NBA Playoffs: Conference Semi Finals

May 6, 2010

By Jack Maidment

The Playoffs are firmly under way and have already thrown up more than enough surprises.

The Lakers are too big and too long to be troubled by the Jazz. Every shot that Carlos Boozer takes is a fade away jumpshot over the outstretched hand of either Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom or Andrew Bynum. The Jazz is too small and have too many injuries, but the money they spent on Paul Milsap is starting to look like a pretty good investment. He has carried them for whole quarters at a time.

Deron Williams may well be the best point guard in the game today but he can onoly do so much.

The Lakers bench has been positively woeful so far this postseason and getting called out by Kobe Bryant seems to have had little effect.

Their sloppy play is only manageable as long as the Los Angeles starting 5 keep playing so well and Kobe keeps closing games.

Lakers in 5 after the Jazz sneak one in Utah.

The othermatch up out West is the best Conference semi. It has history, grudges and a little hint of politics. 

Could this finally be the year when the Phoenix Suns break the curse of San Antonio and advance to the promised land of a Conference final?

The way that Steve Nash and Amare Stoudamire are playing the pick and roll suggests they will. Quite simply it is perfect. It is a work of art. The question for Gregg Popovich is how do you stop something as precise and as finely tuned as the Phoenix offense?

Keep the ball out of the hands of the best passer in basketball. Easier said than done.

The Spurs are savvy and far from down and of all the teams to go in a 2-0 hole they would be the one to back to come out fighting and get the wins they need.

Suns in 6.

In the East the Cleveland Cavaliers are proving once again that they are not built for the post season.

They have the League MVP but a sore elbow and a supporting cast who cannot make shots is not going to get it done. Anthony Parker, Mo Williams, Delonte West and Jamario Moon made 4 shots in Game 2. Between them.

The Celtics certainly smell blood and they are the only team that has been able to flip the switch from regular season mediocrity to post season intensity.

LeBron or no, the Cavaliers are on the ropes. If they support doesn’t show there is no way LeBron can beat a team as defensively imposing as the Celtics.

And they hate each other. Anderson Varejao versus Kendrick Perkins? Antone who saw that little pushing match knows that the Brazillian should walk away. Perkins is a scowl machine.

Celtics in 6.

The final Conference Semi threatens to be a lesson in playground etiquette with the bigger, stronger and generally more impressive Orlando Magic punishing the under whelming Atlanta Hawks.

They were disappointing against a Milwaukee Bucks team who simply shouldn’t have taken a team as good as the Hawks are supposed to be to 7 games. The Bucks essentially had two players, Brandon Jennings and John Salmons with snippets of contributions from their team mates and yet that was enough to push an Atlanta team vaunted as a contender.

By themselves anyway.

Orlando in 5.

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NBA Playoffs 2009 Western Conference Finals: Lakers Win, Taunting Kobe Unwise

May 24, 2009

 

by Jack Maidment

Do not annoy, provoke, taunt or shout at Kobe Bryant when he is playing on the road.

Apparently people do not learn.

Bryant has been in the League long enough for the entire world to know that any sort of abuse away from home only makes him play even better.

Let us ask the Denver Nuggets.

Returning to the Mile High City the Nuggets held the advantage in the Western Conference Finals after stealing home court in LA. 1-1 and the safety of the building in which they have not been beaten all post season.

Unfortunately for Denver, the Lakers All-Star, future Hall of Famer, kinda likes ruining parties and he marked game 3 with his 3rd plus 40 point outburst of this post season and with it brought tears to a Denver team who were firmly on the charge to the Big Dance.

No Encouragement Needed

No Encouragement Needed

Bryant said after the game that he had nothing in his legs in the 4th when he stepped to the line for free throws, but that the booing and taunts from the Denver faithful reminded him of what was at stake. Re-focusing a tired mind if you will.

So, here is an idea.

Just shut up.

Why antagonise the closer in The Game when you already know that he will play to a higher level just to spite you.

Shhhhhhh. No, really. Put down the foam fingers and the little bat ball things and just let silence reign. Take away some of his ammunition.

It’s like you are Jack and you just climbed the Beanstalk only to find the Giant asleep.

“Hey! Wake up! You’re supposed to be eating me right now. Come on!”

Just. Be. Quiet.

Regardless of the fact that Kobe came up big, he must have been mighty grateful that some of his team mates turned up last night, unlike the Cleveland Cavaliers the other night who left their Star stranded and alone. 1 V 5? Only LeBron.

Just a quick aside. Conference Finals. How about teams learn to run an inbounds play? Especially in the last minute of the game.

Admittedly LeBron’s rainbow miracle is a little hard to criticise defensively because it was simply an amazing shot from an amazing player. But, you think that the Magic will leave a guy close to the inbounder if their happens to be a second on the clock again?

Unlikely. Two men, both on LeBron.

In the same vein, the Nuggets need to realise that there is this guy who plays for the LA Lakers called Trevor Ariza whose middle name happens to be ‘hustle’.

Twice in 3 games he has stole the ball on an inbounds play in the 4th effectively ending Denver’s hopes.

Read the scouting reporting and quit being lazy when the game is on the line.

Or just do what Chauncey Billups does. Inbound the ball of off Kobe’s back and lay it in yourself. Cheeky.

Perhaps that is the real reason that Kobe went big in Game 3. Either way, just don’t annoy the man.

He is a Giant.


NBA Playoffs 2009 Eastern Conference Semi Finals Game 5: Welcome Back Stephon Marbury

May 13, 2009

stephon

by Jack Maidment

It is game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semi Finals and the Celtics are down big. Paul Pierce is the only player that Boston has been able to count on for points.

Ray Allen is suffering. Nothing is falling for Mr Shuttlesworth, every miss taking the crowd further and further out of the game.

Big Baby Davis is doing his best, but 3rd option on a Championship he is not.

Kevin Garnett is quiet on the sideline, looking at the ground rather than talking smack.

The Celtic’s struggles offensively are underlined by their crumbling defense that previously would have kept them in the game during a scoring drought.

The 4th quarter begins and Doc Rivers is flat out of answers for the Orlando Magic’s charge. And so, he gambles.

Welcome back Starbury. The one time Knick and All Star heads onto the floor surely appreciating the magnitude of a game that must have seemed a distant dream at the start of this season as he sat and rotted in street clothes on the New York Bench.

The crowd is quiet, knowing that Stephon Marbury has hardly been stellar coming of the bench since he signed. But I guess beggars can not be choosers and so he goes to work.

The inevitable rust of a player who is over 30 and played little is clear. He misses a couple of jumpers. And then, the man with the tattoo on his head, starts to play. As he once did.

He hits a 3. And a jumper. He starts to demand the ball and is visibly annoyed when the Celts differ to Big Baby for a Kobe-esque fadeaway. Which, surprise, misses.

The next time down the floor Marbury gets the ball, drives, resets, asks for a screen at the three point line, drives right, finds space. 3. Nothing but net.

One. Man. Offense.

A once double digit lead begins to dwindle and the Magic are stuck stiff. The free flowing, gunning offense, has died and they settle for tough 3s with hands in their face.

The dreaded ‘choke’ is descending on the Magic and it is all because of Marbury. He scores 11 points in a row and nails a free throw to take it to 12. In 5 minutes.

Pierce hits a pull up J and the Cs are up 1. Time out Orlando and the lid is getting blown off the building. Starbury returns to the bench, bumps and slaps are dished and Magic stew at the other end.

With no hyperbole, Stephon Marbury has just saved the Celtics. They are energised, especially Ray Allen, who proceeds to forget that he couldn’t hit a barn door in the first 3 quarters with huge three pointers. And Garnett is shouting.

He has got his war face on.

The game closes with the teams exchanging free throws. But the result is never in doubt as the Cs take the win and go into game 6 at Disney Land with a firm grip on the series and crucially, the momentum.

Stephon Marbury is back.


NBA Playoffs 2009: Houston Rockets Don’t Do Odds

May 11, 2009

vonwafer

In the world of gambling, odds rule. They determine that which is most important: how much paper you win if you get lucky.

Certain events and games are less risky than others to put your hard earned cash on the line. Poker is a game that, if you know how to play, you have a very good chance of winning.

Similarly, in sports, if you really know your stuff you will have a good success rate, betting on individual games or award winners etc.

It is teams like the Houston Rockets who turn reason-based betting upside down, making the majority of gamblers pull their hair out. Many have been ushered onto the road to insanity by Rick Adelman and co.

Nobody gave them a prayer in game 4 of their Conference Semi Final match up with the LA Lakers.

Despite home court advantage, the Rockets were playing with the knowledge that their All Star Center, Yao Ming, would miss the rest of the post-season.

The hairline fracture in his foot that he suffered during LA’s game 3 victory has confined Yao to the bench and effectively thrown out any chance of Houston progressing to the Conference Finals. Yeah…

There is some strange magical force working deep in Texas which keeps the Rockets winning when the entire world has written them off.

They shouldn’t have gotten past the first round. Teams do not lose All Star players like Tracy McGrady and then actually play better. What sort of warped mindset is that?

It’s kind of like George Bush declaring his candidacy for the Presidency again. And winning.

As if McGrady’s absence wasn’t enough, Yao goes down with an injury and the Lakers must have been rubbing their collective hands with glee.

But game 4 came along and the Rockets won. Minus their two best players. Oh, and they are also without Dikembe Mutombo, there only real back up big man.

Let’s recap. No presence in the paint? Check. No All-Star scorer on the perimeter? Check. Tied series against the best team out West? Check.

If any GMs around the League are watching, this is what you call a team. Look it up. There is not a franchise in the League that could survive the absence of TWO All Star players and still win games of this magnitude.

Imagine the Lakers without Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Uh, no.

Imagine the Celtics without Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Uh, no.

How about the Denver Nuggets minus Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony. Definitely not.

Dallas without Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd. Portland with no Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. Phoenix with no Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire.

The same goes for every other team in the NBA. Except for the Rockets who quite simply defy all logic.

The Boston Celtics might champion their ‘Ubuntu’ team philosophy, but there is truly only one franchise that represents ‘The Team’.

The Houston Rockets.