TrueHoop: Anthony Johnson
The Lakers need Lamar Odom as much as Lamar Odom needs the Lakers. Jarrett Jack heads to Toronto, while Eddy Curry remains unmovable. And the big powers in the East make some tweaks to their benches.
Kurt Helin of Forum Blue & Gold: "Don't delude yourself into thinking the Lakers are better off without [Lamar] Odom -- the best proof is that last season he led the Lakers in +/-, the Lakers outscored opponents by 16.4 points per 48 minutes when he was on the floor. Second was Kobe [Bryant] at 12.1. The simple truth is that good things happened for the Lakers when he was on the floor. He came up big in the playoffs. His versatility cannot easily be replaced. There are some intriguing pieces on the Heat roster ([Mario] Chalmers, for one) but any move the Lakers make here is not going to make a title more likely. Can the Lakers win a title without Odom? Yes, but the margin of error is now non-existent. [Andrew] Bynum has to be healthy and playing at his peak. Artest has to fit in swimmingly. Bench guys like Sasha [Vujacic] and Jordan [Farmar] cannot struggle for long stretches. Everything has to go right. And that's a lot to ask."
Mike Kurylo of Knickerblogger: "When the Knicks acquired Eddy Curry, he was supposed to be the future of the franchise. Although there were signs that he would never reach that level of play (namely every stat but fg% and pts/36), his size and flashes of scoring lead many to believe in his potential. In 2009 Eddy Curry had his most disappointing season, playing a grand total of 12 minutes and scoring only 5 points. Immediately after the season ended, Curry vowed to get in shape, and immediately began twittering about his work out regimen. In the weeks since, his private trainer 'leaked' that Curry lost 30 pounds, and Eddy appeared before the Knicks brass at the summer league. It appears that Curry is doing what he does best. He appeals to the optimist in Knick fans, while producing almost nothing."
Jared Wade of Eight Points, Nine Seconds: "In the end, however, Jarrett [Jack] isn't worth $5 million a year - at least not to a Pacer team that still has [Jamaal] Tinsley's devastating deal on the books, will be paying Mike Dunleavy to rehab his knee for at least another six months, and is significantly overpaying for the production of both Troy Murphy and TJ Ford. I really liked the fearlessness and aggressive penetration Jack showed so consistently last season, but Bird was right to let him walk for that price. It would have been great to keep Jarrett around at something like three years/$12 million, but he played his way into a better offer from Toronto and no Pacer fan should fault him for that."
(Photos by Noah Graham, Jeff Zelevansky, Harry How/NBAE via Getty Images)
Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
Stan Van Gundy entered the NBA Finals with a full menu of options at point guard, shooting guard, and small forward. With Jameer Nelson's return from injury, Van Gundy now has, count 'em, four legitimate options at the point: Rafer Alston, Hedo Turkoglu, Anthony Johnson, and Nelson. On the wings, Van Gundy can mix and match Turkoglu with Courtney Lee, Mickael Pietrus, and J.J. Redick. Rashard Lewis even saw some time at the three Sunday night when Van Gundy went with his twin tower offense.
Who's In? Who's Out? (Jeff Gross/NBAE via Getty Images)
Van Gundy has an embarrassment of riches, and that flexibility has been one of the Magic's principal strengths throughout the playoffs. In each series, he's calibrated his rotation based on matchups. When Lee returned to action in Game 3 of the Boston series, for instance, Van Gundy went with Redick on Ray Allen, preferring to hold Lee back to chase Eddie House. The choice seemed unorthodox at the time, but like most of Van Gundy's decisions this postseason, it panned out. Allen never got going, and the Magic shut down House after he torched them in the first two games of the series.
The Magic's stacked, versatile roster has been a blessing for Van Gundy -- but two games into the Finals, it's proving to be a curse. 101 minutes into the series, Van Gundy has yet to settle on any semblance of a rotation, and his substitution patterns have been wildly unpredictable. While Phil Jackson has established a coherent rotation -- complicated only by foul trouble -- the Orlando flow chart of substitutions looks like an unwinnable game of Tetris.
"I'm not sure I got another lineup to throw out there that you haven't seen," Van Gundy said. "I don't have another one now. We played with no point guard, we played conventionally, we had Rashard at the three, we played Hedo at the one, two and three. We played Rashard at the three and four. We played big, we played with no point guard. What do they say, just keep throwing stuff at the wall and hope something sticks?"
It might be time to start padding those walls. Let's start with the point guard spot. Alston has maintained his starting spot in the series, while Jameer Nelson has assumed the backup role, in the process bumping Anthony Johnson to the end of the bench. It hasn't been that simple. After Nelson's stint at the end of the third and start of the fourth quarters Sunday night, Van Gundy opted for Turkoglu to man the point down the stretch. Going to Turkoglu has merit, but it introduces yet another uncertainty into the Magic's increasingly unstable rotation. Does Van Gundy no longer trust Alston, who is 3-17 from the field in the series? Is he completely sold on Nelson's ability to perform at 100%? Does Nelson give them the best chance to win? Does running the show with Turkoglu make things harder for the Magic on the wings? The fact that there are no definitive answers to these questions is problematic.
"I thought Rafer was playing well, but they're just leaving him open on every post‑up, and we couldn't get the ball in the basket," Van Gundy said. "We were just searching for somebody to be able to make a shot. Obviously we didn't find anybody."
Van Gundy was similarly indecisive at shooting guard. Courtney Lee started the game for Van Gundy, but checked out with two fouls four minutes into the game. He didn't return until the start of the third quarter, then was replaced by Pietrus three minutes into the half after Kobe Bryant hit three straight shots over him. Not until Pietrus fouled out in the closing moments of regulation did Lee return, and even after overtime he finished with only 11 minutes played.
Lee said all the right things after the game. "We went on our runs and we were playing good," Lee said. "If any of our guys can step up and play well, and if coach feels they're doing the job, then that's who we're going to roll with."
Redick logged 27 minutes at shooting guard after seeing only seven minutes toward the end of the Game 1 blowout, which was preceded by five DNP-CDs. Although he drained a huge 3-pointer to tie the game with 2:20 remaining in regulation, Redick hit only two of nine shots from the field without a trip to the line. Defensively, Redick spent most of his time on Sasha Vujacic in the first half, then Derek Fisher in the fourth quarter. Did Van Gundy feel that Redick's ability to space the floor best suited the Magic's needs against the Lakers' strong-side pressure? Does he perceive Redick to be a better passer than Lee? Is it safe to assume Redick will see the lion's share of the minutes at the two ahead of Lee and, if so, has Lee's designated role in this series been downgraded to insurance policy?
Truth be told, an inch or two here and there could've given the Magic the win, and Van Gundy might have been heralded a genius for his tactics. There are sensible arguments on the pro and con sides of all of these issues. But his indecisiveness isn't allowing a team that predicates its game on rhythm to establish any. Orlando's roster gives Van Gundy tremendous flexibility and depth -- which could be just enough rope to hang himself.
Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
The Cavs and Magic each came into the series with a full playbook of good offensive material that worked all season -- which is why they're playing basketball in late May. The difference came down to which team better executed its stuff. Saturday night, it wasn't even close.
Dwight Howard: Turning Defenses Inside Out (John Raoux/NBAE via Getty Images)
As dominant as Howard was -- he chalked up twice as many points as Orlando's second-highest scorer -- the Magic's clincher was a collective effort offensively. What's striking about Orlando is how many different things they execute well offensively -- to say nothing of their top-ranked defense. Orlando gets a lot of praise for its pick-and-roll game, which is spearheaded by Hedo Turkoglu and Dwight Howard. Orlando is special in that everyone in their rotation can perform this part of the offense.
Just look at how Orlando amassed its first double-digit lead:
- [2nd quarter, 7:41] It's not the patented 3-5 Turkoglu/Howard screen-and-roll. Howard isn't even in the game, nor is starting point guard Rafer Alston. Rotund backup point guard Anthony Johnson is at the controls. Rashard Lewis steps out to the top of the floor, and slips a screen to Johnson's right. When Johnson recognizes that Wally Szczerbiak and Daniel Gibson have gotten crossed up on the switch, he shuttles the ball over to Lewis, who has an open driving lane to the hoop. Varejao challenges Lewis underneath, but Lewis puts the ball in his off hand, contorts himself, then lays it in.
There's nothing ingenious about what Orlando does. It's the flexibility of the team's personnel that makes the Magic impossible to defend. Everyone is an interchangeable part in the offense. Each of the six guards and forwards can shoot the three, pass the ball, and put it on the deck. Howard appreciates this, and has gotten very shrewd at letting his teammates make plays for him. He checks in immediately after Lewis' hoop, and converts on the very next possession:
- [2nd quarter, 6:20] Johnson is still at the point. He gets a strong screen up top from Lewis, then penetrates into the paint. Howard, meanwhile hangs out just off the mid-post on the left side. The instant Cleveland's interior defense collapses on Johnson, he pitches the ball off to Howard, who now has a huge amount of space to muscle his way to the rim. Anderson Varejao tries to reestablish his presence underneath, but Howard is too quick. By the time Varejao shifts his attention back to the big man, Howard is already into his drive. His running hook from five feet is soft.
This is the Howardized variation of the drive-and-kick, only with the ball ending up in the hands of the big man near the basket rather than a shooter out on the arc.
Orlando uses its bread and butter to establish control of the game just before halftime, and Howard gets the assist:
- [2nd quarter, 4:55] The Orlando 4-out/1-in: The single most effective offensive scheme we've seen from any team in the postseason. Everyone on the floor and on both benches knows it's coming.
When Howard gets the ball off the left block, the Cavs promptly send a double-team, as Delonte West joins Varejao on the cover. Howard has gotten so good at sizing up the backside of the defensive zone in this situation. He takes a looks at his four shooters spread around the arc. At first glance, there isn't much there. For all of Cleveland's problems this series, they're still one of the best defensive teams in basketball, and they rotate very well early in this set. Orlando realizes that in order to work itself an open shot, someone has to scramble the defense.
That's when Courtney Lee dives hard for the basket from the top of the arc. LeBron James, who has been monitoring the top of the floor, has no choice but to pick up Lee on the cut. When Lee cuts, Lewis fills that open space up top, where Howard finds him for the wide open three-pointer. Lewis drains it. He finishes with 18 points on the night, capping off a solid series.
This is just a sampling. Roll through the game tape, and you can find possessions like these everywhere: Another set run through Howard on the left block that results in a full swing of the ball around the perimeter for an open three-point shot by Alston [2nd quarter, 1:27], a Turkoglu/Gortat screen-and-roll that produces a kickout to a wide open Mickael Pietrus [2nd quarter, 8:04], Howard doing his best Pau Gasol imitation with a pass over his shoulder out of the block to Pietrus on the basket cut [3rd quarter, 0:22].
All season, skeptics questioned whether Orlando played a style of basketball that was conducive to winning a championship -- as if winning is a question of aesthetics. In modern basketball, we've seen fast teams, slow teams, motion offeneses, pick-and-roll outfits all win NBA Championships. No matter what their offensive agendas, these teams had one thing in common: They executed.
Denver's success is a triumph for knuckleheadism. Orlando's success can be traced to a willingness to adjust on the fly. And Dallas' success was pretty satisfying when you consider the alternatives.
Jeremy Wagner of Roundball Mining Company: "It cannot be overstated how well the Nuggets are playing in the playoffs. They never played this well for this long during the regular season. With there being so much pressure, both internally and externally, to get out of the first round I believe this team was really chomping at the bit for the playoffs to start from the time they acquired Chauncey [Billups]. George Karl said on multiple occasions that he thought Denver would explode once they made it past the first round. Well, he was absolutely right. The early success against the New Orleans Hornets has fired this team to an entirely different level of confidence. I lost track of how many times I heard analysts talk about how the Nuggets were a team comprised of knuckleheads. If you let knuckleheads taste success they become very dangerous just like in Bad News Bears."
Matt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm: "If you want to be effective in the playoffs, you have to be willing to make adjustments and not just stick with what brung you. All the guys are on your team for a reason. Even the scrubs. If something's working, stick with it. If it's not working, adjust and go to something else until you find what works. It would be easy for [Stan Van Gundy] to stick with Rafer Alston and not go to Anthony Johnson. But he's noticed Johnson provides them a change of pace guy. It would be easy to stick with [J.J.] Redick in the starting spot, since he played Ray Allen well. But he doesn't have the advantages that [Courtney] Lee has. If Lee starts to struggle, he can re-insert Redick. If [Hedo] Turkoglu is hot, let the Turkish Wonder roll. If he's struggling, turn to Mickael Pietrus. The key? Don't be afraid to make adjustments that don't jive with what your plan has been so far ... Conversely, you've got Mike Brown and Phil Jackson. The sum of their teams' parts is greater than that of their opponents. But when their opponents have forced them into matchup on matchup, it's been difficult for them. They still have the better team. But they're limited by their previous success into being unwilling to adjust. And they have to get beyond that if they want to make the Finals. Because they're not THAT much better than their opponents."
Rob Mahoney of Two Man Game: "The easiest way of finding joy in the Mavs' playoff defeat is to focus on their blatant defiance in the name of low expectations. Many projected the Mavs to fall out of the playoff race entirely at the hands of the Shaq-infused Suns. Neither Dallas nor Phoenix was burdened with particularly lofty hopes for the season, but within the twosome you can see a divergence: the Mavs certainly battled issues with consistency, but adversity was met with important plays and important wins. The Suns, by contrast, stumbled to the finish line when in need of a dead sprint. It's not quite the championship, but it's certainly a minor victory. The impacts of a veteran team missing the playoffs can be catastrophic, and are in an entirely different spectrum than a failure to advance beyond round X. The Mavs' brass is blessed in a way to have the choice of continuing to tweak or blow up the team, because missing out on the postseason could certainly have forced a few hands."
THE FINAL WORD
The Painted Area: Should the Cavs consider Hack-a-Howard?
Celtics Hub: Zach Lowe apologizes to Glen Davis for saying Big Baby can't finish at the basket.
Nets Are Scorching: Brandon Bass -- quality free agent.
(Photos by Noah Graham, Jesse D. Garrabrant, Doug Pensinger/NBAE via Getty Images)