in common than successive stellar Westren Conference games (Kobe has set a record for combined points in successive Conference Finals games.)

Chauncey, reliable as ever.

Chauncey, reliable as ever.

The physicality of the series coupled with the extensive minutes which their team’s demand of them has reduced both players to I.V. drips.

Kobe’s came after the LA Lakers victory in Game 3 while Carmelo was hooked up at half time of Game 4, a game that the Nuggets would go on to win.

The fact that both players have been on the floor for more than 40 minutes a night has totally depleted what energy reserves they may have had left after the opening two series.

Their tired bodies tell us two things about this Conference Finals match up. Firstly, the teams are incredibly closely matched, with 3 of the 4 games coming down to the final minute. Secondly, both players can only count on one of their team mates for consistent help.

For Kobe, only Pau Gasol has produced any numbers that take some of the strain from Bryant’s shoulders. The fact is he could do more, and he agrees, ‘asking’ for more touches inside instead of watching his team hoist more than thirty 3 pointers in Game 4 despite his productivity.

The Robin to Carmelo’s Batman has been Chauncey Billups, Mr Big Shot and Mr Dependable. Even when he isn’t scoring he is assisting and providing much needed leadership to the Nuggets who still possess the ability to flip out at any moment.

In Game 4, Melo was 1 for 11 at the half. Fortunately the JR Smith who annoys so many people with his posturing and play turned up and led his team in scoring with 24 powering them to the win and an even series.

The rest of the Lakers went missing, especially Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odum, both of whom are as reliable as an ashtray on a motorbike.

I.V. drips in basketball? Proof of one thing.

It is a team game after all. 

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NBA Playoffs 2009 Eastern Conference Finals: LeBron Needs Help, Evens Series Regardless

May 23, 2009

by Jack Maidment

For the most part, 1 second in sports can last an eternity and its repercussions can last even longer. Just ask LeBron James who last night hit a game winning, buzzer beating 3 pointer with 1 tick left on the clock to tie the Eastern Conference finals at one game all.

Where has LeBron's team gone?

Where has LeBron's team gone?

Despite a dominant first half performance by the Cavaliers, the Orlando Magic clawed their way back into the game, recovering from numerous double digit leads to swapping leads in the 4th.

Regardless of 3 quarters of relative dominance, the Cavs were staring at a 2-0 hole which would have made their task to progress nigh on impossible.

It is in moments like those that you need your superstars to come and play.

One did, one did not.

Mo Williams may have talked trash yesterday, belittling the Magic, but the fact remains that he may as well have stayed home last night. His first shot of the night was an air ball; a microcosm of his series if ever there was one.

Fortunately Mo can call LeBron James his team mate and he and the rest of Cleveland clung on to the bottom of the King’s cloak and prayed that he could get it done.

Charles Barkley’s assertion that the Magic would win this series has begun to look like the best prediction in the history of sports as Orlando exhibits a balanced offense and a stifling defense.

Balanced the Cavaliers were not: it was either going to take a James’ superhuman effort or they would head to Florida in big trouble.

As it is, LeBron came up huge and the series is absolutely alive.

However, the memory of the Cavliers’ previous eight games has been erased as they are considerably flattered by the even series.

If it is only LeBron James who turns up to play in Orlando the the Cavs will not even get close to the Magic. One man can only do so much, even when you are the King.

It would seem that the rest of his team mates have become petrified by the sight of an opposition that can actually play with them. Cleveland rabbits to Orlando’s team bus headlights.

Orlando are too big, too strong and too talented to grant any concessions to a team that has floundered under their status as conference favourites.

Big Z looks old. Ben Wallace appears half the player he was 2 years ago. Delonte West apparently has shrunk in the fact of responsibility, bricking the open looks that he has made all season.

The most emphasis on the Cav’s shaky play has to be attributed to Mo Williams who quite simply has to earn his All-Star contract.

The Playoffs are where it counts. Nobody cares how good you were in the regular season.

In Game 2, when all of the marbles were all on the line, LeBron stepped up and did his thing, dragging his petrified franchise to the win.

He needs help. True.

Whether or not he gets it? That much we will find out.


NBA Conference Finals: Call It. I Dare You.

May 19, 2009

Nuggets

by Jack Maidment

16 have become 4 and the NBA Finals are in sight for the few that are still standing.

LA will face Denver for the Western Conference Championship and the chance to face either Cleveland or Orlando who are poised to commence battle to decide who the East’s finest is over 7 games.

Half of the draw has merely fulfilled the prophecy set out by most people at the start of this NBA season. The Cleveland Cavaliers and the LA Lakers were both lock picks to be still playing this late in May.

On the flip side of the coin the Orlando Magic and the Denver Nuggets were very, very few people’s choice to make it this far. Yet, here they are, with all of the marbles on the line for the team that can perform and take care of business.

Before the rise of Denver, the Lakers were supposed to glide straight back to the Finals, uncontested. Yet rise Denver has to the point where many are calling the series Denver’s way. Anyone who says they called that in October is a liar.

Similarly, the Cavaliers have marched to the East’s big game, simply destroying all comers. Despite this, people are still tipping the Magic to take the series, most notably Charles Barkley.

The way in which Orlando dispatched the defending champion Celtics was a little unerring. It was the sort of performance that Champions put in. Game 7 on the road. They stepped up and grabbed the opportunity to try and contain LeBron for a shot at the Big Dance.

The Playoffs dictate that teams that make it this far are ‘real’. You cannot luck out consecutively. Nope. All 4 teams are here to play, and play they undoubtedly will.

In the first round, the chance at the trophy seems a far off possibility but if you make the Conference Finals the smell of Finals success grows more pungent, more alluring.

Before a game is played, the Cavaliers should be favourites to advance. Orlando presents them with huge match up problems especially in the front court which Ohio’s finest will have to try and counter.

Rashard Lewis, as Boston found to their cost, is damn tough to handle. At 6-10 he has the length to cause problems in the post, but the fact that he is more comfortable creating off the dribble causes havoc for less mobile bigs, like Zydraunas Ilgauskas.

You would assume that LeBron would pick up Hedo Turkoglu leaving Anderson Varejao with the unenviable task of keeping Dwight Howard in check. Not happening.

The Magic, however are well equipped to cover the Cavs with a roster of good athletes and able defenders. The likes of Mickael Pietrus and Rafer Alston should lock down the perimeter leaving their Defensive Player of the Year to roam the inside causing havoc.

The key to the series? LBJ. LeBron has ate up better defenders than Hedo and if it comes to it, The King is more than capable of carrying his team to the finish line. How the Magic try and contain LeBron James could decide who advances.

Meanwhile the West is very much a battle of length versus aggressive athleticism. Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odum are as long a front 3 as the NBA has to offer. All skilled, but bangers? Nope.

Nene, Chris Anderson, Kenyon Martin? All are undersized but counter what they lack vertically with energy and hustle. Oh, and bruising. How LA reacts to the challenge in the paint will go a long way to deciding who proceeds.

The Lakers are overpowered at the point with Chauncey Billups doing his thing and in JR Smith and Carmelo Anthony they have an offensive punch to counter Kobe Bryant.

The prospect of Kobe and Carmelo, arguably the two best flat out scorers in the L, going at it to take their team to the Finals is mouth watering indeed.

Both series are close. Too close.

Lakers/Cavs Finals? Don’t count on it yet. 


Los Angeles Lakers: Arrogant, Innocent or just Inconsistent?

May 15, 2009

LA_Lakers_Kobe_Bryant

by Jack Maidment

The Los Angeles Lakers have an attitude problem.

There is no other way to look at it. The ‘Most Talented Team in the League™’ are as likely to blow out teams as capitulate in the first quarter. Beat the Cavs in Cleveland. Lose to the Thunder at the Staples Centre.

The Lakers could well be close to adding another trademark to their franchise: ‘Most Frustrating Team in Sports’. A flawed genius who blows hot and cold. Far from consistent, but always engaging, often for the wrong reasons.

So, is it arrogance or an innocently laid back mind set?

The identity that a franchise adopts is 50% down to its coach and 50% to the team’s leaders.

In Kobe Bryant the Lakers possess the world’s best player and a much improved leader compared to the man he was just a few years ago.

Playing every game knowing that you are the best on the floor can only lead to a certain amount of arrogance no matter how pronounced it may be.

Similarly, playing for a coach as monumentally successful as Phil Jackson must instil not only a respect and faith in his schemes, but also a certain degree of complacency built around the idea that ‘We got Kobe’ and We got Phil’.

The problem with banding around the word arrogance is that the connotations are entirely negative. What if the Laker’s mentality is entirely innocent, an unwavering belief in their abilities that appears as disrespect to the outsider looking in.

When a team or individual exhibits other worldly talent it is easy to become disillusioned and ultimately follow a path toward downright dislike.

So when LA embarrass a team as good as Houston by 50 points in a playoff game it is hardly surprising that some people might feel slightly aggrieved.

But the next game LA will seemingly slack off, almost allowing other teams to get the win. Making it fair. No matter how innocent they may be this is obviously going to annoy opposition and audience a like.

Kobe has said previously that his team find it difficult to close out teams because they ‘find it too easy to score’. Sound arrogant to you?

Maybe, but, put simply, the Lakers will come good. Or they will make a whole lot of writers and critics look very silly indeed.

Denver are not playing. As George Karl keeps saying, they are ‘real’. Any slacking against a team that will score and hustle in equal measure will lead to an embarrassment that LA does not want to become familiar with.

The fact that LA are playing so hit and miss also adds an extra dimension to a Western Conference Finals which would lose some of its mystique if both teams were playing 100%.

Ultimately, everybody loves a little bit of drama, and that much is assured by the Lakers post season presence.

The Los Angeles Lakers, the team that you love to hate.


NBA Playoffs 2009: Cleveland Cavaliers Handle Hawks With Ease

May 12, 2009

mike brown

by Jack Maidment

The word best used to describe the Cleveland Cavalier’s Playoff performance thus far? Ease.

After completing their sweep of the Atlanta Hawks last night, LeBron and co have become the first team since the Miami Heat many moons ago to dispatch their first and second round opponents in the absolute minimum of 8 combined games.

Some of the games may have been close at times but the outcome for each one rarely looked in doubt.

The Detroit Retaliation that was predicted my many never happened. Instead of the dormant talent and experience rising up in the face of the challenge, it preferred to stay sleeping, confining the Pistons to an embarrassing first round exit.

The Atlanta Hawks couldn’t be much more different than the Pistons. They are young and are clearly progressing, yet the outcome was the same: getting past the Miami Heat in the 1st was an entirely different proposition to facing LeBron in the Conference Semis.

If you look up ‘stroll’ in the dictionary there is likely a picture of Detroit and Atlanta united by their collective trouncing. Yep, they were trounced.

Despite the fact that the Cavs would have you believe that they have worked hard against tough opposition to get this far, the reality is that they could not have made it look much easier.

Difficult takes a day, impossible takes a week, right?

The very best make the game look easy. Effortless. Jay-Z, Alex Ovechkin, Barack Obama, Lionel Messi. We know that what they are doing is difficult, sometimes impossible, but their success is rarely doubted.

However, the Cavaliers are not at the top yet, and they know it. As the top seed, their route to the Conference Finals has been as stress free as possible. Atlanta and Detroit are not the Boston Celtics or the Orlando Magic. At all.

For LeBron, the playoffs really start now. Against teams that have the ability to take you to the last possession every game, no matter where it is being played.

The ease of progression has led Cleveland to constantly defend its preparation going into the Conference Finals and also The Finals themselves. Playing mediocre teams can hardly get you ready for battling the Celtics or the Los Angeles Lakers, can it?

They say rest is the bonus that every team would prefer over hard fought 7 game series. They say that they will be ready.

They probably will be, but there can be little doubt that the Cavs will find it difficult to come out firing like the winner of the other Semi which will go at least 6, probably 7.

Rhythm is important in all things. Finding the groove. The Cavs will have to find theirs real fast in the Conference Finals. 

Do the Cavaliers have ‘it’ on tap? We will soon find out. 


NBA Playoffs 2009: Fouls Are Fouls, Right?

May 9, 2009

Lebron foul1

The question is there to be asked. Should there be equality across the League in dealing with players that break the rules of conduct, or should certain people be exempt from them in the interest of entertainment?

This year’s playoff series have done nothing but highlight the disparities in the way that the NBA deals with its superstars and everybody else.

The best example of this chasm of difference came in game 2 of the Lakers/Rockets Semi Final match up.

Coming off of a screen Derek Fisher dropped his shoulder and ran over Luis Scola. He was ejected and subsequently banned for game 3. The whole saga was underlined by high fives from his team mates as he left the court. Ha. Playoff Basketball.

The game was littered with technicals and joining Fisher in the locker room was Ron Artest who was thrown out mid way through the fourth for ‘gesturing’ at Kobe Bryant.

He ‘gestured’ and shouted a little. A fairly calm response from the combustible Artest considering he had been elbowed in the throat by Kobe Bryant under the basket.

So, while Fisher and Artest lounged in the lockers, Kobe talked about a good, hard, playoff game. He knew damn well that he was never getting ejected let alone banned for a foul that was obvious, but not as blatant as needed to get a star as bright as the Mamba to receive a ban.

Meanwhile back East in game 2 of the Celtics/Magic series Rafer Alston was ejected and banned for the next game as a result of slapping Eddie House round the back of the head. Whoops.

You cannot really defend Rafer’s suspension and Fisher’s was undoubtedly harsh, but Bryant’s lack of a short holiday is just bemusing if not really surprising. Superstars don’t get suspended, do they?

The one problem with that assessment is that Dwight Howard was recently banned for a game because he threw an elbow at Samuel Dalembert.

Howard, the lead vote getter for the All Star game, is the epitome of a Star in the NBA. But. The blatant nature of his elbow effectively made it impossible for the League NOT to suspend him.

Kobe’s was amid the scrimmage for a rebound whereas Dwight nailed Dalembert as the ball went the other way. And it’s kinda hard to miss a seven footer throwing an elbow.

Most people don’t have a problem with the League’s stars getting preferential treatment in the suspension column because it is why we watch. Best players in the world playing the game.

However, it is the extent of this blind-eye-turning that truly undermines the game. It is why LeBron goes most games picking up ONE foul.

For a player that often picks up the trickiest perimeter assignment, that is amazing. He must be really, really good. No doubt, but fouls are fouls and the referees are apparently stead fast in the belief that ‘Oh, it’s LeBron, can’t have been a foul.’

For the opposing team, how much does that suck. Just ask Atlanta. They did not get one call in Game 2. Not One. Josh Smith got practically assaulted by James yet, oh wait, yep, its Cleveland ball. Josh Smith must have fouled LeBron as he fell to the floor.

Keep the stars in the game, but fouls are fouls.


NBA Playoffs Conference Semi Finals: Lakers Face Houston, Hold The Ace

May 2, 2009

lakers_bench1

With the utter insanity of the Chicago Bulls – Boston Celtics match up out East it is easy to forget just how good the first round series have been elsewhere. Even the ones with consistent blowouts offered something wildly entertaining.

 

Man it was ugly, but watching the Denver Nuggets humiliate the New Orleans Hornets was sure fun. Same goes for the Atlanta – Miami series where both teams have shared a powerful commitment to blowing out the other on alternate nights.

Watching Dwayne Wade and Joe Johnson go to work makes the 30 point loss kind of redundant. It’s just good.

So while Derrick Rose and Ben Gordon plot the downfall of Paul Pierce and his Celts, and Miami and Atlanta decide whose turn it is to get blown out in their game 7, the 6 teams who have already secured progress are busily preparing for what promises to be monumental semi final match ups.

Only 4 teams, all out West, know for sure who lies between them and the Conference Finals.

The Los Angeles Lakers are undoubtedly a little more troubled by their second round opponents than they may have been.

Houston’s progress means that LA face a team of hungry veterans with a splash of youthful arrogance thrown in that promises more problems than a Portland team who would have been far more likely to succumb to the flashing lights of Hollywood than Yao and Co.

You can bet all the tea in China that Yao Ming is not just happy with finally getting out of the First Round. Tasting post season success for the first time will have given the man from the Orient the impetus to drive his team even deeper, toward the Finals.

Yao is the major problem for the Lakers. 7 feet 6 is just hard to guard. Andrew Bynum, the Laker big man, was perhaps unwise to call for a match up with Houston so that he can take down Mr Ming.

If Yao discovers a new ‘domination’ level of play that his stature should make possible, the Laker frontcourt will have their work cut out to stop themselves getting steam rolled.

The problems do not stop with Yao. On paper, the Houston Rockets are one of, if not the, best defensive team in the League. With Ron Artest and Shane Battier locking down the LA perimeter players and Luis Scola’s hustle providing the perfect accompaniement to Yao’s length inside, the rockets are tough.

Kobe going at it with Battier promises to be a lot of fun. As does Bynum/Yao and Scola/Gasol. So many key match ups.

As good as the Rockets might be defensively, no other team in the NBA possess the same amount of fire power as the Lake Show. Kobe, Pau, Lamar, ‘Drew, Fisher, Ariza, Shannon Brown, Vujacic, Farmar.

Pick. Your. Poison.

There is no way that the Rockets can outswcore the Lakers, but the fact that giving up leads is sort of what LA does, Houston have a chance. Especially with Aaron Brooks on point.

Of all the men on the floor, Brooks poses the most problems for Phil Jackson. He is a match up nightmare. Too fast. Too dangerous. Too confident?

The speed that he has to burn will cause Derrick Fisher all kinds of trouble. 30 year old ankles are not designed to withstand Texas Tornadoes.

The Lakers may have to sacrifice the steady hand of the Fish Man for the zippier Jordan Farmar. Although his lack of minutes recently hardly prepares him too well for going toe to toe with one of the quickest players in the game.

Defense meets Offense. Grit meets Finesse.

Such a summary would ordinarily point toward a dead lock. A 7 game slog. The Lakers do however have an ace up their collective sleeve.

Kobe.