Luc Richard's guide to playoff D

April, 28, 2012
4/28/12
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Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
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Bucks forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute picks playoff winners based on his sense of defense.

6-8 Bucks forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is seen as one of the NBA's best defenders. Virtually every night of the Bucks' season, Mbah a Moute was asked to defend the opposing team's star, whether that was a lightning-fast point guard or a seven-footer with unlimited range. It has given him valuable insight into how the league's finest scorers operate. Milwaukee didn't make the playoffs this year, so he's using his work ethic to share some knowledge about all eight first-round series. You can read more of his insight on his website, Facebook and Twitter accounts.

BULLS vs. 76ers

How good is Chicago defensively?

They’re very good defensively. In the last couple of years, since Tom Thibodeau took over, they’ve been one of the top teams defensively. What they do a good job of is really just taking you out of your sets. They pressure the ball, take you away from what you want to do and make you play at their pace.

Individually they’re not such a great defensive team -- they have guys that can guard -- but it’s their team defense. Their ability to move in and out, dive on the strong side and not allow guys to get beat. They cover for each other. That’s what makes them so good.

How good is Philly defensively?

They’re not a great defensive team, but they’re good enough to create some problems. Andre Iguodala is a very good defender. He’s so athletic that you can put him on a bigger guy and you can even put him on Derrick Rose at the end of the game. He can impact the game with his length and that changes everything.

Up front, they’re a little slower and not as big as far as shot blocking. That kind of hurts them a bit. But when they come with the young guys in that second unit, they’re very athletic. They’re able to switch pick and rolls and create problems for teams.

What does Philly need to do to neutralize Chicago?

One of the best things Chicago does is offensive rebounding. Philly is going to have to match the energy of Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Luol Deng going to the board. Philly is a team that wants to get up and down and run. Sometimes when you have that mindset, you tend to give up some offensive rebounds because guys take off when the shot goes up.

Chicago is the best team in the league at converting off their missed shots. I think they get 33 percent of the shots they miss back, which is a high percentage. So they’re definitely going to have to make sure they stay on the boards against Chicago and they’re going to have to match up the bench. The Bulls bench is one of the best especially when they bring Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson and those guys that can shoot the ball. Philly’s bench will have to defend that.

What does Chicago need to do to neutralize Philly?

Chicago has OK perimeter defenders, I think Ronnie Brewer is their best perimeter defender and D-Rose is not bad at all. But when the benches come in, especially with Lou Williams on Philly, Chicago is going to have to do a good job.

Those Philly guys are really good one-on-one players. Williams, Evan Turner and all those guys coming off the bench. Sometimes Philly can go small and have Iguodala playing at the four. Chicago will have to go small as well, so their ability to guard the different guards that Philly has is going to be big.

Who will be defending Derrick Rose?

I think they’ll start with Jrue Holliday, but throughout the game, they will probably have different guys matching up with him. I definitely see Iguodala matching up with D-Rose at some point and also Evan Turner will be on him a bit. They’ll use some size on him.

Who will be defending Andre Iguodala?

Luol Deng. Andre is a guy that, when he’s playing well, Philly is a very competitive team. Deng taking on that challenge of matching up with him will be good for the Bulls.

Who is the defensive x-factor for the Bulls?

I think it has to be Deng. He’s a really good defender and that matchup with Andre Iguodala is going to be big for them during the series.

Who is the defensive x-factor for the Sixers?

I’ll say Iguodala because he’s probably the best defender on that team. You can put him on Deng, you can switch him to Rose and if you go small you can play him at the four. I think he’s underrated as a defender. Athletically, he’s gifted enough to defend several different positions and he’s shown it. What hurts him a little bit is that he doesn’t take on the challenge to guard the other teams’ best players on a consistent basis.

The Sixers win the series if …

I don’t think the Sixers are going to win the series. I just think Chicago is too good. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they win a couple games and make it interesting, especially if they can limit Chicago’s offensive rebounding ability and the bench contributions.

The Bulls win the series if …

It starts with Derrick Rose. It’s going to depend on how healthy he is and his ability to take over games like he has done in the past. Defensively, the Bulls match up well with Philly and their bench contribution is going to be key to winning the series.

Luc’s Prediction: Bulls in 5


HEAT vs. KNICKS

How good is Miami defensively?

Obviously they do a good job, especially when they have LeBron and D-Wade on the court as well as Joel Anthony and Mario Chalmers. The only concern with Miami is when those guys are not on the floor and the bench comes in. They just aren’t as good defensively when they have just LeBron on the court or just D-Wade on the court.

How good is New York defensively?

They’re a better team defensively under Mike Woodson. He does a lot of different things to make it tricky on you. They switch a lot. They go small and play small basketball. That’s usually a problem for teams because they’re not able to run the pick and roll. But with Miami it’s totally different because you have LeBron sometimes handling the ball at the point. It’s harder to have that small ball impact on them.

What does New York need to do to neutralize Miami?

They’re going to have to contain D-Wade and LeBron. I think D-Wade is the big one though. LeBron is going to be doing a lot of handling and they’ll find good matchups for him, but if D-Wade and also Chris Bosh have big games, the Knicks will be in trouble. They can’t let all three guys get going. They have to make it tough on at least one and probably two of them.

What does Miami need to do to neutralize New York?

It’s a very interesting matchup because the Knicks have been playing a different style of basketball. Mike Woodson does a good job of just throwing different things at you. But a lot of the success that New York had was starting Carmelo Anthony at the four. It forced a lot of teams to go small and it made it harder to match up. But with Amar’e Stoudemire back, it plays into the hands of Miami. Now they can have one of the bigs matchup with Amar’e and have LeBron guard Carmelo, just ease back into their regular way of playing.

Who will be defending LeBron James and Dwyane Wade?

Carmelo will be on LeBron and Iman Shumpert will be on Wade. Shumpert is a really good defender. As a rookie, he’s already shown that he can guard. He’s a very strong, physical guy. He gets into you and he’s done a good job on Wade the couple times they’ve played, so that’s going to be a good matchup.

Who will be defending Carmelo Anthony?

It will be LeBron for most if not all of the game. They’ll start on each other at the three, but I know New York will try to go small. When they do, Miami can go small too with LeBron at the four. It’s inevitable that they’re going to be on each other the whole series.

Who is the defensive x-factor for the Heat?

I think it’s LeBron because the series comes down to that matchup between LeBron and Carmelo. Carmelo is going to be the guy that New York relies on to take over games. He’s going to have to score for the Knicks to win games. Whoever wins that matchup will win this series.

Who is the defensive x-factor for the Knicks?

It’s Tyson Chandler. He’s one of the guys who is a strong candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. He has the ability to control the floor, switch off to guards sometimes, hedge screens and guard the pick and roll. He can block shots and he’s always in the right spot on help defense. You don’t see too many big men as mobile and smart as he is in pick and roll coverage. Having him in the lineup is a big boost for New York.

The Knicks win the series if …

Their shooters catch fire. They matchup well because of the way they spread the floor. When they have their shooters out there -- Steve Novak and Carmelo in isolation -- they can even go small and have Amare at the five. It’s going to be a problem for Miami. The Knicks are going to put them in a situation where they have to close out to shooters and that’s not Miami’s strength. Having those shooters around Carmelo makes it harder for Miami.

The Heat win the series if …

They need to make sure they control Carmelo, but they also have to control the other shooters too. Carmelo is going to get his and he’s going to be in a good matchup with LeBron, but they have to control guys like J.R. Smith and Steve Novak. They have to matchup well when the Knicks go small and sustain it each game, throughout the whole game.

Luc’s Prediction: Miami in 6


PACERS vs. MAGIC

How good is Indiana defensively?

They’re very good. They have a shot blocker in Roy Hibbert in the middle and very athletic players around him in Danny Granger, Paul George, Darren Collison and George Hill. Those guys are all solid defensively.

How good is Orlando defensively?

Losing Dwight Howard is huge for Orlando. Having Hedo Turkoglu back is going to help, but Dwight is the key to that team. They’re a totally different team without him. They’re not as talented as Indiana. Their team defense is still okay, but everything revolves around Howard.

What does Orlando need to do to neutralize Indiana?

I think you have to go small and embrace playing small. Indiana likes to stick to that traditional two big man game and I would try to get them out of that. You put David West and Roy Hibbert in close out situations against Ryan Anderson and Big Baby Davis -- guys that can step out and be a threat to make perimeter shots -- then they can drive from the perimeter instead of posting up on those bigs. That could be effective.

What does Indiana need to do to neutralize Orlando?

Their biggest test is going to be guarding Ryan Anderson on the perimeter. If you look at their front line at the four position, I don’t see anybody that can close out to him and stay in front of him.

Who will be defending Danny Granger?

If Turkoglu is back he’ll spend some time on Granger, but I think Quentin Richardson is the right matchup there. Quentin is a good defender and he can try to slow Granger down.

Who will be defending Ryan Anderson?

Anderson is the key to this series for Orlando. He can stretch the four man and that’s going to be key. He can shoot the 3 and he can also drive to the basket. I think the Pacers will start with David West on him and mix in Tyler Hansbrough. But if Anderson starts to hurt them, they’ll have to put Granger on him so he can close out at the 3-point line.

Who is the defensive x-factor for the Pacers?

There’s more than one because all their perimeter players -- Granger, George, Collison -- need to play well. Orlando plays a lot along the perimeter. The Pacers need make it tough on them and close out well on the three-point line or the game could get away from them.

Who is the defensive x-factor for the Magic?

It’s going to have to be Big Baby Davis. He’s going to be guarding Hibbert down in the post as an undersized four man playing at the five against a seven-footer. If Davis can somehow limit Hibbert’s touches and slow him down in the post, that would be a huge boost for Orlando.

The Magic win the series if …

I really don’t think there’s anything they can do to win this series. The only thing they could do is magically fix Dwight Howard’s back.

The Pacers win the series if …

Just play their game offensively and keep Ryan Anderson from having big games. If they’re able to limit his threes and ability to stretch the floor, they should be fine.

Luc’s Prediction: Pacers in 4


CELTICS vs. HAWKS

How good is Boston defensively?

I believe they’re still one of best defensive teams in the league. They’re top five in the league in field goal percentage against. They’ve gotten older, but they haven’t changed the way they play and they’ve played championship caliber defense for the last five years. Those guys know what it takes to win and they’ve turned it up over the last couple of months.

How good is Atlanta defensively?

They’re okay defensively. I won’t say they’re a great defensive team, but they have some good individual defenders in Kirk Hinrich and Josh Smith. Zaza Pachulia is a solid defender as well. But as a team, I’m not sure how well they match up with Boston. There are a lot of matchup problems there.

What does Atlanta need to do to neutralize Boston?

Rondo is the general of that team. I’d put Hinrich on him to try and get Rondo out of his rhythm. If he’s able to put pressure on Rondo and take him off his game, you can take away about half of Boston’s offense. That’s the only way I think Atlanta can neutralize Boston. But that’s very hard to do.

What does Boston need to do to neutralize Atlanta?

They don’t have to change a thing. Their regular defense is solid enough to stop the Hawks. The key matchup is Josh Smith against Kevin Garnett. If KG is able to neutralize Smith, the rest is just Boston playing their normal defense. Their team defense is good enough to take care of it.

Who will be defending Josh Smith and Joe Johnson?

I would have Garnett on Josh Smith, Pierce on Joe Johnson and Brandon Bass on Pachulia. Those would be the right matchups for me. Garnett is a much better defender than Bass and can impact the game better by being on Smith.

Who will be defending Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo?

Joe Johnson on Pierce and Hinrich on Rondo. Hinrich is a good on ball defender so he can try to frustrate Rondo.

Who is the defensive x-factor for the Celtics?

Garnett. If KG is able to prevent Josh Smith from having big games, that will play into Boston’s hands.

Who is the defensive x-factor for the Hawks?

Hinrich. If he’s able to slow down Rondo and set the tone defensively for them at the point, it could flip the whole series.

The Hawks win the series if …

At the end of the day it comes down to how much of an impact Josh Smith has in the series. We all know what Joe Johnson is going to do. He’s pretty consistent in what he does. But it’s on Josh. When he’s playing at a high level, they’re very good.

The Celtics win the series if …

KG wins his battle with Josh Smith. Atlanta is a good team, but they’ll only go as far as Josh Smith can take them.

Luc’s Prediction: Celtics in 6


SPURS vs. JAZZ

How good is San Antonio defensively?

It goes without saying, but they’re a great defensive team. They have been for the last decade. Now with all those guys healthy going into the playoffs, it’s going to help.

How good is Utah defensively?

They can cause some problems. They’re young and they play good basketball. They work hard.

What does Utah need to do to neutralize San Antonio?

They have to make sure they control Tony Parker and his playmaking. His play this year has been huge for them. If Utah can figure out a way to slow him down, they can give themselves a chance to win.

What does San Antonio need to do to neutralize Utah?

Utah’s frontline can be dominant with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. Getting the ball inside is their number one option and their best option. They’re going to look to go it. But I think with Tim Duncan and DeJuan Blair, it’s a good matchup for San Antonio. I don’t see it as a problem for the Spurs. They should be able to handle those two guys.

Who will be defending Tony Parker?

By default I think it will be Devin Harris.

Who will be defending Al Jefferson?

Tim Duncan and he’s capable. He’s still a very good defender.

Who is the defensive x-factor for the Spurs?

I think it’s Duncan. He’s always been a good defender, but it comes down to how good he matches up with Jefferson. That’s going to be a big factor.

Who is the defensive x-factor for the Jazz?

Not one person in particular, just the whole perimeter defense. You’re guarding Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili first and then when those guys come out, you have a bunch of knock down shooters behind them. They have to keep those guys in check too.

The Jazz win the series if …

I don’t think they can. When you break it down individually, they do match up. But San Antonio is playing at such a high level right now and they’re that much better than Utah.

The Spurs win the series if …

They control the paint and match the intensity and energy of the younger team in Utah, especially in the second unit. I think they matchup well because the second unit is also really good with Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw.

Luc’s Prediction: Spurs in 5


THUNDER vs. MAVERICKS

How good a team is Oklahoma City defensively?

They’re a very good defensive team. They’re big with Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka in the frontcourt and Kevin Durant at the three. KD is an underrated defender. He’s long and he’s able to alter shots, block shots sometimes. People look at his scoring but he can defend and create problems for wing players who aren’t as long as he is.

How good a team is Dallas defensively?

They’re definitely not as good as last year. But coach Carlisle still does a great job of getting them to play the right way defensively. Not having Tyson Chandler is huge, but they still have guys like Shawn Marion, who defends very well, and Brandan Wright, who can block shots and impact games.

What does Dallas need to do to neutralize Oklahoma City?

It’s going to be tough for Dallas to match up with OKC, especially not having Chandler in the middle. Matching up on Durant, Westbrook and especially when Harden comes in, is going to be tough for Dallas. They have to take some of those options away.

What does Oklahoma City need to do to neutralize Dallas?

Limit Dirk. If they take away Dirk, they give themselves a great chance. He’s still Dallas’ top option and if they can slow him down and make other guys score, that’s going to be hard for Dallas.

Who will be defending Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook?

You’re probably going to have Shawn Marion on Durant and I think you’ll have Jason Kidd on Russell.

Who will be defending Dirk Nowitzki?

Serge Ibaka. He’s a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. Dirk is going to do his thing, but this is going to be an interesting matchup.

Who is the defensive x-factor for the Thunder?

It’s Serge. We all know what Dirk can do, what kind of offensive player he is. OKC needs Serge to limit Dirk to win this series.

Who is the defensive x-factor for the Mavericks?

Shawn Marion. How good a job he does on Kevin Durant is going to be huge in this series. If Dallas is going to have a chance, Shawn is going to have to do a really good job on KD.

The Thunder win the series if …

They contain Dirk and their big three: KD, Russell and James Harden plays at a high level. If they do, they’ll control the game offensively.

The Mavericks win the series if …

Another scorer emerges. Dirk needs to be a superhero, but they’re also going to need somebody else like Jason Terry or Vince Carter to step up and take on some of the scoring to alleviate that heavy load on Dirk.

Luc’s Prediction: Thunder in 6.


LAKERS vs. NUGGETS

How good a team is Los Angeles defensively?

They’re still very good. Not having Metta World Peace takes a toll on them, because he’s a very good defender, but I think Matt Barnes can fill in well enough. Then you have those big boys inside and that’s always a problem.

How good a team is Denver defensively?

They’re good but not great. Their best asset is the ability to get out in transition and play up-tempo basketball. When they go small and put Al Harrington or Danilo Gallinari at the four, it can create matchup problems to work in their favor.

What does Denver need to do to neutralize Los Angeles?

I don’t think the key to the series is Kobe as much as it is Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. Those two are a matchup problem for Denver. They’re both playing at a high level and the Nuggets have to make sure they guard them well. When they’re both on the court and the ball goes inside, what can Denver do? If you look at their front line, they’re pretty small. JaVale McGee is their only true big guy inside. Kenneth Faried is 6-7 or 6-8, so his ability to guard Gasol or Bynum is going to be key.

What does Los Angeles need to do to neutralize Denver?

They have to make sure they can matchup when Denver runs out a small lineup. The Nuggets like to play small and pass the ball around the perimeter. That’s going to challenge that Lakers frontcourt to come out and contest. They also like to get out in transition and play an up and down, fast-paced game. If the Lakers can control the tempo of the game, they’ll cause problems for Denver.

Who will be defending Kobe Bryant?

Arron Afflalo. He’s always done a really good job on Kobe. Arron is a really good defender and I expect him to do a good job on Kobe again. Kobe is still going to be able to make plays and score the ball, you just have to try and slow him down so he’s not having huge games.

Who will be defending Ty Lawson?

I think Ramon Sessions is the best chance to try and keep up with him.

Who is the defensive x-factor for the Lakers?

Pau Gasol. He’s going to be asked to come out and guard guys like Al Harrington and Gallinari. He has to stay in front of them and play them all the way out to the 3-point line.

Who is the defensive x-factor for the Nuggets?

Kenneth Faried. He and JaVale have to somehow contain Gasol and Bynum. Faried is exactly what I thought he would be. He’s a high motor guy, plays very hard and he’s very athletic. Just a beast. He knows what his role is and he’s not trying to get outside of that.

The Lakers win the series if …

They can match up well with the Nuggets, control the tempo and get the ball in to their bigs.

The Nuggets win the series if …

They control Gasol, Bynum and the Lakers front line.

Luc’s Prediction: Lakers in 7.


GRIZZLIES vs. CLIPPERS

How good a team is Memphis defensively?

This is the series I’m most looking forward to. The Grizzlies are very good defensively. Individually they have guys who are very athletic and can guard. Mike Conley and Tony Allen are good defenders on the perimeter and Mark Gasol is one of the best inside.

How good a team is Los Angeles defensively?

I don’t think they’re as good as Memphis defensively, but they’re good enough and they have the players to be a very good defensive team. The addition of Kenyon Martin helps them a lot. He’s always been a good defender and he can switch on to different players, guard a few different positions.

What does Los Angeles need to do to neutralize Memphis?

They have to find a way to neutralize the Memphis frontcourt. Those guys are a huge part of what Memphis does. They play an inside-out game. If the Clippers can stop the inside game, they give themselves a chance.

What does Memphis need to do to neutralize Los Angeles?

They have to limit Chris Paul’s ability to make plays and the key will be the coverage they’re going to use in pick and rolls to cover Chris Paul and bottle him up. The worst thing they could do is let him make easy plays, lobs and find his way free to the basket so he can make plays for the team.

Who will be defending Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph?

Caron Butler will be on Rudy. Caron is solid. He’s never been a great defender, but he’s solid. I don’t think it will be a walk in the park for Rudy. On Zach Randolph it’s going to be Blake Griffin and Blake is going to have to really guard him. Memphis does a good job of throwing the ball to Zach a lot in the post and we all know what he did last postseason. If he’s playing at that level, it’s going to be tough for Blake. If he can do that, Blake may get into foul trouble and it changes the whole series around.

Who will be defending Chris Paul and Blake Griffin?

I think they’ll have Conley on Chris Paul most of the time and that’s going to be the best matchup of the series. Paul is the floor general of the Clippers and if you look at the end of the games, the person who’s taking over games and making big plays is Chris Paul. He’s coming off the pick and roll and making decisions. That matchup is going to be key. I expect Conley to hold his ground.

On Blake, it will be more of a team matchup for Memphis. At this point his game isn’t really back to the basket, isolation situations, so you don’t guard him as you would traditionally guard a four. It’s more about how you defend the pick and roll and stop Blake from diving to the rim. They need to make sure they have the help there.

Who is the defensive x-factor for the Grizzlies?

Mike Conley, when he’s on Chris Paul. I think he can do a good job. He did a good job on Tony Parker last year in the playoffs. He’s always been a solid defender. But if he doesn’t, I won’t be surprised if they put Tony Allen on Chris Paul. Whoever is guarding Chris Paul is the x-factor.

Who is the defensive x-factor for the Clippers?

Kenyon Martin, because he’s versatile. They can put him on Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they put Kenyon on Randolph and have Blake on Gasol.

The Grizzlies win the series if …

They neutralize Chris Paul. If Chris Paul is not a big factor, the Grizzlies will take it.

The Clippers win the series if …

They’re able to dominate the matchup inside between Martin/Griffin and Randolph/Gasol.

Luc’s Prediction: Grizzlies 4-2

Henry Abbott | email

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