The Coach's View
David Thorpe says if he were Gregg Popovich he'd prepare his team for Game 7 with the message "we're better than them." What he'd tell the Heat, what worked in an epic Game 6. and more. TrueHoop TV at the Finals.
|Can this pair inflict serious damage in a brutal Western Conference? (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)|
| Derrick Rose: Season Two
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
|For Emeka Okafor, playing alongside Chris Paul will be more pleasant than playing against him. (Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)|
Jeremy Wagner of Roundball Mining Company: "If this is the new and improved playoff model of Carmelo Anthony, may the postseason never end ... If I could wrap up the difference in Melo over the previous three games it is that he is not only getting himself easy shots, but he is using his talent to consistently get his teammates easy shots. Melo has totaled 21 assists in the last three games and he has tied or surpassed his previous playoff career high of five assists for three straight games. Melo has also raised his defensive game to the highest level I have seen on a consistent basis at any point in his career. Melo clearly is taking his assignment of covering Peja Stojakovic seriously. He finished the game with only six rebounds, but most of them were ones he earned going up very strong in traffic. Carmelo is a dangerous weapon right now for a dangerous team and I cannot wait to see what he will do next."
Wizznutzz: "It was the 2008-09 Wizards that had daddy issues. and im not talking about Pamela McGee buying Bud Ice at tenley mini mart for nick young. LIke we said before this years team was a RUMP STATE - its a very real thing google it. They had no authorities in charge and it was left to them to raise themselves like Dickens orphans. they were a party of five, a pack of wolves, a tribo-juvelist cooperative (I made up those words). Yes they had a Dad but their dad was like Dirk Benedict (i did not make up those words) in the movie ALASKA who crashed the family plane into the mountains and the young kids were faced with a harrowing adventure to race against time and nature to save him. They had to think fast and grow up and come up with a plan and work together to cross the wild and while they were doing all that Mike James slipped back into the plane wreckage and stole dad's wallet."
Bret LaGree of Hoopinion: "Through four games, the Hawks have won the fastest and slowest paced games. They've also won the two least efficient offensive games which have both been characterized by poor field goal shooting and lots of turnovers. As much talk as there's been since Game 1 about Miami keeping the Hawks out of transition, both teams are so comfortable taking their time to set up their primary offensive option that if that option is taken away there's little time to find a quality second option within a possession barring an offensive rebound. Factor in the deference to Dwyane Wade and, to a lesser extent, Joe Johnson demonstrated by their teammates and the sharp contrast between good and bad offense we've seen through four games becomes more understandable..."
THE FINAL WORD
Celtics Hub: The age old question -- when are moral victories enough?
Forum Blue & Gold: Sizing up the Lakers' potential second round opponents.
Philadunkia: The chess game inside the Orlando-Philly series.
(Photos by Rocky Widner, Ned Dishman, Victor Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)
The Mavs look like they'll avoid the dreaded 8-hole in the West, but the Pistons succumb to the Bulls and will have a weekend date in Cleveland. Meanwhile, the Sixers and Hornets have tough decisions to make about a couple of struggling shooters.
Rob Mahoney of Two Man Game: "What a game, what a game, what a game. In recent weeks, we've seen the 'Race for 8′ transform into a 'Race to Avoid 8′, and, by definition, a race to avoid the Lakers. The Utah Jazz, who sit just one full game behind the Mavs, were nursing a huge lead against the Clippers, and with two minutes and thirty seconds remaining, the Mavs were down five points to the Timberwolves. Heavy stuff. But from that point on, the Mavs committed few mistakes. They got exactly the offensive looks they wanted, and capitalized on most of them. They locked down defensively, and ceded a single basket due to unfortunate circumstance alone. Two and a half minutes, a 9-2 run, and nearly flawless execution. In the biggest moments of this game and possibly of the season, the Mavs did not disappoint. Shot after shot, stop after stop, all culminating in a defensive stop by Dirk [Nowitzki]/Erick Dampier and a huge go-ahead bucket by Jason Terry with 0.2 seconds remaining."
Ryan Schwan of Hornets247: "There is much made about the idea that Peja [Stojakovic] isn't having plays run for him, that he's being mis-used, that he should be sent in motion. So I kept track of plays where Peja was moving his feet, clearly having had a play called for him. There were twelve in the game. One, [Chris] Paul saw an opening and short-circuited the play, diving to the basket and scoring. Twice Peja got free off a single pick as [Shane] Battier got momentarily lost, and got two nice open shots. Three times, Peja ran off a set of three staggered picks, resulting in a nice open shot, a hurried deep three, and Paul being unable to get the pass to him because he was covered too well. Six times, he ran off a pair of picks and couldn't get open at all. For those of you keeping score, that's 12 plays for three open shots and an opening for Paul. If that's the return, I'm not sure it's worth the investment. And if the investment continues to be made, he needs to do better than 0-4 shooting (1-7 for the game, including shots off plays that weren't designed for him as a primary option)."
Dan Feldman of Piston Powered: "With a 91-88 loss to Chicago, Detroit will have the eighth seed and a first-round matchup with Cleveland ... [I]t's a shame that's Detroit's fate. In their biggest game of the season, the Pistons played the best they have in a while. Detroit and Chicago were evenly matched. They fought from start to finish, dove all over the court, played physical - and most importantly, played well. The game looked like a four-five matchup in the first round.
The Bulls are playing their best basketball of the season. They've won five in a row, nine of 11 and 12 of 15. And the Pistons are still 8-5 when Richard Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace both play and Allen Iverson doesn't. That clip would give the Pistons 50 wins over the course of a full season and put them comfortably in fourth place in the East. To make matters more impressive, eight of those games were against playoff teams (including two wins over Orlando and one over Boston). And most of those games were on the road."
(Photos by Glenn James, Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
In today's Shootaround, we sort through the weekend's events, and distinguish the meaningless wins from the heartening losses, and the moral victories from the crushing defeats:
John Krolik of Cavs the Blog: "This game pretty much showed the difference between being on the winning side and the losing side of a rivalry ... Boston's not the team who has something to prove ... They have their spot locked in ... And they could care less about bragging rights or posturing. They're wearing the rings, and they're the champs until someone beats them in a series.
For us, it's different. Not only are we still fighting for home-court advantage ... but Boston is much more than a game to us at this point. Everyone came out hungry. We want to send a message. We didn't want to beat them; beating the Celtics without KG on our home-court is what was expected. We wanted to leave no doubt. We wanted to beat them so badly that it went beyond any possible hedging factors. We wanted it to be too much to brush off. I can't say what type of impact this is going to have -- I don't really think it affects how a series shakes out one way or another. If/when these two teams go at it, they're both going to be confident, prepared, and on top of their games. A regular-season blowout isn't going to change that dynamic."
Rob Mahoney of Two Man Game: "The numbers didn't turn up in the Mavs' favor, but the game definitely acted as an extension of the new Mavs rather than a reversion to the old ways. When you win, you don't always demonstrate progress, and when you progress, you don't always win. The Mavs were within three points with a minute and a half to play, but James Posey made a smart pass on an out of control drive to set up Peja Stojakovic in the corner for a three (he was 1-7 on threes prior to the shot). It turned out well for New Orleans, kept the Mavs at arm's length, and essentially sealed the game. I'm disappointed that the ball didn't bounce the other way, but that doesn't mean I'm at all displeased with the Mavs' effort or overall performance."
Brandon Haraway of Valley of the Suns: "Grant Hill wants to be a Phoenix Sun next year, and you know what, every single Suns fan should be pulling for him to be back. Let's see if Steve Kerr and Robert Sarver finally get it right and bring back the man who doesn't seem to realize the Suns' season is over, the man who has played with heart all year and the man who is about to play in all 82 games. This was never more evident than Saturday night in Phoenix's 110-97 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves. On a night when Hill logged the most minutes of all the starters (23), he showed the next generation of Suns the way it should be done. He scored 19 points in those 23 minutes, missing just one shot and getting four steals."
(Photos by David Liam Kyle, Layne Murdoch, Doug Pensinger/NBAE via Getty Images)
The Hornets prevail in a must-win game over the Spurs, in which Bruce Bowen records a DNP-CD. Stephon Marbury is starting to figure out his role with the Celtics, while Iverson will have to adjust to his in Detroit. Read all about "Sixth Men: Past, Present, and Future" at the TrueHoop Network:
Ryan Schwan of Hornets247: "Simply put, Chris Paul came out at half time and proved he was the best player on the floor. I could fill up an entire observations section just with all the incredible plays he pulled out in that game. It's such a joy to watch him play. As what usually happens in good wins with the Hornets, [David] West carried the team in the first half, scoring 14 and serving as the focal point for the offense. In the second, Paul shifted from fourth gear to Warp 9 and carried the team to victory ... That was a big game, and it went into the 'Do Not Delete' section of my TIVO, so when I am without a game to watch in the off-season, I can fire that one up. Winning without Peja, Tyson and Posey was pretty big."
Timothy Varner of 48 Minutes of Hell: "As Coach Popovich creeps closer to setting a rotation, it appears that Ime Udoka will get minutes behind Michael Finley. I'll stop short of making bigger pronouncements. It was only one game. Popovich is certain to use [Bruce] Bowen as a spot defender between now and the time he retires. But I have to say, Pop is taking a gamble. Udoka is a tough-nosed defender, but even at his best moments he is not a versatile, game changing defender like Bruce Bowen. Bowen is a special player in that way. Or, reading into Pop's decision, Bowen was a special player in that way. But Udoka does do some things better than Bowen. His offense is more varied (and erratic), he can handle the ball, and his rebound rate is 10.6, making him one of the better rebounding small forwards in the league. Defensively, Udoka does a better job against balky players like Ron Artest. But unlike Bowen, Pop won't call his number against Chris Paul -- he'll put George Hill into the game. If Sunday's rotation more or less sticks for the postseason, Popovich's gutsy decision to favor Udoka over Bowen will play a prominent role in determining San Antonio's championship aspirations, for good or ill."
Brian Robb of Celtics Hub: "Starbury only scored 2 points on 1/4 shooting but he did have 7 assists compared to just 1 turnover in 22 minutes to go with a +12 on the floor. There have been some growing pains in the past 10 plus games for the point guard but he is finally starting to look comfortable with the bench unit by distributing the ball to his teammates in the right spots ... a lot of these assists came off of some nice penetration, allowing him to draw multiple defenders to create dunks and open jumpers for his teammates. Great news to see him putting it together at the right time."
THE FINAL WORD
Piston Powered: Allen Iverson, Sixth Man -- A History.
Daily Thunder: Are OKC's best players named Sefolosha and Weaver?
Raptors Republic: Toronto is putting all the pieces together ... in late March.
(Photos by Layne Murdoch, D. Lippitt/Einstein, Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
The Hornets' sharpshooter might be better off in the second unit. The Cavs' sharpshooter couldn't connect all night...until it mattered. Ron Artest thinks he's a sharpshooter. The TrueHoop Network shoots from the hip.
Ryan Schwan of Hornets247: "Other than Dallas, the Hornets have the worst bench among the current 8 seeds in the West...That means that when the Hornets hit the playoffs, we can expect the second-quarter meltdowns to become even more pronounced. It's pathetic, because the Hornets' starting five is the seventh best in the league, despite all the nagging injury issues they've had. If the Hornets' bench could provide even a little boost, or just play the other team more evenly, it would make the team infinitely stronger and get the starters more rest.
So is there a way to fix the bench? I'm a bit of a pessimist, but here is an idea that several people have already proposed in our comments, and that I agree with: Turning Stojakovic into a sixth man.
During the series of games where Paul, Chandler, and West were all out of commission, the Hornets turned to Peja to be their primary offensive option, and he did a pretty solid job in that role. The past three games with Julian in the starting lineup, the Hornets' starters have produced a slightly worse offensive efficiency of 108.0 and a much nastier defensive efficiency of 84.0 ... The Hornets could start Julian, sub him out for Peja around the 6:00 minute mark of the first quarter and let Peja warm up. At the start of the second quarter, they can start running the offense through him.
Making this change will entail curtailing Posey's minutes some -- but I really think he'd be better served as a 20-22 minute man anyways, not the 29 minute man he's been all season."
John Krolik of Cavs the Blog: "Mo Williams. What do I say? For 47:54, he had absolutely as bad a game as you can have. He's kind of an Anti-LeBron in that he's a guy who's primarily a straight-up scorer whose offense comes from the perimeter, so when he's not in a flow things can get very bad very fast. (Fortunately, he's ridiculously consistent.)
Tonight, he wasn't hitting his shots off the dribble. He wasn't hitting open threes. He wasn't doing well defensively. He had one assist against four turnovers.
And yet, for the third game in a row, Mo Williams was the difference between victory and defeat. And if I had to pick one game to show how valuable Mo is to this team, it might be this one. No matter what he's done before in the game, he's the guy who's there when we need him. Tonight, he was the difference between a great win and the worst loss of the year.
Delonte got off the hook, too-he was an absolute non-factor all game long, which is the one thing he generally never is.
Again, I'm going to point out just how good Joe Smith and Andy were at rolling to the basket all game long and getting layups, and how unbelievable LeBron was at finding them with amazing passes. I do not think it is a coincidence that this came against Zach Randolph."
Michael Schwartz of Valley of the Suns: "We'll never know if things would be different with Amare (I think they would be), but as J-Rich said, the Suns just can't think that way.
As it is, Phoenix struggles to match up defensively against most teams with their small ball lineup, and it makes me a bit queasy that Dirk has said the toughest defender he faces in the NBA is Shawn Marion.
Yeah, he might be a little helpful right about now.
To add insult to injury, the Mavs won this game without Josh Howard to snap a nine-game road losing streak to Western Conference foes, winning their first West game away from Dallas this calendar year. And yes, it is March 10.
For the Suns, it feels like that 'season-changing' win over the Lakers on March 1 was in a whole different calendar year."
(Photos by Glenn James, Noah Graham, Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)
Do fans in Phoenix have it all wrong? Are there things Kobe gets that LeBron doesn't? Have the Hornets learned to cope without Chris Paul? Nothing is "untouchable" at the TrueHoop Network.
Matt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm: "Stoudemire has had a 300 pound loudmouth move into his apartment, eat all his cheezewhiz, hang up on all his calls when he's on the other line, take up the DVR, drink all his Sunny D, and hit on his girlfriend. The acquisition of Shaq was supposed to create a dominant twin towers in the post. But in those combinations, one player is always the primary scorer alpha dog. And if Shaq is in your paint, he's the alpha dog.
I'm not saying it's Shaq's fault.
Wait, yes I am.
It's exactly Shaq's fault. What's more infuriating is that Phoenix fans have actually fallen for it. They truly believe that Shaq's little resurgence, which has been conspicuously absent against playoff teams, I might add, will be what takes them deeper into the playoffs (deeper than multiple conference championship appearances and several six game series against the eventual champions, but hey, they act like they never got past the first round with D'Antoni). But let's make this real simple. If you're relying on a 37 year old center with conditioning issues who has trouble going in back to back games to lead you to a championship?"
John Krolik of Cavs the Blog: "Fairly quiet night for that Mamba fella, as apparently he was battling a touch of the flu and, more importantly, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol were having an absolute hammer party down low, with Lamar shooting 13-19 from the field and Pau, who looks worlds better when Bynum doesn't play, directing traffic and getting 6 assists.
Kobe's off-ball movement in the first quarter to get low catches was an absolute thing of beauty, as were his little mini-jumpers to get the buckets. I think one reason why so many people go with Kobe over LeBron, despite the evidence to the contrary, is that Kobe's solved a lot of the problems LeBron has, and the difference is evident, while the things LeBron does better than Kobe are either more subtle or a result of pure athletic talent -- he just seems like he's at a further point on his development curve. And that turnaround to end the game was absolutely ridiculous."
Ryan Schwan of Hornets247: "[G]ive it up to Byron Scott, folks. The vaunted ball movement you were all hollering for? It was in full effect tonight. They opened the game cutting and moving, with Peja setting down screens for Daniels and Butler before fading high for open shots off of picks by West or Bowen. You'll also notice that of the 13 possessions David West had tonight, only three were in a basic low post situation. All the rest involved his cutting back to the free throw line, receiving the ball, looking for open shooters, and if nothing opened up, driving into the paint against Jefferson, who couldn't move fast enough to keep up with him. Peja and Butler were rolling off of curls all night, and though Devin brought back the old Pick-and Roll offense when he was on the floor, there was still a lot more moving around as he drove to get open."
THE FINAL WORD
Queen City Hoops: A smart comparison of Vladimir Radmanovic and Adam Morrison's defensive shortcomings (with charts!).
Valley of the Suns: Why Steve Nash is "untouchable."
Hardwood Paroxysm: 20 things Anderson Varejao should never do.
(Photos by Melissa Majchrzak, David Liam Kyle, Chris Graythen/NBAE via Getty Images)
Peja Stojakovic has long been called a weak defender. That's a knee-jerk assessment people have of a lot of European players, whether it's true or not. It's doubly true of those who aren't super quick laterally, and don't like hard, physical play.
But if you notice, more and more he has been assigned to stop top scorers, and he has been doing a nice job of it too.
Ryan Schwan of Hornets247 examines the Hornets' defense, as part of a post calling for Byron Scott to win Coach of the Year. This Stojakovic passage was some fine analysis:
Peja is good at two types of defense, perimeter and help, and weak at two others, post and fast break. Far from being a weak link, Peja's skills on the perimeter have him frequently covering the top perimeter threats.(McGrady, LeBron, Bryant) As a perimeter defender, he is a bit unorthodox. Elite defenders usually guard their man by bumping and muscling them(Bowen, Battier), or using incredible speed to stay in front of the guy(Paul, Baron). Peja does neither of these things. When he takes a man, he knows his weaknesses and instead compensates by using his two best defensive assets - anticipation and height. His height allows him to lay off his man just another half step, allowing him to close and still contest the shot, or ancticipate and cut off a player trying to get past him by stepping in front of him as he begins his move. Once he closes, Peja's tall enough to contest almost any shot.
If a player is a determined driver, Peja is also always aware of where his help defense and is good at funneling the player into trouble, or, if they do manage to get past him towards where there is no help, he judiciously fouls them on the perimeter before they take a shot. Usually, these are always good fouls.
An example of his defense comes from that very game against LeBron where he was called a traffic cone. All game long, Peja had been checking LeBron.(6-14 for 21 points) When he caught the ball, Peja would get right in front of him, and not bite on his jab steps and headfakes. After about five seconds of precious time, a double would arrive, and LeBron would have to give the ball up or jack up a shot. At the end of the game, LeBron blew by Peja for only the second time all game. All game. LeBron also made his move so early in the clock(leaving us enough time to win) because he knew the double was coming and he had to go as soon as he caught it. It was an unexpected move, and I don't blame Peja for being caught by it, you can't stop everyone all the time, but he is very solid on the perimeter.
His weakness revolve around one thing: Contact. On fast breaks, you will never see Peja give a hard foul to break up a layup. Ever. Instead he'll try to stay close to the guy and bother him a little in the hope of making him miss a layup, or at most, he'll swipe at the ball, sometimes earning lame fouls. He's just not good at defending the break. In the post, he is clearly uncomfortable at handling determined players trying to post him up. He still anticipates well, keeping between the player and the basket, but he's not good at muscling players away from their perferred spots, so he still gives up good shots in the post.
And here is where my original intent for this post diverged. Peja's weakness in the post is pretty obvious. Why isn't he always put into that situation? The answer: against good teams, he is.
The Hornets are one of the best teams in the league, but one of the least televised and written about. Heading into the playoffs, we're lucky to have Hornets247 telling how the Hornets work. There's lots more to this post about the Hornets' defense. Well worth a read.