Previews: Grizzlies v. Thunder, Game 7 + Heat v. Bulls, Game 1

Grizzlies v. Thunder, Game 7

This one has played out almost exactly as I believed it would.  The key to game 7 will be the officiating, as Jeff van Gundy slyly hinted in the last game when he said this regarding the Grizzlies’ physical defense of Kevin Durant: “I’m curious to see whether those bumps will be fouls in Oklahoma City.”                     

Lionel Hollins made a brilliant adjustment in Game 6, moving OJ Mayo to the starting lineup.  The Grizzlies are desperate for 3 point shooters to spread the floor for Randolph and Gasol.  Mayo fits the bill, and gives the Grizzlies perhaps another 5% chance of winning based strictly on the possibility of him getting unconsciously hot.

On the other side of the court, Mayo doesn’t hurt the Grizzlies that badly on defense, for one reason:  Brooks’ insistence on starting Thabo Sefalosha over James Harden.  This allowed Hollins to make another brilliant decision:  He cross-matched Mayo on Westbrook, and guarded Sefalosha with Mike Conley. (Did you see that, Keith Smart?)  If you remember, Westbrook got Conley in foul trouble in Game 4, which led to the Grizzlies’ loss.  No chance of that now. And while Mayo can’t stay in front of Westbrook, he really doesn’t have to, as the Grizzlies are double and triple teaming him on penetration.  Mayo also has better size than Conley to contest Westbrook’s frequent jacks.

I stick by my pre-series evaluation:  The Grizzlies are a better team than the Thunder.  I see the Thunder having a more difficult time guarding Randolph and Gasol in the post than the Grizzlies have guarding Kevin Durant.  And I believe that Mike Conley is a better team leader than Russell Westbrook.  Conley is having a hell of a series, and has convinced me that he is one of the most underrated point guards in the game.  He’s got a real head on his shoulders.  Real vision. Great instincts. Great character.

And so, my pick to win game 7 is….  The Thunder.  Yes, sticking to the script I envisioned before the series began.  You’ll more fully understand my reasons when you see Tony Allen and Zach Randolph sitting on the bench in the first quarter with foul trouble.

Miami Heat v. Chicago Bulls, Game 1

I like the Heat to win this series, laying -180.  And I like the Heat in the first game, getting +2.

Yes, the Bulls swept the regular season series, 3-0.  That doesn’t mean much to me.  The Bulls are a young team with a first year coach, just coming into their own. It wasn’t hard to convince them — and particularly Derrick Rose, who was gunning for League MVP from the very start — that every game mattered.  They also have only one dominant player, and thus a very simple pecking order.

For the Heat it was just the opposite.  For one, they’re all veterans, and know the difference between the regular season and the playoffs.  And secondly, the big three were all treading carefully around each other, trying to cement their roles without stepping on each others toes.  They knew they had all season long to figure things out.

And now they have.  Dwayne Wade carries the scoring load all game long, with Lebron facilitating.  But down the stretch, Lebron takes over.

And Chris Bosh stands unguarded at the rim, looking for putbacks.

Here, in a nutshell, is why Miami will win:  The Heat have two superstars, the Bulls have one.  Dwayne Wade will be guarding Derrick Rose when it matters, and the Bulls will be guarding Wade with… no one.  They have no one who can stick with Wade.

Here are a few other reasons:  Carlos Boozer is not a playoff power forward, because he struggles against length.  Bosh has length.  Bosh also has very little heart, but if that becomes a problem, Spoelstra can simply switch Joel Anthony onto Boozer.  Game over.

Three point shooting.  The Bulls rely on Kyle Korver to spread the floor.  But can they even afford to put him into the game?  Who will he guard?  CJ Watson is a possibility, but he doesn’t seem to have Thibodeau’s confidence.  Who else? Keith Bogans?

Luol Deng is a fine three-point shooter, but he will be guarded by Lebron.

The Heat have three-point shooting all over the floor.  James Jones. Mario Chalmers. Mike Miller. Mike Bibby.  Jones and Chalmers are white-hot at the moment.  Miller and Bibby, quite the opposite.  If either of them finds the range, this series could become uncompetitive.

Bottom line: Derrick Rose will have to average 30 points for the Bulls to win this series.  I just don’t think he can do it.  3 guys will get a crack at him: Bibby to start, then Chalmers, and Wade down the stretch.  Both Chalmers and Wade are great defenders.  And the Heat will be double and triple teaming Rose to boot, forcing him to find his shooters.

And there’s another reason why I think Rose might struggle in this series:  Both Wade and Lebron will be determined to prove that he didn’t deserve his MVP award.  In crunch time, Wade will be all over him on the perimeter.  And Lebron will be blocking his shots at the rim.

One final point, brought to you by feltbot the poker player:  We were given a big tell to this series by the Heat’s celebration after the Boston series.  That excessive celebration — by war-hardened vets — told me that the Heat think they’re going to the Finals.  They know in their hearts they can beat the Bulls.


21 Responses to Previews: Grizzlies v. Thunder, Game 7 + Heat v. Bulls, Game 1

  1. Felt, you start losing credibility when “scripted officiating” becomes part of your game analysis. The Grizz and Thunder are two good young teams which makes 7th Game playoff handicapping difficult given their youth and postseason experience. I think OKC wins because they have the best player (Durant) and they’re at home. I’m not a huge Westbrook fan but he plays with tremendous fire and heart which wins my respect. If he passed the ball more often to Durant and Co. he’d win even more of it (respect). This should be a really good game, and if Memphis sneaks out with a win it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. But whatever the outcome, please stop with the officiating nonsense. Does the home team sometimes get more calls? Fair or not, absolutely, and the point Van Gundy was making with his comments. Do you remember long time ref Earl Strom? He had a well deserved reputation for being a “road ref”, meaning if you were the road team and the game was being called by Strom you knew you’d get a fair shake. Nothing over the top shady, he’d just call ’em at both ends, and maybe even a tad more for the road team. Maybe Game 7 will be called that way, maybe not. But if OKC wins it’ll be because they outplayed the Grizz, not because of any Stern-ordered officiating skullduggery.

    Miami should win their series BUT funny things can happen when you combine overconfidence with playoff pressure. Miami now has ALL the pressure on them while the Bulls have none. The Heat is supposed to win this series and Chicago is not. Should be interesting to see how these teams play under these circumstances. Miami in 6.

  2. Steve: ” OKC wins because they have the best player (Durant) and they’re at home.” Yes, that will be the way it is reported. However, I am with feltbot on this one. It is amazing how quickly that book by ex-ref Donaghie (sp) has disappeared from consciousness. What he had to say about referee bias had the ring of truth.

    I am amazed that Westbrook made 2nd team all-NBA and the knocks on him make me think I am reading criticism about Monta Ellis. Maybe Monta’s not such a bad player.

    With Miami, Dallas, CHI,the Lakers, OKC and the Grizz each having an unexpected story line, this is the best playoffs I can remember (non-Warrior division.)

  3. Since I’d like to see Brian Shaw get the Warriors head coaching gig I’m paying particular attention to news out of LaLa Land. Here’s some more Lakers scuttlebutt.

  4. There’s a reason Westbrook and Rose are taking more shots and carrying more of the offensive load in the playoffs. Against good and gritty defense, otherwise known as end game and playoff defense, few players can get their own (good) shots. On Chicago, Rose is the only player who can consistently get a good shot by himself against playoff D. On OKC, Westbrook is better at this than Durant, simply because of his speed. As PGs, they often get a running start at the defense before its completely set, and this confers an advantage. Add to this that the court is open for Westbrook because the defense is keying on Durant and he’s got yet another reason to be aggressive with his own shot. I fault Westbrook and Rose for early 3s, but they’re young and both seem to be learning as these playoffs go on. What they do well is spearhead the attack for their teams, eventually opening up opportunities for their teammates if they are successful.
    There’s a reason that Kobe, Wade, Lebron, Paul, Rose, Carmelo (even though I don’t like including him) and now Westbrook seem to rise as the defensive pressure increases….they are all fairly unstoppable offensively because of some combination of skill, athleticism, size, instinct or fearlessness. They can get an open shot or get fouled against the greatest defensive pressure.
    Durant and the reborn Dirk, in my view are slightly different from the above group. They are huge offensive threats, but it is easier to take the ball out of their hands. Dirk is utilizing his offensive abilities beautifully in Dallas in these playoffs, drawing defensive pressure for teammate’s open 3s and penetration, passing with vision out of double teams. Dallas is a vet team though and OKC is learning. Same with Chicago. Until they do, they’re lucky to have players with Westbrook’s and Rose’s talent playing aggressively and with grit. It’s hard to get good shots in the playoffs. They can.

  5. Like your analysis, Satchel. Although I don’t care for Westbrook and Rose as point guards, you’ve hit the nail on the head regarding their overall value.

    Steve, you may feel I’m losing credibility when I look at the refereeing with a jaundiced eye, but if that’s true, Mark Cuban and Bill Simmons long ago lost their credibility as well — not to mention Jeff van Gundy. I’m comfortable in that company.

  6. Mark Spears on the coaching search:

    “The Warriors appear to be seeking not only a talented coach but someone with some cache who could sell well to the Bay Area fans in the new ownership group’s first coaching hire. Brown coached LeBron James when he helped guide the Cavaliers to the 2007 NBA Finals and Casey’s Mavericks are in the Western Conference finals.”

  7. Ahem… Can I have my Heat bet back?

  8. I might put Durant into the “unstoppable” group after today’s performance. Westbrook played with his head and heart. Rose stumbled early, but still spearheaded his team’s offense by putting up early points. Great complete game by Deng.

    Does anyone else think James Harden might be as good or better than Tyreke Evans or Curry? He’s got size, skills, athleticism and smarts. Van Gundy keeps on saying he’s the best passer on OKC. Anyone else think Taj Gibson might be a better power forward in the long run than Carlos Boozer? He’s athletic, has offensive skills, plays great defense and is doing well in the playoffs.

  9. Felty: Miami played small ball and they lost. Chicago smartly counterattacked by sending players for offensive rebounds where the garnered 13 more offensive rebounds then Miami. Miami has to give up it’s small line-up in order to have any chance of winning.

  10. Great performance by Durant. It really makes a difference when your point guard is looking for you, doesn’t it? Westbrook played his best game of the playoffs, after reaping a mountain of scorn for his selfishness from all the former players and coaches commenting on the series. It will be interesting to see if he “gets it” going forward.

    Harden is hands down better than Tyreke Evans. Better shooter, better passer, better defender. I don’t think you can compare him with Curry, though — different roles. And I’d take Curry ahead of him, if drafting. But Harden is a terrific all-around player. The passing is a revelation, something no one expected.

    For some reason, Taj Gibson has tried and failed as the starting 4 several times in his first couple seasons. I haven’t watched him much so I’m not sure why. Best guesses: raw offensively, inconsistent rebounder. But he’s obviously a great defender, and his size and athleticism could definitely make him a more valuable playoff power forward than Boozer in the long run.

    As for the Heat, I was stunned that they left Ilgauskas and Dampier off the roster and went “small.” Not that I don’t think they might be best this way, but is this the time to make over your team? Neither the Heat’s frontline nor their guards (Wade especially needs to get more involved in the rebounding) were prepared for the Bull’s onslaught on the boards.

    And if you’re going to play small, shouldn’t you go all the way? Get Chalmers in for Bibby, Bosh to center and Lebron to power forward? The Heat sacrificed size without adding shooting or speed.

    I was also dismayed by the Heat’s disarray on offense. Is this the first time Spoelstra has seen Thib’s defense?

    One factor that I didn’t account for coming into this series is the difference in coaching. Which I now blame myself for, as I deeply believe it can mean almost everything in an NBA playoff series. Spoelstra’s attempted radical makeover of his team to start this series is perplexing. It seems like the Heat have an awful lot on their plate right now. The confusion is evident.

    Thibodeaux, on the other hand, has his team running like a well-oiled machine. He is quite obviously an incredible coach. He has a reputation as a defensive coach, but it was his offense that amazed me in this game. He has a team with not one outstanding passer moving the ball beautifully, with purpose. And I thought his substitution patterns, and play calls (away from the best defenders, ala Don Nelson), were brilliant as well.

    This season has been a coming out party for Luol Deng. He’s an incredible player when healthy. And if he continues to play Lebron as well as he did in this first game… curtains. I may have to look for opportunities to hedge my bet.

    One thing has me deeply confused: I watched the Bulls struggle badly against the Hawks in the last series, shooting 25% from three. Is this the same team?

  11. Felty: You’re right. Always pick the team with the better coach when you have two closely matched teams .

  12. Bulls shot well and won’t necessarily keep this up. On the other hand they look like they can dominate the offensive glass and this lends itself to uncontested threes. Add Rose’s penetrate and kick, Noah’s smarts about passing out of congestion and there are going to be some uncontested threes in this series that they didn’t get against the Hawks or Pacers. Lebron and Wade are going to have to play great for the Heat to win this series, and for them playing great means 7-12 rebounds apiece, plus scoring and assisting. It IS what they do in general, so I’m curious after the first game’s example if they will be able to do this against the Bulls.
    It appears Coach T’s plan is to single Bosh and let him have his, but to double Lebron and Wade and create a wall to their penetration. Against this, the Heat may have to become excellent perimeter shooters to win and this is an iffy proposition. If they do though, penetration lanes will open back up. I’m wondering if the Bulls are too disciplined defensively for Lebron and Wade to take the typical advantage they do of “breakdowns”. They are supreme opportunists and creators, but they still need some space.

  13. Felt, whenever a person’s money is on the line dependent to the outcome of a sporting event the likelihood of conspiratorial paranoia increases exponentially. Having been around horseplayers for over 30 years this conclusion is based upon experience at the highest order.

    Jeff van Gundy’s longevity in coaching, ANY NBA head coaching longevity is all about wins and losses. And those wins and losses are to some extent in the hands of the refs 82 games a season. Bill Simmons bets on sports. Mark Cuban has a huge financial interest in whether or not the Dallas Mavericks win or lose. See any pattern here between these individuals, their money, and the ultimate outcome of sporting events?

    When the Tim Donaghy scandal hit the NBA it fueled all the conspiracy theorists…..”That was a block and not a charge? Yeah, right, you crook.”. Hell, Bob Delaney was (undercover) part of a Mafia family before he started working as an NBA ref. But if my thought process after every questionable call, in any and every sport, takes me to that very dark area, the enjoyment I get from following sports would be totally ruined.

    As fast and strong as athletes are nowadays the job of officiating has become incredibly difficult. Yet, after countless replays, in super super duper slow motion, and from every camera angle imaginable, the correct call is proven to be made in the vast majority of cases. Or in other words, these guys do a great job at succeeding under tremendous pressure and scrutiny. Their integrity gets my money.

  14. Nice posts, LinkMaster Steve…

    NBA Draft Lottery Tuesday…Let’s go Dubs!

  15. Mr. “B”, did that say .08% chance for our GSW’s? LOL Not getting too fired up for our annual participation.

    In your honor, sir, another link.

  16. If the Warriors were to win a draft lottery this would be the year. Another Joe Smith, anyone?;_ylt=ArPe_r5axgoZw9vV3waBLww5nYcB?slug=mc-spears_weak_2011_nba_draft_awaits_lottery_051611

  17. I’m sorry Steve, but I think your opinion that Bill Simmons, Jeff van Gundy and Mark Cuban are victims of conspiratorial paranoia is simple naivete, mixed in with a fair amount of self-righteousness. There is very strong evidence that NBA playoff games have been fixed, catalogued by officiating crew by Bill Simmons, and subscribed to by Mark Cuban. Are you aware of which games those are, have you watched them and decided for yourself, or are you simply moralizing based upon your own opinion of the appropriate state of mind in which to watch a sporting event?

    The fallaciousness of your reasoning is practically self-evident: Are you seriously going to tell me that because you know a number of paranoid horse bettors who can’t take responsibility for their own results, that horse-racing has never been rigged? Nonsense.

    All major sports have been, and will continue to be rigged. Usually in games, but not always. Are you going to tell me that baseball’s steroid “problem”, in which the owners and the commissioner were utterly complicit, was not tantamount to rigging an entire sport? Would the Giants have gone to the World Series without steroids? Would Clemens have a ring?

    Or are such thoughts just me succumbing to paranoia? It’s funny, I don’t ever remember betting on baseball.

    You like to erase all such thoughts from your mind when watching sports. I don’t, and like those other people mentioned above, I trust my intellect to distinguish between simple blown calls, and a series of egregious events — always in favor of the league’s financial agenda — that begs to be considered in a different light.

    One final thing: Since I’m writing about my betting decisions, I think I should come clean about my reasoning process, paranoid or not, no? I mean, if I simply wrote “I like Memphis in this series but I’m betting the Thunder,” how would that fly?

  18. Your analysis of the Bulls/Heat Series was very weak. You missed the most important factor. REBOUNDING!!!!!!!!!!!! The Bulls own the glass which is why they will win the Series. Kind of hard for Taj Gibson to stay in the starting lineup when Carlos Boozer is healthy.

    • What it might be is a money grab or a promotional tool for a weisbte. We told you about the LeBron to the Bulls site before, and it’s this same group that is now seeking dollars for a downtown Chicago

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