We wanted to be able to bring something about the NBA Playoffs to the site, however, there’s only one of us who regularly gets to (chooses to) watch most games. That’s why I enlisted my good friend Jason Brubaker. He’s a really good writer and you should check him out over at CHN. We’ve been debating sports for over a decade, and now we’re taking our arguments public for you to enjoy. We really hope you enjoy our banter about guys who are bigger, stronger, faster, richer and better at basketball than us. If not, Brubaker made me do it.
Brubaker: I hate to boast, but I did see last night’s Lakers game coming. I don’t know how else to say it, but they’re just playing se well right now – it’s fantastic basketball to watch. Kobe is always going to be Kobe, capable of scoring whenever he wants, but the supporting cast has been great, providing the perfect balance to Kobe’s heroics. Vladamir Radmanovic, Pau Gasol, Sasha Vujacic, Lamar Odom….the list just keeps going. With so many weapons on the floor, Utah is being forced to try to cover Kobe one-on-one, which is playing with fire. Coming into the series, Utah needed superhuman efforts from Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer to have a shot, and they’re just not getting it right now. Mehmer Okur, who played great against Houston (13 ppg, 12 rpg), is being nullified by Odom, who matches up well on the perimeter with him. Okur usually proves to be a matchup nightmare for some teams, because of his combination of size and shooting, but Odom has made him work hard for his points in the first two games.
Even more NBA talk, a Rodney Stuckey reference and hopefully some pictures after the jump…
Even more telling is the confidence factor. Quite simply, the Lakers look as if they know they’re going to win, while Utah looks like they’re just hoping to win. Both teams started off hot last night, but I was watching the looks on the Jazz faces, and after every made basket, they kind of just shook their head, like “here we go again.” Meanwhile, the Lakers just continued to attack in a variety of ways at the start last night, showing their full arsenal and displaying a remarkable calmness while doing so. They Jazz just aren’t playing with the same confidence they did last year in the postseason, and it’s showing. Now, with that being said, Utah is a completely different team at home, and I think they can steal one there. Getting in front of their fans, feeding off that energy should help them. But I still don’t see this series lasting more than six games, and even that might be a stretch. The Lakers are just functioning so well right now – it’s hard to bet against them.
And it looks like we were both right about the Magic, who knocked off Detroit last night. Of course, it helps that Chauncey Billups missed most of the game with an injury, but a win is a win. Rashard Lewis snapped out of his mini-slump to drop 33 points, including 5-6 from 3-point range. With his shots falling, it opened up the inside for Dwight Howard, who dropped 20 points to go with 12 boards, proving like we said, he’s unguardable one-on-one. The big question now comes to down to if Billups plays and how healthy he’ll be. Billups is the perfect floor general for Detroit, knowing when to push and when to slow down, spearheading their defense, and keeping Rip Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace happy with their shots. Rodney Stuckey is a fine back-up PG, and he’s more athletic, but he doesn’t have quite the same IQ as Billups. Detroit still has more talent, but if Billups isn’t fully healthy, this series could go further than it should, leaving the Pistons a little tired for the conference finals.
Smoothron: I can’t take anything away from the Lakers last night. They were very good. Kobe looked like the MVP, no doubt about that. Utah and San Antonio, arguably, have the two best homecourt advantages in the league. It will be interesting to see what happens when those teams get back to their familiar surroundings. It’s pretty apparent that the Jazz have no one on their team that can handle Kobe, the Lakers should cruise to the conference finals. What I’m starting to wonder if there’s anyone left in the playoffs who can guard Kobe? The Spurs (who I’ll touch more on in a bit) have Bowen, who looks less like the guy who used to guard the other team’s best player. The Hornets, Cavs and Celtics have no one that jumps out at me as a “Kobe-stopper.” I know I may sound like a Kentucky homer, but the best defender left may be Tayshaun Prince. He has the length, quickness and he has experience guarding Bryant (see: Finals 2004).
The Pistons game left neither of us surprised. Billups went down at the end of the first quarter, but that game was pretty much over already. I like the Pistons a lot, but it’s almost like they knew they were supposed to lose that game and they did just that. Their play was uninspired and looked nothing like the first two games. Dwight Howard is a beast, what else is there to say about this guy? Barring injury, it’s safe to say he’ll go down as one of the top-five PFs to ever touch a basketball. I’m sure you’ll tell me I’m getting a little ahead of myself. If I’m Flip Saunders, I let Billups rest Game 4. Regardless if we lose or not, we still have two games at home left in the series. And, the way Game 1 of the Boston/Cleveland series went, I would bet that series will go six or seven.
Thoughts on the two games tonight?
Brubaker: Well, for the sake of the game of basketball, I can only hope the Celtics and Cavs take off their blindfolds and find the baskets, because Game 1 was just ugly all the way around. Both teams are good defensively, so I don’t expect games in the 100s, but that was just flat-out atrocious offense. I mean even my YMCA team, who may have set a record by suffering three season-ending injuries in a 9-game season, had more offensive flow than either team on Tuesday. I think LeBron bounces back in a big way tonight. He shot terribly and had a lot of turnovers, but what I liked is that he stayed aggressive and kept attacking. I’m not a betting man (at least not as much as you are), but I wouldn’t count on King James having too many more 2-18 nights. The Celtics’ defense is good, and I don’t think LeBron has any 35+ games in the series, but he got open looks in Game 1 – they just didn’t fall.
That being said, the Celtics win tonight in a close one, as both Paul Pierce and Ray Allen bounce back also. Allen is just too good to only get four shots, and I think Doc Rivers tries to get him going early. It’s also clear that no one on Cleveland can guard KG, who had a typical Garnett game. If the Cavs’ role players can hit from the perimeter when LeBron penetrates, they can keep it close, but I think the Celts win tonight, in what we can only hope will be a prettier game to watch. My pick: Celtics 92-85.
As for the Spurs-Hornets, I need to try to put aside my giddiness from the first two games and be objective as a writer. So it’s from a neutral standpoint that I proclaim that the Spurs suck!! Wait wait…I guess that wasn’t too objective. But the Hornets certainly have exposed the Spurs in the first two games, winning going away and making them look old, slow and confused. Chris Paul continues to have his way on the court, doing pretty much whatever he wants, whenever he wants. David West has been playing terrific, and Peja Stojakavic is providing the perfect balance with his outside shooting. Tim Duncan bounced back from an awful Game 1 to have a solid Game 2, but Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili haven’t appeared to find their comfort zone yet. In one second-quarter sequence, Ginobili tried to run a pick-and-roll from the right side of the court two straight times, and two straight times he turned it over. Then on the next possession, he threw a pass almost right to CP3, who let it slip through his hands, thus avoiding three straight boneheaded plays for Manu, typically one of the smarter players on the floor.
In short, the Spurs just look out of sync right now, and the Hornets are riding a wave of confidence. But, as we’ve learned, you can never count the Spurs out. They’re too experienced, too talented and too smart to not make a run in this series, and getting home will help them. But you went out on a limb last night picking the Jazz, so I’ll do it tonight. The Hornets take a commanding 3-0 series lead with a close win tonight in San Antonio. The Hornets are playing with house money right now, because everyone (including me) thought their lack of playoff experience would hurt them, first against Dallas and then against San Antonio. Well, apparently nobody told the Hornets that they’re supposed to be feeling pressure right now, because they look like they’re having a blast. Watching CP3 so far in the playoffs…he is just on another level right now. He has the same floor presence as Steve Nash in terms of his decision-making, but he’s also a much better athlete and defender. We’re all watching the growth of a young superstar, and it’s been fun.
Smoothron: The game of basketball actually called me the other night, begging not to have to watch any more of the Cavs/Celtics series. I told it I didn’t need its sass and to bring me some pizza. You and I have both spoken about Rajon Rondo lovingly, but he has blossomed into a good NBA player. He is a matchup nightmare because of his quickness, long arms and ridiculously long hands. He has improved offensively so that he doesn’t hurt his team like Bruce Bowen does and he didn’t bitch when Sam Cassell was brought in. Cassell played the last ten minutes of the game the other night, but when KG hit the shot to put them up towards the end of the game, Rondo looked genuinely happy. That’s what I like most about this Boston team, they play very unselfishly. Pierce and Allen both had off-nights, so they banked on KG and Cassell. Tonight, if the Cavs try and key on KG, more than likely he’ll just find Pierce slashing to the rim or Allen spotted up somewhere. I agree that LeBron bounces back to a degree tonight, but he’s got to stop shooting so many 3’s. He’s shooting less than 25% in the playoffs and is less than 33% from behind the arc for his career. Yet, he still chucked six up there the other night. I agree the Celtics win tonight by ten or so. I’ll say the score is Boston 87 Cleveland 79.
I wish I could chastise you for doubting the Hornets and their lack of playoff experience, but I was right there in line with your thinking. I actually thought the Mavs would win that series, but Josh Howard smokes weed and that’s obviously why they got beat. You can’t smoke weed and be an NBA player. These two games haven’t been anything resembling close in the second halves. The Spurs don’t look a thing like the team that won the championship last year. They appear to not have the same swagger they used to, but I’m not sure why. The Spurs are absolutely getting killed by Bruce Bowen right now. He’s (at best) just another defender at this point and he kills them on offense. I would bench him totally. He is worthless unless he is eliminating Chris Paul and anyone who’s seen the last two games knows that’s not the case. Paul is going to get his, much like Kobe, so just let him do it. Go with your five best offensive players and just try and be better than they are. The Spurs are at home, so they’re going to get some calls.
I’m going opposite of you on this, the Spurs will win tonight. Spur fans know they have to win this game or the series is over and they may be some of the best fans in the league. David Stern also knows he has a lot of series that look like they could be going pretty quickly, so he needs to slow a few down. I see at least one of the West/Chandler/Paul trio getting into some early foul trouble. Spurs win a not-so-close one, SA 94 NO 84.
It looks like we have, once again, agreed on the East game and disagreed on the West game. I guess we’ll find out what happens tonight on the court. One thing we can all agree on: Rain sucks! Also, TGC, You knew I’d be able to get some boobies in there somewhere!