NBA Playoffs Game 3 Previews: Lakers v. Mavs; Thunder v. Grizzlies; Bulls v. Hawks; Heat v. Celtics

Feltbot’s got action in every series in round 2, but after the first two games hit the books, only one series is really making him sweat.  Jump for the 411.

Lakers v. Mavs

The Mavs take two from the defending champs on their home court?  What the heck is going on?

The Lakers are an absolute, squirming, dysfunctional mess. Phil Jackson is letting the vastly underrated Rick Carlisle dictate every matchup to him. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol are in a pissing match of oceanic proportions, and no longer appear to be making eye contact, let alone speaking to each other. Derek Fisher is chasing Jason Terry and JJ Barea around the court like a doddering chaperone. Andrew Bynum is calling out his teammates for not having his back on D. Ron Artest got himself suspended for game 3 for a brain fart that registered 8.0 on the Vlad Rad scale.  Steve Blake is shooting with all the confidence of Lauren Alaina (not sure which target audience I’m aiming for with that reference). Mr. Kardashian is filming reality shows on the off-days. There appears to be no human defense to Dirk Nowitzki’s one-footed, blind, fallaway, turnaround J.  Mark Cuban is giving his players head rubs in the timeouts (I kid you not).

And Charles Barkley has pronounced the Lakers dead.

What should we make of this absolutely astonishing turn of events?  I’ll tell you what I’m making of it.  I’m taking the Lakers and the points (+2.5) in Game 3. Here are my reasons:

1) Adjustments. There are an infinite amount of adjustments the Lakers can make to play better against the Mavs.  Adjustments so obvious, that one or two of them may even occur to Big Chief Triangle.  Here’s a few off the top of my head. Beginning with the best possible one, which also happens to be the least probable to occur.

  • Start Lamar Odom over Pau Gasol.  The Lakers need to attack Nowitzki, make him defend.  Since Big Chief Triangle is resolutely opposed to giving the ball to Gasol anywhere but in the low post, and Kobe Bryant is resolutely opposed to passing him the ball, that hasn’t been happening.  Here’s what Odom can do to Dirk.  Pull him out to the three point line, spreading out the Mavs.  Drive around him at will.  Get Chandler in foul trouble.
  • Play Gasol at backup center.  Gasol is struggling to beat the long and athletic Tyson Chandler in the low post.  Of course!  To start with, playing Gasol in the low post is a ridiculous waste of his incredible high post and pick and roll talents.  But also, its just a bad matchup. So why not match up Gasol with Brendan Haywood?  Pull Haywood out of the lane?  Pick and roll him? Run him off the court?Unfortunately, it’s not going to happen.  If Phil Jackson changed the Lakers’ offense in this way, he could no longer be Big Chief Triangle. So let’s move on to the realistic, and very effective adjustments that Jackson might actually make:
  • Double team Nowitzki. So far Jackson has resolutely single teamed him, and paid the price.  Why not trap him as soon as he touches the ball, and prevent him from spinning right shoulder?  Isn’t that how the great Don Nelson destroyed him and his #1 seeded team?  We keep hearing that this Dirk isn’t the same Dirk who regurgitated his MVP trophy against the We Believe Warriors.  How do the pundits know this?  Nellie swarmed him, forced him to give up the ball.  This is obviously the best strategy against the Mavs.  Nowitzki is a decent, but far from great passer.  And the Mavs have very few shooters on the floor other than Nowitzki.
  • Get Shannon Brown in the game, and get Fisher off the tiny speedsters, and onto Jason Kidd.  Can Jason Kidd punish Fisher? How?  Shannon Brown at least has a prayer of keeping Terry and Barea in front of him.  And he has the balls, and the athleticism to make big plays for the Lakers, which are three things that Steve Blake sorely lacks.
  • Convince Kobe Bryant to feed his big men. I know this sounds very unlikely, but Jackson seems to be able to do this whenever the Lakers are playing elimination games.  Which is what this game is.

2) The Lakers are the better team. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy the nonsense that the Mavs are better than this Lakers team.  If the Lakers lose this series, it will be because 1) Phil Jackson is an incredibly bad coach; and 2) Kobe Bryant is a world-class asshole.

3) It’s an elimination game. The Lakers truly have their backs against the wall.  They no longer have the option to indulge their dysfunctions.

I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to take these Lakers in an elimination game, against an inferior opponent, and be getting 2.5 points. I may wind up losing this game, but passing on it is completely unthinkable.  It’s one of those very rare moments, like when Goldman Sachs sent Laura Conigliaro out before the bell to downgrade IBM, one week after the markets reopened after 9-11, when they had orders to buy 25,ooo SPUs in their back pocket. The greatest bullish tell I ever saw in my trading career.

Some bets just have to be made.

4) Charles Barkley. Charles Barkley is one of the worst basketball analysts alive, right up there with the John Hollingers and Tim Kawakamis of this world. By my tally, he’s wrong about 90% of the time.  And he already got the Grizzlies’ upset of the Spurs right this season.

As an applied mathmetician, I know this is utterly fallacious reasoning, and I hate to mislead my readers in this way, but I just have to say it:  The odds of Charles Barkley being right twice in one season are astronomical.

Wager: Taking Lakers +2.5

Thunder v. Grizzlies

After the Grizzlies dominated game 1, their game 2 letdown was to be expected. But I did notice a significant Thunder adjustment:  They began to aggressively double-team Zach Randolph.  Randolph took a lot of bad jumpers as a result, and he wasn’t hitting.  For the Grizzlies to succeed, Randolph will have to become quicker and more aggressive in attacking the rim, and at the same time do a better job passing out of the double teams.

I’m sticking by my assessment that the Grizzlies are the better team in this series. And Ibaka is already beginning to wear down, banging against the much bigger Grizzlies front line of Gasol and Randolph.  He’s got an ankle sprain and a knee contusion.

That doesn’t mean I like the Grizzlies in Game 3, though. If you are a David Stern conspiracy theorist, which I am, you have to be concerned with the way that game 2 was refereed.  Here’s a hypothetical for you: if you were a crooked and greedy basketball commissioner, who would dearly love to see Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and the Thunder advance, would you want to assign a team of referees to game 3 who would call the game tightly, or a team that would let the players play?  Think about it.

In game 2, the refs really let the players play.  The level of contact in the paint was extraordinary.  In fact my favorite play-by-play line of the night was: “Gasol is tackled!  And there’s no call.”  Quite obviously, letting the players play greatly favors the Thunder.  If the game is called tightly, the entire Thunder frontline would foul out in the first half, trying to keep Gasol and Randolph out of the paint. I recommend keeping an eye on this, if only for amusement purposes.

There are of course a couple of other, far less fanciful, reasons to like the Thunder in game 3:

  • The Thunder have lost homecourt in the series, will be ferociously trying to get it back, and are getting +3.5 points.  If you like the Thunder in this series, this is a game you should bet.
  • Even if you like the Grizzlies in this series, if you took the +24o series line, you should make a small bet on the Thunder in this game as a hedge. Middle opportunities like this don’t grow on trees.

Wager: Although I liked the Grizzlies, I didn’t bet this series, so I’m not betting this game.

Bulls v. Hawks

I was very surprised by the Hawks victory in game 1, and if you have the Bulls, you can’t draw too much comfort from game 2.  The Hawks didn’t need the game, played poorly, and still hung around until the end.

The Bulls did make an interesting adjustment, though: they got the whole team involved in double and triple teaming Joe Johnson.  And I thought Johnson reacted very poorly, forcing his offense when it wasn’t there. 1 assist against 2 TO’s.  What has happened to Joe Johnson?  When he was in Phoenix he was a terrific playmaker, even taking over the point guard duties to give Nash a break. Since coming to Atlanta, and getting one of the most ridiculous contracts in the history of sport, he’s developed Kobeitis.

If Johnson suddenly reverts to playmaking, this could become a more interesting series than I credited.  But regardless of how poor Chicago’s current offense is, I like their defense to stiffen and prevail as the series goes on.

Wager: I like the Bulls to win the series, so I should like them in this game, as they will be fighting to reclaim home court advantage.  But the Bulls are actually favored by -2.5 in this game, on the road.  That’s the public speaking, and I don’t like betting with the public.  I like betting against the public, as in the Lakers game. No bet.

Heat v. Celtics

I bet the Heat in this series, and after watching the first two games, I have no reason to doubt the outcome.  In fact, after watching the first two games of every series in the second round, I am ready to proclaim the NBA champion.

On December 26th of this season, I was willing to state that the Lakers had no chance to beat the Heat if they met in the Finals.  Now it looks possible that the Lakers won’t make it out of the second round, which would be a pity.  I was really looking forward to a Heat-Lakers finals.

I did have some doubt that the Heat could get out of the East.  But that’s gone now.  I don’t think either the Celtics or the Bulls can beat them.  And I don’t think any team in the West can even play them tough.  The Heat have the two best players on the planet.  And their role players are starting to get it together. Even Chris Bosh has that look in his eye. The Heat are going to make Jeff van Gundy and feltbot look good, and win the championship.

Oh, are we still in the second round against the Celtics?  There is some speculation that Fat Daddy is going to return for game 3.  I predict it will make the Celtics worse. Spoelstra should immediately set out to push the tempo, and pick and roll the Big Statue to death.  He could barely defend the pick and roll in his prime.  It’s impossible for him now.

Dwayne Wade shut down Ray Allen in game 2, as I predicted.  With help from a Lebron elbow that apparently entered Allen’s chest cavity.  And in general, these Heat are just too young, too fast, and yes too skilled for the Ghost of the Celtics. The Celtics may rally and win 2 at home, and they may even extend the series to 7 games, although I’m beginning to doubt that.  But they don’t win a game 7 against David Stern and the Heat at home.

Wager: The Heat are getting +2.5, but they don’t need this game, and the public is no longer confused, so I see no reason to try to beat the bookies’ line. No bet.

12 Responses to NBA Playoffs Game 3 Previews: Lakers v. Mavs; Thunder v. Grizzlies; Bulls v. Hawks; Heat v. Celtics

  1. Felt, right before the playoffs started I predicted Miami-Dallas in the NBA Finals. I thought the Heat were simply the best in the East, and I thought the West was totally up for grabs after watching the Lakers stumble and bumble in the waning weeks of the regular season.

    As much as I believe Phil Jackson to be grossly overrated as a head coach, I don’t see Jackson as the overriding factor in analysing this series. The Lakers are a mentally tired team, a result of playing so many extra games over the last 3 years. They’re not as hungry as the teams they’re playing. And their bench is almost Warriors-like, relatively speaking. Their struggles to beat a VERY mediocre New Orleans team and their play in game 2 vs Dallas, which given the circumstances was a MUST win game for them, speaks volumes as to their chances of lasting much longer this postseason. It’s not easy for any team to sweep another in the playoffs, and for that reason I would probably bet your way in game 3, but if Dallas blows this series, and I do mean BLOW given their 2-0 lead heading home along with the current state of LA, they might as well forfeit any future postseason appearances.

    The reason I liked Dallas heading into the playoffs was the lack of pressure on this group to win anything of substance. It was about the Lakers and the Spurs and Portland and OKC and even Denver. But how many were picking Dallas to go very far? In previous years the Mavs would almost seem to melt under the hot lights of playoff BB, and usually as one of the favorites. Their “window” is definitely closing like many other perennial playoff favorites in the West, but for once these guys are flying under the radar. That, to me, is a good thing if you’re a Dallas fan.

    And if they do beat LA and eventually wind up in the Finals, they’d definitely be underdogs if their opponent happened to be Miami. Now or never for Cuban and his Mavs, IMO.

    BTW, your conspiracy theories, from Lacob to Stern and beyond, make for good blog material but the Kool Aid is way too sweet for my tastes. The NBA playoffs are always more physical than the regular season, which means the refs almost always let the players play. You mentioned game 2 of the Thunder-Grizz, but how about game 2 of the Lakers-Mavs? LA was falling all over the place trying to get a whistle but wasn’t happening? I guess that’s because the refs and Stern like Cuban so much? LOL Sorry, not drinking that Kool Aid.

    Felt, I love to bet but only the horses. And no, I don’t have a clue who’s going to win the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. That said, I always find betting strategies, on any sport, very intriguing, so I enjoy reading your blogs on the subject. Good luck.

  2. Lakers, Game 2:

    It’s as if Jackson decided defense was the only way Dallas could be defeated. You beat Dallas by putting up points. This is the reason the Lakers kept players like Fisher and Brown, so they can turn it on in the playoffs. Yet Blake was kept in for defensive reasons, to contain–Barea!

    So many physical, low-scoring games in the playoffs. Defense is a disease, and I fear our owner, whose name I don’t feel like mentioning today, has caught it. I hate to think what sacrifices he’s preparing to make in the name of defense. But it will take years to accumulate the physical types of players we see on the playoff teams. The Warriors don’t have it–Curry, Ellis, Wright, and even Lee if he doesn’t get help at center. Are we going to see these guys traded off, their potential squandered, in the name of defense?

  3. Steinmetz breaks down the Warriors roster:
    http://www.csnbayarea.com/05/06/11/Breaking-down-Warriors-roster–Who-stays/landing_steinmetz_v3.html?blockID=518051&feedID=5986

    I’m guessing that Charlie Bell will definitely be bought out. That would put the Warriors $11 million under this years cap. Will that be enough room to land Nene?

  4. I only see a mascot, six definite keepers, three players they’re stuck with (Biedrins, Bell, and Amunson–any chance they can buy A out too?), a pair of tepid possibilities, and Acie Law (hard to put in any category, but he beats Lin). I can’t see putting up big bucks for Vlad Rad, though he showed possibilities. There isn’t enough evidence he could put in a good year.

    How are they just going to fill the bench?

  5. OK, I’m pissed again. Last year, the Warriors brought in and developed three very competent (and inexpensive) players–Hunter, Tolliver, and Reggie–who contributed well to the club. This year, only the very raw Adrien, and he didn’t even play. Nor did Reggie get sufficient chance to develop his skills. I can’t believe there wasn’t someone else out there they couldn’t have brought along and would have had ready for the next season.

    OK, JL what exactly was the plan?

    • @ rgg:

      Re the Dubs’ bench next year, Adrien is a physical beast, and that made him look pretty raw at times, but his game stats showed him to be a better rebounder and scorer than Udoh, and not a bad defender. His physique makes him an unconventional player, though, and I don’t see the Dubs doing “unconventional” next season at all. I doubt if he’ll be back. Too bad. It’s been decades since we’ve seen a truly tough guy like him in Warriors colors.

      It’s hard to imagine how anyone else would be interested in Vlad, but I don’t see him on the Warriors next year either. Bell will probably be back. He’s under contract through next year, his overall record isn’t as disastrous as last season’s, and it’s possible that he’ll improve to adequate under a new coach. Ditto Law, with Lin TBD.

      Lacob keeps talking about bringing in big talent while showing obvious concern about the salary cap. That’s a contradiction that will probably end with staying under the cap with not-too-pricey talent coming to the team this offseason. No Nene, no superstars, just average players. But almost any average joe would be better than Biedrins and Amundson, so I don’t see how those two will be anything other than little-used bench players next year.

      Udoh did well this year, all things considered, but he’s neither a center nor a replacement for Lee’s offense and rebounding at PF, so he’ll be a bench guy next year too. Reggie is a great natural shooter, but I think he didn’t get playing time this year because when everyone in the building knows you’re the “designated scorer,” you’re not going to be very effective at it. Other than scoring, Reggie is a one-dimensional smallish tweener with slow feet. He’s a useful guy to keep around, but probably not any normal team’s “first alternate” at any given position. He needs to add more to his game. With the slightest dot of D, he could become a regular on the dubs. Again, maybe under a new coach.

  6. Lakers: I am baffled. Kobe said the problem last night was defense. He only took 16 shots and made one FT. Why isn’t he taking over 4th. quarter? Why isn’t he out there trying to prove he’s better than Rose? Last year during the playoffs he was putting up 25 shots a game, getting to the line. I hate watching this kind of basketball, but it works.

  7. Feltie,

    Even allowing for the talent he has coached over the years, Phil Jackson’s record shows he isn’t a bad coach. He has never been flexible about some things, though. At this point the Lakers offense is entirely predictable, which makes it stoppable by the right opposing coaches with the right talent to bring to bear. This year’s Mavs team is HUGE! And surprisingly tough and disciplined for a Mavs team.

    Kobe may or may not be an asshole, but he is a great player with a fatal weakness – in crunch time he must always attempt heroic things rather than simply play good team ball. Now 3 games down, look for him to take a lot of really stupid shots in game 4. Kobe attempting highlight-reel stuff means that someone else on his team didn’t get the ball when they should have. Being Amazing! Spectacular! will win some games, but counting on it generally leads to low-percentage b’ball.

    Feeding Kobe’s need to be theatrical, Jason Kidd had him pretty well boxed up last night. Kidd seemed to be moving about 1/3 as fast as Bryant, but always to the spot that would bug Kobe the most. He put on a real clinic in making the most out of not much. It was really cool. The Mavs may not even want to throw some new twist at Kobe in the next game. Leaving the geezer alone on Bryant must entice him into a frenzy of silly shots. That’s actually not a bad defensive strategy against a team with so many other good weapons.

    And Nowitsky vs. Gasol? Advantage Nowitsky!! Bigtime! Nowitsky roams too much for Gasol to keep with him. On the other end, Gasol has rarely had someone his own height defending him – his primary defender is usually someone he can shoot over – and Nowitsky made things especially difficult by relentlessly bumping and crowding him. By the 3rd quarter you could see the frustration cooking Gasol’s brains. Stupid fouls, bad positioning, and near-zero impact from a usually very effective player.

    Not that the Laker couldn’t have won anyway. A more flexible team (e.g. a Don Nelson team) would have simply started feeding everyone else besides their usual big shots. Derek Fisher may defend like a grandma, but he’s still a great scorer. Bynum and Odum can’t be stopped by anyone on the Mavs, but the Lakers don’t seem to have any feed plans for them, they can only freelance on putbacks. On defense the Lakers could play the odds by blanketing everyone except Kidd, a not-so-good shooter, or use sluggos like Matt Barnes to hammer Nowitsky everywhere always – you know, the sort of cheap but useful tactics that Nelson would have never hesitated to use.

    For Game 4, it remains to be seen if Phil Jackson can a) come up with the adjustments his team needs, and b) get the team to implement them effectively. Given that the Lakers game doesn’t usually involve a lot of adjustment, I suspect it won’t happen. As with anything else, people who do weird shit all the time are better at it than those who are normally locked into routines. The alternative would be for Kobe to fill out his imaginary superhero cape, but he was contained last night by a really very slow and feeble player.

    Mavs in 4 unless either the Lakers can adapt or Kobe can leap tall buildings once more. Both are possibilities, but not my bet.