TrueHoop: Sean Marks
It's gut check time in the Association. The Mavs step up with confidence, while the Suns step out of the playoff picture. The Cavs reverse their fortunes against the Spurs. And the Hornets can't seem to build any momentum heading in the postseason:
Rob Mahoney of Two Man Game: "The Mavs could have allowed the Suns to create a bit too much significance out of the final five games of the season. Hell, they could have at least let Phoenix make a game out this singular contest, dubbed by Grant Hill as the team's 'World Cup.' But for whatever reason, the Mavs weren't in a generous mood. They stabbed the Suns right in the heart, twisted it, and twisted it some more. This wasn't a demonstration of killer instinct, but rather, a will to annihilate. It wasn't just a destruction of the Suns' playoff chances, it was a complete eradication of hope and confidence. Behold, ladies and gentlemen, the puddle of disappointment that lays where the mighty Suns once stood. The Mavs didn't start Phoenix's downfall, but they have likely dealt the finishing blow and inked the death certificate."
Graydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell: "Both the Cavs and the Spurs play stodgy, spatially sophisticated defense. They both surround key offensive players, adept at collapsing the defense, with highly effective outside shooters. They both dominate the defensive boards. The Spurs average 90.5 possessions per game. The Cavs average 91.3. Both teams, although thoroughly conceived, have enough flexibility to counter opposing teams' varying styles.
This has been true for a few years now. Then what is different than past seasons? Well, in pretty much every category the Cavs are now slightly superior. Rather than playing Cleveland tightly, this means every tactical advantage the Spurs typically enjoy is negated."
Ryan Schwan of Hornets247: "The Jazz are a premier team at exposing soft interior defense since they launch cuts through the middle on every play. If the big men aren't willing to body up, rotate, and contest shots, it's all over at that point. Armstrong rarely left Okur, West usually left late, and Marks just isn't fast enough.
The thing that probably stuck with me the most throughout the game, however, was the first quarter. The Hornets played very strong defense through the first five possessions, giving up only one good look. Ronnie Brewer, however, tossed in some really tough shots anyways, and the Hornets rotations came slower, the focus was softer, and the Jazz got more open shots -- and knocked them down. It was over then, no matter what happened the rest of the way. Paul wanted the game bad, and did what he could on both ends of the floor. The rest of the guys? I can't say the same."
(Photos by Tim Heitman, David Liam Kyle, Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)