TrueHoop: Mike Brown
- Thank you, Bruce Arthur, for compiling "The year in lip," the most hilarious sports quotes of 2012.
- Andrew Han of ClipperBlog estimates that, coming into the 2012-13 season, Vinny Del Negro had served as an NBA head coach for 10,080 hours. Those who subscribe to Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule would note that that's the amount of time it takes for a person to achieve mastery at a skill: "Another factor in parsing out Del Negro’s evolution is what David Thorpe refers to as “royal jelly”; the stuff that turns baby bees into queens. Thorpe suggests that some players would be able to thrive anywhere. But others need the right environment, the proper nurturing to reach their potential. Without it, these players could struggle or even fall out of the league. This could be a case of royal jelly not being just for the players, but for the coach as well. Maybe being paired with the smartest point guard in the league, three of the most coach-ready active players ... is what will enable Del Negro’s continued improvement. Already, this season, the Clippers run cleaner sets out of timeouts. Vinny’s rotations, substitution patterns and timeouts hint at a definable thought-process."
- Darius Soriano of Forum Blue & Gold sees a Lakers team under Mike D'Antoni running sets and working within schemes that would look at home in a Mike Brown playbook.
- Brook Lopez makes strong reads without the ball, and destroyed Cleveland and Charlotte over the weekend. Beckley Mason of the New York Times: "Though Lopez actually does pretty well from the post, he is not a great passer, and the Nets prefer to make him the finisher rather than the creator. Against the Cavaliers, the Nets frequently used Lopez in early pick-and-rolls. Deron Williams is a master of the pocket bounce pass, and a couple of times he found Lopez on the roll where the seven-footer could pull off his odd but effective lunging finishes. But even when the Cavaliers rotated to take away the initial pass, Lopez was still able to establish great position for a post up. It’s an action the San Antonio Spurs have used for a decade to get Tim Duncan to his preferred spot on the left block and one that can be similarly effective for the Nets. Perhaps we will see a steadier stream of Lopez-Williams pick-and-rolls to initiate the Nets offense going forward."
- Gregg Popovich tells the San Antonio Express-News' Jeff McDonald that he still hasn't been informed by the NBA what the guidelines are for resting players in the regular season.
- A most unlikely tandem is named the NBA's Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week.
- Tom Ziller of SB Nation names Jimmer Fredette as his early favorite for Most Improved Player: "Jimmer doesn't even resemble the confused, overwhelmed rookie we saw in Sacramento a year ago. Last season, Fredette was an infrequent scorer, a poor shooter, an iffy passer and an overmatched defender. This season, he's a really frequent scorer, a dope shooter, a decent passer and ... well, an overmatched defender. The calling card to Jimmer's improvement is this: Thanks to improved shooting and more aggression, his points per 36 minutes has risen from 14 to 22. Right now, he sits behind a (mostly) elite list of scorers in scoring frequency: 'Melo, Kobe, KD, LeBron, Harden, Kyrie, Brook Lopez, Chris Copeland (I said mostly) and D-Wade."
- The Score's slideshow of the year's 26 most Outrageous NBA outfits is such fun viewing, it's destined for syndication.
- The Raptors have won seven of eight, and Blake Murphy of Raptors Republic has some New Year's resolutions for the newly resolute Raps.
- As a kid, Kendall Marshall once camped out with his Dad at the mall at 4 a.m. to be the fourth and fifth people in line for a pair of Altitude 13s.
- For $2,000, Vin Baker will be your fourth on the links, and will regale you with stories of life in the NBA. Or, for the same amount, Anthony Mason will hang out at your fantasy basketball draft for a couple of hours or, better yet, your Bar Mitzvah.
- It's hard not to be impressed with the condiment selection at T.J. Ford's house.
But the Lakers offense wasn’t the primary problem. It was their defense.
In 2010-11, the season before Brown was hired, the Lakers allowed the sixth-fewest points per possession in the NBA.
Each of the last two seasons (under Brown), they’ve allowed more points per possession. They ranked 13th in the league last season and are 23rd this season.
Over the last two seasons, the Lakers are the worst team in the league at forcing turnovers. Their 12.1 opponent turnover percentage during that span ranks last.
In 2010-11, the Lakers held opponents to the fifth-lowest field-goal percentage within five feet of the basket. Each of the last two seasons, under Brown, that percentage has increased.
On the offensive end, they haven’t been bad. In fact, they’ve improved.
This season, they rank sixth in the NBA in offensive efficiency with nearly 105 points per 100 possessions, more than a point per 100 possessions better than last season.
The problem on the offensive end has been turnovers.
But are turnovers a reflection on the coach or the players?
It could be argued either way, but here’s the damning evidence:
After ranking in the top five of the league in turnover percentage each of the three seasons prior to Brown coming to Los Angeles, the Lakers ranked 21st last season and are dead last this season in turnover percentage. They're turning the ball over once every five possessions.
Another problem was their lack of bench production. After scoring the fewest bench points per game last season, they’re scoring the second-fewest this season.
No matter what really was the primary issue, Brown was the third-quickest firing in NBA history. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only Dolph Schayes in 1971-72 (coached one game for the Buffalo Braves) and Chick Reiser in 1952-53 (coached three games for the Baltimore Bullets) coached fewer games to start a season before a coaching change was made.
Can the Lakers still win it all? No team that has started 1-4 or worse has ever won the NBA Championship.
Statistical support for this story from NBA.com.
Hard-bitten realists countered that clearing a slot for a younger, more able point guard like Ramon Sessions was the right move for a team that had grown older and slower. There were only faint remnants of the Triangle offense in Los Angeles under the new Mike Brown regime. The days of Fisher feeding the ball to the pinch post, then clearing out to the corner were over. What the Lakers really needed was a more resourceful point guard, someone who could initiate offense in a pick-and-roll with Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant. Steve Blake wasn't doing the job, he of the 8.55 Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and 37.7 field goal percentage. A change was clearly in order.
Ramon Sessions: Floating upward in Game 3.
Sessions, long a favorite of stat heads, had consistently produced during his four-plus seasons in the league -- a career PER of nearly 17, impressive assist rates and an ability to manufacture trips to the line. Sessions would provide the Lakers' best hopes of hanging around the ranks of the elite of the Western Conference.
Maybe, said the Fisher partisans.
Sessions -- with spells from Blake -- might be able to hold things down for the Lakers at the point on a sleepy night in March against Sacramento, but would there be big-game production when the Lakers needed timely shots, the kind of buckets Fisher had produced time and again? Toiling in obscurity, as Sessions did in Milwaukee, Minnesota and Cleveland, is one thing, but playing meaningful games in late spring for the league's marquee franchise is an entirely different matter, a job mastered by Fisher, but altogether foreign to Sessions.
Blake performed reasonably well for Portland in the Trail Blazers' first-round loss to Houston in 2009, but was an nonentity for the Lakers last season in two rounds and, prior to his Game 7 heroics, was largely seen as a lost cause for the Lakers -- a solid character guy, but one carrying an outsized contract.
The Fisher loyalists had their suspicions about Sessions confirmed over the Lakers' first nine playoff games this postseason. After a solid Game 1 outing against Denver, Sessions became inefficient, then downright tentative as the series against the feisty Nuggets wore on and grew more tense. By the time Game 7 rolled around, Sessions never saw the court in the fourth quarter.
Enter Blake, who was the Game 7 hero and Brown's go-to man at the 1 during the tight close of Game 2 against Oklahoma City on Wednesday night. When Blake missed a wide-open corner 3 to win the game for the Lakers, he received death threats to his family over social media. Between Sessions' struggles and Blake's miss, grumbles about the Fisher trade -- however irrational -- bubbled to the surface.
On a personal level, Sessions and Blake each entered Game 3 in Los Angeles badly in need of redemption. More imperatively, the Lakers weren't going to dig themselves out of a 2-0 hole against Oklahoma City without some passable play from their platoon of point guards.
Both Sessions and Blake delivered. Sessions started for the Lakers and scored six early points, displaying his best skills. Sessions is intuitive, the kind of player we often say "has a feel for the game." In the first quarter, he scored on a sharp basket cut from the weak side, working a two-man game with Bynum for his floater, then sprinting out in transition the instant the Lakers secured a steal on the Thunder's side of the court.
"I just tried to push the ball a little bit more," Sessions said. "In this offense, it's not traditional where you have the ball in your hands a ton off pick-and-rolls. I just tried to find angles and ways I can be aggressive and get baskets."
Sessions denied that he was bottled up in Oklahoma City, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Sessions had absolutely no luck attacking the Thunder's bigs on the pick-and-roll. The Thunder aren't a top-5 defensive squad, but they got their pick-and-roll coverages down at home and neutered the best part of Sessions’ game. And if the Lakers’ point guard -- whoever he is -- can’t effectively initiate the pick-and-roll, then he’s relegated to spot-up duty, which isn’t Sessions’ strength, one reason why Brown opted for Blake, a better perimeter shooter.
Sessions worked well on Friday night with both big men -- a pick-and-roll early with Bynum, a dribble hand-off with Gasol. The fluid play translated into 12 points (5-for-9 shooting from the field) and four assists in 28 minutes, the most he's played since Game 6 of the Denver series. After a frenetic couple of nights trying to dodge the Thunder's corralling big men, Sessions navigated the half court nicely. His drive-and-kick to Metta World Peace on the final possession of the first half resulted in a clean 3-pointer that gave the Lakers a 50-47 lead at intermission.
Brown ultimately chose Blake as his point guard for the closing stretch, as Blake recovered from that excruciating miss at the end of Game 2. He finished with 12 points on 4-for-5 shooting from the field. He single-handedly erased a five-point Oklahoma City lead midway through the fourth quarter on consecutive possessions, the first on a pull-up jumper on the left side, the second a 3-pointer to tie the game after moving left of a Bryant screen.
"I thought Steve Blake's two shots were big," Brown said. "He came off the pick-and-roll and shot his pull-up. He was aggressive and knocked that thing down. He came off the pick-and-roll a second time and knocked down a 3."
Sessions and Blake have no shot at matching Russell Westbrook's production. They're unlikely to write themselves into the annals of Lakers history as Fisher did. But if Blake can hit from the perimeter, he'll be sufficient. And if Sessions can attack the Thunder's defense in the middle of the floor with aggressive actions, deliver the ball to Bynum and Gasol at their spots, make some smart plays off the ball and keep Bryant happy -- essentially much of what he accomplished in the regular season -- he'll get to experience something he never could while playing out the string in the league's most remote outposts.
Out goes the famed Triangle Offense? Brown's teams in Cleveland had some similarities offensively to the Lakers of last season.
Under Mike Brown, the Cleveland Cavaliers showed a reliance on spot-up shooting -- more than 20 percent of the plays run under Brown ended up with a spot-up jump shot. The highest percentage of offensive plays run by the 2010-11 Lakers ended with spot-up jump shots at almost 18 percent.
Brown comes with the pedigree of having coached an NBA superstar in LeBron James. One of the reasons Brown may have been hired is his willingness to let his star players run isolation plays.
More than a quarter of James' plays under Brown were isolation plays, with his highest number coming in 2009-10 when it was 31.2 percent. Last season, Kobe Bryant ran 30.3 percent of his plays in isolation. Over the last three seasons that number sits at 31.3 percent.
However, LA's offense also featured a high percentage of post-up plays, something the Cavaliers did not used frequently in Brown's system. His teams ran post-up plays on less than 10 percent of all offensive sets. Brown's ability to get the Lakers interior players adequately involved will be something to focus on in his first season with the team.
While the Lakers offense will likely garner most of the attention, Brown is known first as a defensive coach, having come from the Gregg Popovich coaching tree. In each of Brown's five seasons as a head coach, his team finished in the top half in the league in defensive rating, a metric that measures points allowed per 100 possessions.
Last season, Cleveland dropped all the way to 29th in the league, after finishing seventh in defense rating during the 2009-10 season.
Brown inherits a team that has finished no worse than sixth in defensive rating in each of the last four seasons, and should be expected keep the Lakers among the best defensive teams in the NBA.
His biggest challenge defensively will be motivating a team that appeared frustrated and lackadaisical while being swept by the Dallas Mavericks. In that series, the Lakers allowed the Mavericks to shoot nearly 50 percent from the field and connect on 46.2 percent of its 3-point attempts, many of which were uncontested.
The dunk was spectacular, but Mike Brown's reaction when asked about the play was even more entertaining:
Will the Shaq experiment work in Cleveland better than it did in Phoenix? What does it mean for the reigning Eastern Conference champs? Would Russell Westbrook chafe at having to slide over to the shooting guard to make room for Ricky Rubio?
John Krolik of Cavs the Blog: "Ever since the Cavs got LeBron, they've been obsessed with getting guys who will be good at 'playing off of him' or benefiting from his strengths. We've gotten loads and loads of role players who don't need the ball in their hands to be effective, spot-up shooters and big men who are comfortable playing pick-and-roll ball and finishing when LeBron finds them. The one time the Cavs took a risk on a true slasher, they got Larry Hughes, and that didn't work out. But as good as LeBron is, he can't create every play, and at some point the offense is going to need to be able to create good looks using players other than LeBron. Mike Brown has taken a lot of criticism for not being able to give opposing defenses any threatening looks without LeBron driving to the basket or playing pick-and-roll, but the fact is the Cavs never had a player other than LeBron who was able to take a defense out of its normal rotations on a regular basis. But now, for the first time, the Cavs have a guy other than LeBron who they can dump the ball to and will get a basket more often than not if the other team doesn't bring a second defender. Defenses are going to have a much tougher time dealing with this team than ever before-now the Cavs have two guys who are all but unstoppable when they only have to deal with one defender."
Michael Schwartz of Valley of the Suns: "The best way to describe Shaq's tenure in Phoenix is that Shaq was that rectangular-shaped Lego piece that you keep trying to jam into a square hole. Sometimes you can cram a piece of it in there and pretend like it works, such as what happened during the short-lived 'Seven Seconds or Shaq' Era, but at the end of the day the piece just doesn't fit. You almost wanted Alvin Gentry to submit to a lie detector test when he kept talking about how great it was to be able to throw the ball down low to the Most Dominant Ever. The thing is Gentry's Suns are built to run guys like Shaq off the floor. Sure, it was nice to get a few easy buckets once in a while, but the Suns cannot compete with [Steve] Nash and Shaq guarding the opposition's pick-and-roll when his offensive game doesn't mesh either. On one hand, this is a case of addition by subtraction in that now Amare (assuming he's not dealt either) is free to operate on the low block by himself, and Nash won't have to worry about mouths to feed, he can just play Phoenix Suns basketball and whoever's open shoots the rock, just like old times. As for what the Suns tangibly get out of this? A pile of money large enough for Scrooge McDuck to dive into."
Royce Young of Daily Thunder: "[Russell] Westbrook has said repeatedly that he wants to be a point guard and I don't doubt him. I wanted to be an astronaut but at some point I had to realize maybe that wasn't happening ... I know the report today is that Westbrook wouldn't be happy about [Ricky] Rubio stepping in. And that's fine, I'd understand that. But I don't think it should be taken as a 'You're not a point guard, move over' type of thing. And I don't think Westbrook would take it that way ... It's not like the Colts drafting Sam Bradford and telling Peyton Manning he has to be a tight end. The ball will still be in Westbrook's hands plenty and he'll probably stay every bit the point guard he is right now. Because if we're honest with ourselves, and Russ is honest with himself, it's not like he's going to be a player like Steve Nash that racks up 15 or 16 assists. He's a scoring point guard and that's what he wants to be. I worry a little about offending Russ. He seems intent on being a point guard and I'd hate to hurt his confidence by bringing in Rubio. If that report is accurate, then that's a little bothersome. It doesn't sound like the Westbrook I've watched and listened to for a year though. He never struck me as a prima donna, I-get-what-I-want-and-I'll-ask-out-if-I-don't-get-it kind of player. He seems like a do-what's-best-for-the-team kind of guy. But I could be wrong."
THE FINAL WORD
Orlando Magic Daily: What the Shaq trade means for the Magic.
Hardwood Paroxysm: Now available for your aural pleasure at iTunes!
PistonPowered: Smart look at Detroit's draft options.
Wizznutzz: The Randy Foye t-shirt is hot off ... whatever t-shirts come hot off.
(Photos by Ezra Shaw, Sam Forencich, Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)
The Magic bask in the warm glow of their ECF upset, while Cleveland is forced to do some serious soul-searching. The Sixers opt for a tried-and-true choice to propel them forward. And what should the Knicks do about their fan favorites -- both free agents?
Zach McCann of Orlando Magic Daily: "The NBA Finals never seemed possible. Too much went wrong this season. But this team grew up in the playoffs and evolved into an elite team that won't quit, that won't go down without a fight under any circumstance. Not all championship teams are that way at the beginning of the season. It takes some tough times (struggling against Philadelphia in round one). It takes adversity (Jameer Nelson's injury). It takes inner-conflict (Dwight Howard's touches). It takes growth (Courtney Lee's emergence). It takes seemingly insurmountable odds (down 3-2 to Boston). It takes adjustments (Rafer Alston). It takes unity. It takes teamwork. Now, the Magic are right there. The ultimate dream is no longer a dream. It's now a goal."
John Krolik of Cavs the Blog: "This was one of ours. And we lost. It still hasn't sunk in for me yet, but it's just so painful. The Cavs won't get many more chances like this. So, what happened? Nobody thought we would lose this series. Nobody ... This was a tough matchup for this team. All the talk will be about what else the Cavs could've done offensively, with LeBron [James] accounting for nearly half the offense and all, but the problem was the Cavs' defense getting cracked. The Cavs had nobody to defend Dwight Howard, and that opened up this insane perimeter game. Everyone was ready to make the extra pass and the open shot, and that's just ridiculously hard to defend when you have one guy who demands two defenders ... There's at least one more go-round with LeBron and Co., and all signs point to many more. But you get so few years. So few. I don't know what else to say. I want answers. I want vindication. I want validation. I want a smoke. I even want to see my ex again. I'm going to get none of those things. There will be lots of things said about this team. The trick is to not listen to them. This is a great player. This was a great team. They did great things. They brought so much joy. The memories they made will last forever."
Matt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm: "Mike Brown's gotta be saying to himself, 'I worked a roster to defend Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo. I can battle Pau Gasol and Kendrick Perkins. My team can dominate Rasheed Wallace and neutralize Josh Smith. We've got Kevin Garnett in a series of uncomfortable situations. And what do I get? Rashard freaking Lewis' ... While Mike Brown was pretty abused on both ends of the floor in this series, tonight wasn't on him. What was he going to do? Double Howard? He kicked it out for the rotation three. Don't double? Howard killed whoever was on him. Foul him? He hit free throws. There wasn't much Brown could do tonight. The Magic weren't hot, they were just playing to their fullest potential. Which is kind of what you want to do in the Conference Finals in a home elimination game."
THE FINAL WORD
Philadunkia: The Sixers play it safe with Eddie Jordan.
Knickerblogger: Truth-squadding Will Leitch's platform for the Knicks.
48 Minutes of Hell: How borderline prospects view the D-League.
(Photos by Phelan M. Ebenhack, Elsa, Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
The Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Orlando Magic by ten points in Game 5.
Don't let the final score fool you. This was essentially Orlando's game -- they scared the Cleveland crowd into near silence much of the night.
But inside the final five minutes, the Cavaliers had amazing success stubbornly calling the same simple play again and again, and it won them the game.
In general, it seems to me, the Cleveland offense is good when it features movement. Shooters, cutting, passing, layups, dunks ... this is what this team has learned to do! At its worst, on the other hand, ten players are standing still. This patented Cleveland bog down, most of the time, is a victory in and of itself for Orlando. LeBron James, catching the ball on the move, is probably the most efficient scoring machine in the NBA. With James alone with the ball, and everyone standing still watching, that can't happen.
It's reminiscent of the way the Cavaliers played when were swept in the NBA Finals by the Spurs two years ago. At that time, I and others wrote about the saying on the wall in Cleveland Coach Mike Brown's office (Gregg Popovich, a Brown mentor, cites the same quote). It's from Jacob August Riis:
"When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before."
In some contexts, this quote can seem heroic. But viewed as the motivation to continuously lack creativity in deploying the best player in the game ... it can seem hard-headed beyond sense.
But not tonight.
The true "everybody watch LeBron" offense began just inside the six-minute mark. James caught the ball at the free throw line, while all of his teammates stood waiting in the wings. After making his move he missed, and fell down. It was a two-point game.
Cleveland then ran the same play four out of five times.
The first time James scored over Rafer Alston. The second time, James dished to Daniel Gibson for a 3.
The third possession in the sequence -- a real play with cutting and everything -- was clearly a mistake, as it resulted in a Mo Williams missed 3.
For the fourth, James dribbled out most of the clock, catching his breath, and then faded for two points. The fifth, he dished to a cutting Anderson Varejao, who missed the dunk, but James got the board, and Cleveland set up the same play again. James scored while fouling out Orlando's leader, Dwight Howard. James also hit the "and one" free throw.
By that time, thanks to this play -- which had delivered ten points on four possessions -- the Cavaliers were up eight with 2:21 to play, and it felt like the game was decided for the home team.
For good measure, the Cavaliers ran the same play twice more, resulting in a James step-back two, and another dish to Varejao, who this time completed a three-point play.
Final tally: Six momentous possessions. One boring play. 15 crucial points. One big win.
- Cavalier Coach Mike Brown did something pretty slick in the second quarter: Just when Stan Van Gundy was resting the Magic regulars, Brown inserted LeBron James. And the Cavaliers ripped off an 11-0 run. It was the only stretch of the game when Cleveland clearly outclassed Orlando. Hedo Turkoglu's agent (he'll be a free agent soon!) would like to point out that the run started when Turkoglu was benched, and ended only when he returned. That's a big part of the reason why, despite shooting 1-11 from the floor with three turnovers, Turkoglu ended the game an impressive +20, to go with his 11-12 from the free throw line, 13 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
- I don't know who it was at the Magic that made the final call on selecting Courtney Lee with last summer's 22nd pick, but they have to be feeling pretty good now. This rookie is a key factor in the Eastern Conference Finals. On the season he's making better than 40% of his 3-pointers, he has speed like Rip Hamilton, and he's one of a tiny handful of players to be go-to defenders in their first season of NBA action. And most importantly, he almost never turns the ball over. With no give-aways, and good defense, there's almost do downside to keeping Lee on the floor.
- TrueHoop reader John sent me an e-mail in December saying that he thought the Magic had the best chance of anyone to defeat the Cavaliers, because Mickael Pietrus does a better job than anyone else guarding LeBron James. There's obviously a lot more to the story of Orlando's success than Pietrus' defense, but John certainly deserves a tip of the cap for noticing an important thing early.
- The referees were extremely evident. This series has been, generally, among the most enjoyable to watch in NBA history. But 86 free throw attempts in Game 3 (four more than in the first two games combined) went a long way to bringing down the fun factor. The Magic shot a whopping 51 times from the stripe, which would seem to indicate they got the better referee treatment. But the Magic's star, Dwight Howard, had six fouls, none of which were very convincing. I'd like to see HD slow motion replay of all six back-to-back. He fouled out of the game on a tremendously clean block. Meanwhile (I invite anyone who has the urge to assemble video to check me on this) LeBron James appeared to have significantly more leeway.
- The Cavaliers' backup big man Joe Smith had OK box score numbers ( four points, four rebounds, two steals and a block in 19 minutes), but he led the team in +/-, which I don't think was entirely a coincidence. He was active and helpful for long stretches. Early in the second half, his entry into the game signaled the end of a big Orlando run, and more than a few times his defensive activity inspired Cleveland stops. Not to tweak the Celtics more than has already been done, but it's clearer than ever that the "Mid-Season Free Agent Signing Joe Smith vs. Mikki Moore Hindsight is 20/20" Award goes to the Cavaliers.
- Look at LeBron James' shot chart for this game. That's two of fifteen from long range. Anyone else get the feeling that Friday's big long game-winner gave James irrational confidence in long bombs? If I were Orlando, I wouldn't expect James to fire away so much in Game 4 -- especially when he proved down the stretch that he is capable of getting to the hole and completing and-ones over the Defensive Player of the Year.
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)
Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
It's getting increasingly difficult to put LeBron James' postseason heroics into historical perspective. His production has made an extremely good offensive team (109.7 points/100 possessions in the regular season), even more ruthless in the postseason (up that to 111.9/100).
The Cavs Defense: Where average defenders become good defenders, and good defenders become great defenders. (Andy Lyons/NBAE via Getty Images)
That's an impressive gain, but only a fraction of the improvement the already sturdy Cavs defense has shown in the playoffs. Cleveland has whittled its 99.4 points/100 possessions defensive rating (3rd best out of 30), down to a minuscule 90.8/100 in its two postseason series. Granted, Atlanta and Detroit weren't exactly offensive juggernauts, but their respective offensive ratings in the regular season of 106.6 and 104.5 suggest that the Cavs are tightening their defensive vise with brutal efficiency.
The Cleveland roster isn't composed of guys you'd immediately classify as defensive stoppers. With a defensive rating in the 104 range (number of points allowed per 100 possessions as an individual defender), Delonte West has been rightfully praised for his defense. West's defensive ratings in the four seasons prior to this one? 107, 107, 108, 108. As a Milwaukee Buck, Mo Williams had a reputation as a horrendous defender (and the numbers to prove it), but for Cleveland this season, he's been downright gritty, and his defensive rating dropped from 114 to 106. Did Williams just miraculously grow defensive fangs? Even Wally Szczerbiak, Ukrainian for "has lost some lateral quickness," is posting career-best numbers in various advanced defensive metrics. Nothing eye-popping, but more than passable.
A few hundred video clips of Cleveland defensive sets -- both from the postseason and from post-All-Star Game matchups against playoff contenders -- begin to tell the story. Mike Brown, a disciple of Gregg Popovich, insists that his defenders play straight-up position defense. The Cavs don't gamble a lot (in team steals, you'll find them in the middle of the pack), don't trap off the screen/roll very often, and though they doubled Joe Johnson quite a bit in the Atlanta series, they prefer man-to-man defense most nights. If a Cleveland defender gets beat on a screen or off the dribble, there's an instant rotation, more often than not by Anderson Varejao. For a guy who gives off a lot of hyperkinetic energy, Varejao moves around the court with great purpose. He's my choice for ROY -- Rotator of the Year.
Since Mo Williams isn't a great individual defender, and does get beat on a regular basis, this part of Cleveland's defensive scheme is all the more impressive. When Williams gets taken out of the play by a hard screen, the rotator will immediately pick up the loose end, by moving to either the ball man or the screener. Williams, meanwhile, recovers quickly and intently. He'll immediately dart over to the guy who the rotator/helper has left open (also known as Roger Mason), preventing a kick out or, at the very least, an open look.
It's here, on the back half of a defensive possession, where Cleveland's defense forces bad shot after bad shot. Mo Williams, like most point guards, is going to get nailed by his share of screens from 250-pound centers. That's a given. Good team defenses compensate a couple of ways: [a] How quickly does the rotator pick up Williams' man (or the big man, if a switch is in order)? [b] How effectively does Williams recover and run out on the open man? Bad defenses get beaten by a failure of [a], but even some decent defensive teams can get burned in the closing seconds of a possession by breaking down on [b].
Not Cleveland. You can go through nearly twenty clips of defensive possessions before witnessing a single blown rotation. Every Cavalier closes out on every shooter, and contests every shot. The Cavs move around the court mindful of every open space, chasing guys off their spots, and walling off anyone with the temerity to drive or cut to the basket.
LeBron's explosiveness is undoubtedly the story of the Cavs' scorched earth playoff run, but their stifling defense is the silent killer. If you shaved off a third of James' offensive output, the Cavs' team defense would still make them the favorite in any series going forward.
Boston and San Antonio proudly bounce back in Game Two. Gregg Popovich didn't win coach of the year -- but his disciple in Cleveland did. And how can Philly and Houston possibly top their Game One efforts?:
Matt McHale of By the Horns: "You wanted playoff drama, you got playoff drama. This game had everything: Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles ... Okay, okay. That was actually The Princess Bride. But this game sure had its share of fairytale-like elements. A proud but ailing champion. A fierce and determined underdog. Mortal combat. A duel for the ages. And, of course, a thrilling last-second victory. Unfortunately, the Bulls were not the recipient of tonight's happy ending…the Celtics won 118-115 to even this best-of-seven series at one game apiece. But what a wild ride it was. I literally cannot summarize this game. It was way too epic, far too full of twists and turns, a million little momentum shifts and heroic deeds. (I'm pretty sure the live broadcast saved a burning orphanage and walked several little old ladies across the street…maybe even rescued a kitten from a tree.)"
Rob Mahoney of Two Man Game: "Much like Saturday, the Mavs were hit in the mouth early. But all the moments in Game 1 where the team seemed gutsy or resilient were vanquished under Tony Parker's (38 points, 16-22 FG, 8 assists) thumb. The Mavs trapped, they switched, and they hedged…or at least they engaged in defensive sequences that remotely looked like they should have been those things. I'm not sure that Parker is ever fully solvable if he has the mind to drive at will and the determination to break a team's spirit, but it's certainly possible to slow the guy. The Mavs couldn't even accomplish that much, and the myriad of strategies they threw at TP were poorly executed due to technique and personnel."
Timothy Varner of 48 Minutes of Hell: "Great people surround themselves with great people. Put differently, Mike Brown was already a good coach when Pop hired him. Pop saw a great coach in Brown, and that's why he was hired. If we're going to tag Pop with genius, it's the genius of discretion. He's been smart enough to surround himself with the right people.
Dan Gilbert understands this principle. He went out and hired smart people from a smart place. He hired Danny Ferry. Danny Ferry hired Mike Brown. Mike Brown hired Hank Egan. When Brown's Cleveland offense was criticized for being too stiff, Brown spent time with Ettore Messina. The Spurs are very careful about maintaining their culture. When they bring in a player or hire front office personnel, they're highly selective. They're looking for Spurs. They're looking for intelligent, professional, hard working, and, generally speaking, good people. Whenever someone new comes in, they're immediately and always surrounded by people who contribute to their success. The story of the Spurs is found in those that follow."
THE FINAL WORD
Celtics Hub: Boston's Game Two adjustments on Derrick Rose.
Rockets Buzz: How can Houston top Game One?
Philadunkia: Can the Sixers maintain the momentum?
(Photos by Brian Babineau, D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images)
In an interview with the Plain Dealer's Bill Lubinger, Cavaliers' owner Dan Gilbert addresses the economy, why Mark Cuban is the NBA owner he most identifies with, and why he wants to put a casino next to Quicken Loans Arena.
Gilbert also talks about the team's approach to keeping LeBron James, saying:
A lot of people think "We need an owner who can write a check." There's a lot of owners that write a lot of checks. Some are more frugal than others or whatever, but you really have to create an environment, culture, get the great people, the right people. [And] just as important as getting the right people is getting rid of the wrong people. . . .
Everything's philosophically driven. We just say, "Look, if we can create the best environment, the best franchise, a winning franchise in a city that I think loves its sports teams, then we're in the best chance and opportunity to not only keep our greatest people but to attract others." ... To me, it'll take care of itself.
And I love this quote about Coach Mike Brown:
I think I've interviewed probably 1,500 people in my 24-year business career. There's nobody to this day before or after that I came away more impressed with than this guy. He just had every tool in the toolbox. He's real, he's honest, he works his tail off, he's smart. He's a phenomenal people person. He's got a strong ego, so he doesn't do the things that people that don't have ego do. ...
Let's talk about us being in the finals two years ago. Go take a look at that roster and tell me if we had any business being in the finals. He is as good as it gets and he's only 39.
Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
Had a chance to trade emails with Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus during the live blog of the All-Star Game. Kevin rightfully pointed out that naming Mo Williams to replace Chris Bosh was the primary reason the East got mauled inside.
The choice of Williams meant the East entered the game with only two legitimate bigs -- Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett, both of whom were starters. As a result, Rashard Lewis was forced to assume the center spot for long stretches of the game. Lewis has always been a bit challenged defending the post at the PF position, and he certainly doesn't have the strength or the ability to absorb a beating against opposing 5s. But that's exactly what he was charged with doing as the backup center on the Eastern squad, and the results were disastrous for the East.
Points in the Paint? West 96, East 58.
Glass? West 51, East 38.
Shaquille O'Neal: 17 points, 8-9 FGs in 11 minutes.
Was Cleveland's whining a contributing factor in the league's choice of Mo Williams over, say, Emeka Okafor? Perhaps, though you have to assume that the opportunity to showcase a young guard who'll likely be playing past Memorial Day was a more attractive alternative for the league than picking Okafor simply because of matchup issues, to say nothing of Mike Brown's position as Eastern head coach. Still, it would be interesting to know how much the shamockery campaign factored into the decision, and if the East could've kept it closer with another big man to bang with Shaq, Gasol, and company.