2012 NBA Playoffs Conference Championships Preview

The undercards are finished. Only the heavyweights remain. Let’s get ready to rumble….

Jump for Feltbot’s platinum-plated picks for the 2012 NBA Playoffs Conference Championship Series!                                            

SPURS (-200) v. THUNDER (+180)

There are a lot of reasons to like the Spurs in this matchup. Beginning with the general: Have the Spurs really won 18 straight games, combining the end of the regular season and the first two rounds? Yes, they have. This is one hot team. Hands down the best passing team in the league.

Kind of like the Mavericks were last year. Remember them?

The Spurs also won the regular season matchup with the Thunder 2-1, including the last two games home and away, which they won by 11 and 9 points, respectively. And that was before they picked up Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson. Hmmm.

Now let’s get to the specific. Pop is more than likely to go with a Nellieball front-line of Duncan and Diaw in this series, just as he did against the much bigger Clippers front line. This will in all likelihood force Scott Brooks to counter with Ibaka at five and Durant at the four, sooner rather than later.  There is simply no way that the Thunder will want Perkins to guard Duncan out on the floor, let alone Ibaka on Diaw at the three point line. That is flat suicide.

And thus will commence what is likely to be one of the greatest Nellieball series in history.

But as good as the Thunder look on paper, I don’t think they have a chance.

Duncan v. Ibaka:  Duncan dominated the regular season matchup. Duncan has historically had trouble guarding quick, athletic fours (see Child, Man), but Ibaka doesn’t have the handle or the touch to put the ball on the floor and drive around Duncan. He’s an alley-oop dunker and mid-range shooter.

And he’s an offensive rebounder. Oops. Not against Timmy.

As for his defense? Ibaka was all-pro this season. Nah.  Duncan is too skilled and too big, just like Nowitzki was last year.

This is one matchup where size will matter.

Durant v. The World: Durant at the four is the Thunder’s best way to give the Spurs a matchup problem.  I don’t think Diaw can stay with him. But Pop just has too many weapons to counter this. He can go big and play match-up zone, and kill the Thunder on the boards. Or, as I suspect, he will go small with Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson on Durant.

Nellie liked guarding Durant with smaller players with superior quickness. With Monta Ellis, in fact, when that was all he had. And it was surprisingly effective. Bothered his dribble. Took away his drive.

Stephen Jackson will be even more effective. I am slavering in anticipation. I’m not predicting Durant will be shut down. But how about held to 50% shooting? Or below. In other words, well below what Metta World Peace held him to.

Ginobili, Green, Jackson v. Harden and Sefolosha:  Something tells me that Pop’s players are going to know that Harden wants to go left. I mean really, really know it.

And Ginobili is a far better defender than Harden. Not to mention Jack, if Pop uses him on Harden. I think the Spurs win this matchup.

Parker v. Westbrook: Probably the key to the series.  Parker absolutely destroyed the Thunder in the regular season. He’s too quick for even Westbrook. Can the Thunder find an answer?

I doubt it. Double-teaming is sure and certain death against the Spurs, with their deadly shooting at every single position.

As for Westbrook, I’m curious to see how Pop guards him. I didn’t actually watch any of the regular series games between these two teams. But judging by the boxes, Pop was content to let Westbrook gun.

I’ll eat my shorts if he doesn’t trap him now that we’re playing for money. That’s the right defense against the mediocre Thunder half-court offense. Force Westbrook to give up the ball. He ain’t that good at it.

Greg Popovich: Hands down the best playoff coach in the NBA. A master of adjustments. If there’s a matchup to be explored, a game-plan to be devised, or a tactic to be exploited, Pop will find it, and deploy it fearlessly. And this season, he has the deepest, most versatile and talented roster in the league at his disposal.

Oh, and one other thing: for the first time in years, he has the healthiest roster of the remaining four teams.

In Pop we trust.

The Injury Wildcard: I’ve seen the Spurs fall out of a lot of playoff series with injuries to Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili. And you can throw Tim Duncan into that equation as well. They’re all extremely fragile at this stage of their careers.

That, in my estimation, is the Thunders’ best chance.  That, and the David Stern wildcard.

Spurs in five. No, six. OK, seven. David Stern really, really, really wants the Thunder to win this series. That’s good for at least one game. At a minimum.

HEAT (-510) v. CELTICS (+430)

The Celtics beat the Heat handily three straight times in April, home and away. And that was before Chris Bosh got injured!

So why do I think that the Celtics have no chance in this series? [Edit: Now that the series line has been announced, it looks like the oddsmakers agree with me.] Well, they’re just too beat up.  Avery Bradley just went out with a dislocated shoulder. He can’t play with that, can he?  That leaves Ray Allen to chase Dwayne Wade around, and Ray Allen is playing on a bad ankle. A really bad ankle.

And then there’s Paul Pierce. He’s been playing on a bad knee, and one look at his box scores against Philly (who watched the games?) will tell you just how bad that knee is. And now, because life is cruel, he gets Lebron.

The Truth hurts.

I’m guessing we’re going to see a lot of old friend Mickael Pietrus in this series. Hmmm.

Brandon Bass had a big series going against the elephantine Elton Brand and the gimpy Thaddeus Young. I’m guessing things are going to be a lot tougher for him in this series, going against Haslem, Battier and Lebron.

There is Rondo, and there is Garnett. Two great players with champions’ hearts, for whom the Heat have heretofore had no answer. But I just don’t think they have enough of a supporting cast right now.

And you know what? What if the Heat were to go small, with Lebron guarding Garnett, Battier on Bass, and Miller on the crippled Pierce? And, like, run?

Nah, Spoelstra’s not that smart. Right?

Even so, Heat in six. No, five. They’ve got David Stern on their side.

If it’s a Spurs-Celtics final, heads will roll. The Commissioner will make it rain heads.

Not going to happen. Spurs-Heat in the Finals.

Run and Gun.

Nellieball.

17 Responses to 2012 NBA Playoffs Conference Championships Preview

  1. Pingback: 2012 NBA Playoffs Round 2 Recaps

  2. Pilsner@Beantown.com

    You are correct, no mistake, The Truth is hurting!

    And this will prevent the Celts from being successful — too bad. Looks like the Heat will get their first in 2012!

    Just take the reins off Eric. Maybe go watch tape while the games are being played.

  3. Thanks.
    Great to read these last two posts. Great to read you when you’ve got something to really engage you.

    I’ve said it before, and I’m saying it now:
    You should make the move to NBA blogger. The Woes can’t be enough to stimulate your best writing and analysis, can they? Moreover, with the kind of run you’ve been on lately when you HAVE focused on NBA beyond the Warriors, you’re likely to eventually be picked up (i.e., paid) by someone with the resources to compensate and publicize you better for your time and effort. Wouldn’t that be worth it to the TB?

  4. Felt,

    You called Popovitch’s game very well, but Kendrick Perkins played a lot tonight. I guess coach Brooks didn’t the message. On the other hand, it was an off night for Duncan, so maybe that matchup worked out OK.

    It’s impossible to hate on Kevin Durant, but it was fun to watch Stephen Jackson absolutely torture him throughout the 2nd half. And then Jax hit the dagger 3 to seal the game! Go Jax!

  5. Corey Maggette: 32 games played, 28 starts, 15 PPG, 3.9 REB

    “It is not Corey Maggette’s fault the Bobcats only won seven games this season. Even putting those words together to form that sentence is unfair to the 13-year man out of Duke. But without Maggette’s scoring for more than half the season, Charlotte had very little offensive punch. Maggette was essentially swapped out for Stephen Jackson in the off-season (here are the gory trade details provided by basketball-reference.com: He was traded by the Milwaukee Bucks to the Charlotte Bobcats; the Charlotte Bobcats traded Tobias Harris, Stephen Jackson and Shaun Livingston to the Milwaukee Bucks; the Milwaukee Bucks traded Jimmer Fredette and John Salmons to the Sacramento Kings; the Sacramento Kings traded Bismack Biyombo to the Charlotte Bobcats; and the Sacramento Kings traded Beno Udrih to the Milwaukee Bucks) and in theory that move was fine.”

    Reggie Williams: 33 games, 13 starts, 8.3 PPG, 2.8 REB

    “Reggie Williams was my favorite free agent signing by the Bobcats last year not named Derrick Brown. Let me just double check here…yeah…he was the only free agent signing by the Bobcats least year not named Derrick Brown. Honestly that’s fine. There were a lot of questions around the beginning of the year about what moves the Bobcats might make to shake up the roster for the shortened season. The obvious and correct answer was: not many.”

    Season in Review: (Ex-Warriors) Small Forwards

    http://www.rufusonfire.com/2012/5/27/3046650/a-season-in-review-small-forwards

  6. WH@4: Popovich put the Thunder in a devilish dilemma. Brooks had to go small with Durant at the four because the Spurs spread the floor so well. But with the floor so spread, it was easy for Pop to abuse the Thunder in the post with Duncan and Splitter when Perkins was out. I guess that’s why Brooks felt he had to bring Perkins back in the 4th Q. It was a mistake — he fell into Pop’s trap — and my guess is, it won’t last. The Thunder will need to live and die with Ibaka at the 5 in this series.

    Ibaka is way outsized by Duncan — but he’ll need to somehow step up to the plate. Was Brooks sending him a message? One of the more curious stats in the box was Ibaka’s 0 fouls. I guess that’s because he was always on Diaw. But still.

    As predicted, the Spurs won the matchup between Harden and Ginobili. Don’t be fooled by Harden’s final numbers. He hit 3 virtually uncontested threes in garbage time. Harden was dominated. A very telling stat: 0 FT attempts for a guy who was averaging 8/gm in these playoffs. Pop had his team prepared beautifully for his drives.

    And Westbrook only went to the line once. Freaky, isn’t it? Pop had an incredible defensive game plan that gave the Thunder guards nothing they wanted. And as usual when that happens, Westbrook had no plan B: 7-21 shooting, 5 ast, 4 TO.

    And then of course, there is THE CLOSER.

    You don’t have to be a Kobe Bryant-like hero-ball chucker to be a closer. You can also do it like this: hold Kevin Durant to 0-2 in the fourth quarter. The greatest scorer in the league, 0-2. Durant got six points at the FT line, but 2 of those calls looked like Dwayne Wade-patented bailouts to me.

    Stephen Jackson is the truth. A cold-blooded assassin.

    He’s something of an afterthought in the Spurs offense right now. A pick-setter, facilitator and floor-spreader. POWER FORWARD floor spreader. But he did get one shot in the fourth quarter. A three-pointer, with the game in the balance. And nailed it.

    That’s what Warriors ownership let slip through their fingers. Again.

    A World Champion. One of the best players in the league.

    Jack is finally back where he belongs. In a first-class organization with a professional GM, playing for the best Nellieball coach in the world. With a much-maligned contract, that he just happens to be worth every penny of — when playing for people who want to win.

    Bring it on home, Jack.

    • Stephen Jackson is the truth. A cold-blooded assassin…
      That’s what Warriors ownership let slip through their fingers. Again.

      Ha ha ha… Yeah, the W’s sure blew that one!

  7. Andy Newberry on the team that would make “Don Nelson very proud.”
    http://www.timesrecordnews.com/news/2012/may/22/spurs-are-best-nba-team-nobody-is-talking-about/?print=1

  8. What a luxury to have Stephen Jackson as a backup! Limited playing time meant he could simply run at the max every second he was on the floor. Since he’s not an offensive focus, he put most of his effort into D. He pulled every nasty trick in his arsenal. It was impressive.

    I especially enjoyed Jackson’s flop from Durant’s elbow to the face. The replay showed it was a slight brush. Jackson made it look like he was nearly decapitated. He sold it.

    That was some nasty, burn-all-your-fouls defense. I’ve never seen Durant so bugged. Great stuff, but not something anyone could have done through 4 quarters.

    I wish the Warriors could have kept Jackson, but I don’t think they could have gotten the results from him that the Spurs can. The Spurs depth means they can use him selectively. He has no pressure to be a team leader, and he can simply fit in instead of taking charge. And the Spurs as an organization are more solid than the Warriors will be anytime soon, so they can accommodate strong personalities like Jackson’s better. The fledgling Warriors still seem to feel they have to prioritize “good citizens” over good players. The Jackson/Jefferson swap was just the latest example. They couldn’t chance SJax calling out the coach or the organization, as he has done before.

  9. Re Nellieball,

    Dominant big men have always been rare, so learning how to win without them has always been important. Nelson was a real innovator in this area, but it wasn’t his only shtick. When he had good bigs on his team he used them, and won with them. Bob Lanier was a centerpiece for Nelson for many years.

    I never had the impression that Nelson thought small-is-better. Rather, that better players running better plays are better. He wouldn’t hesitate to run a good fast small player or team to exploit an opponent’s weaknesses, but it was hardly the only way he knew how to win.

    So Felty, I think the way you use the term Nellie-ball kind of downplays Nelson’s coaching ability somewhat. He was a good all-round coach. If he were coaching the Lackers this year, they’d have flattened the smaller Thunder, no problem. He might have had to spank Kobe first, of course. Nevertheless.

    • Of course Nellie recognized that talented bigs were better than talented smalls. His Mavs team had the tallest, if not the biggest, front line in the NBA. And he has ALWAYS played with a big defensive center.

      Nellieball is a term invented by people who don’t completely comprehend the coach. But I use it according to the established usage: 1) Playing the most talented players, regardless of size 2) Pushing the tempo 3) Spreading the floor, with at least 4 3 point shooters on the floor at all times. 4) Relentlessly exploiting matchups, usually with talented smalls against non-talented bigs. But not always.

      Greg Popovich has a legitimate choice when deciding on a playing style. He could play big. Remember DeJuan Blair? He started virtually every regular season game at center for the Spurs, with Duncan at the 4. Blair was regular season cannon fodder. Pop could also start Splitter along side Duncan.

      But no, Pop chooses to play Nellieball, with his BEST team.

      Similarly, Brooks plays Nellieball late in games with Durant at the four, spreading the floor and pushing the tempo. But interestingly, Pop forced him away from playing his 5 best players. Because he relentlessly exploited the unfair advantage of Duncan in the post when Perkins was off the floor.

      That’s still Nellieball, as I employ the term.

  10. “In March 2011, he was introduced to Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob by Danny Ainge, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations. Ainge knew Lacob was looking into options to run the Warriors’ basketball operations and connected Lacob and Myers. A month later, Myers was introduced as Golden State’s assistant general manager and deemed head basketball honcho of the future.

    One year later, Lacob determined the future is now. Myers — who regularly plays pickup hoops with staff members and remains far more accessible than most professional sports executives — had displayed the exact traits Lacob was banking on.

    But the decision doesn’t come without risk. Myers, the second-youngest G.M. in the NBA at 37, has been given the keys to the Warriors’ kingdom despite having just a year of front office experience. His basketball knowledge is, at the very least, untested. And since he’s taking over a franchise with just one playoff appearance since 1994, he’ll be under tremendous pressure from a fed-up fan base.”

    This is one of the reasons I really believe in the Warriors new owners. You become a great organization by hiring great people to run every aspect of your business. IMO, Bob Myers is going to be the next really good/great GM in the NBA. He’s young, smart, and extremely driven to succeed through hard work. Good read from MT.

    http://www.insidebayarea.com/warriors/ci_20727603/will-bob-myers-winning-formula-pay-off-his?source=rss

  11. I recall reading that Myers handled the deal for Jordan from the Clippers, and that it was his effort in this deal that made Lacob decide Myers was ready to step up.

    I’m not impressed on several fronts.

    Somewhat in defense of Riley, he’s always been hamstrung by his FO, especially by Lacob, so has had limited authority. I’m wondering if at least he didn’t have the ability to evaluate as well as other experience needed to be a GM. Now we’ve lost that.

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