NBA Playoffs, Celtics Magic Game 1: Matt Barnes on Ray Allen? Vince Carter on Paul Pierce? Interesting.

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Barnes_ref.jpgMatt Barnes is nasty.

He is a gritty defender. Hard nosed. In your face. Opposing fans hate him — Boston fans will come to loathe him like nobody else this playoffs.

But Ray Allen may dislike him more. Allen has been deadly these playoffs — 42.5 percent from three and hitting better from everywhere than he did in the regular season. Barnes has been tagged with the task of chasing Ray Allen off multiple screens and denying his catch-and-shoot attempts.

However, that means Vince Carter has to cover Paul Pierce. Advantage Celtics, right? Not as much as you think, as the always smart Ben Q. Rock pointed out at Orlando Pinstriped Post (with the numbers to back it up):

Pierce gets post of his offense initiating the pick-and-roll, which happens to be Barnes’ biggest weakness defensively. He’s also not much of an isolation defender. His biggest strength, covering players coming off screens, also happens to align with how Allen gets most of his offense…

So Barnes on Allen — or, if you prefer to word it differently, Barnes off Pierce — makes sense, though the low frequency with which he’s had to cover shooters coming off screens might be cause for concern. But what of Carter? Can he hope to cover Pierce? The answer appears to be “yes.” …

So although Barnes is a better defender overall, Carter’s skill set better equips him to cover Pierce. And Barnes’ tools counter Allen’s quite nicely.

Expect the Celtics to test both of these matchups today – in the end they may well find that Kevin Garnett covered by Rashard Lewis is the matchup they prefer (although KG struggled against the Magic in the regular season).

The Cavaliers do not defend like the Magic do. Not even close. Dwight Howard in the middle allows the Magic to be more aggressive out on the perimeter. (Look for the Celtics to use Rasheed Wallace at center to try and pull Howard out of the paint — but that means Sheed needs to continue to drain the three as he has done these playoffs). The huge matchup advantages the Celtics may think they get with this switch will not be much at all.

However, if Pierce can exploit Carter much at all, that little advantage may be all the Celtics need. If not, Orlando may keep sweeping right along.

J.R. Smith replacing Dwyane Wade as Cavaliers’ starting shooting guard

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The Cavaliers are 2-1, but their starting lineups have been outscored by 19 points in 32 minutes. Dwyane Wade has been so bad as the starting shooting guard, his struggles have overshadowed J.R. Smith‘s miserable play as the backup.

But at least Wade volunteered a solution to this predictable problem.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Dwyane Wade is headed for the Cavaliers’ bench at his own request and J.R. Smith is returning to the starting lineup.

Wade, 35, a 12-time All-Star who struggled in his first three games with Cleveland, asked coach Tyronn Lue to make the change, Lue said. But this wasn’t exactly Wade’s idea, either.

Lue told him when he signed with the Cavs Sept. 27 that the second unit may be the best fit for him.

“I just decided, earlier than later, just to get to the unit where I’d be more comfortable in and can probably better with this team in that lineup,” Wade said. “Why wait? Three games in, why wait? Wanted to get in there with those guys.”

Cleveland’s starting lineup needs more shooting and defense around LeBron James – especially with Derrick Rose starting over an injured Isaiah Thomas (though Rose is out a couple games with his own ankle injury). Smith provides that.

Bench-heavy units need more playmaking. Wade provides that.

This was a tricky situation given Wade’s status as a future Hall of Famer and friendship with LeBron. Whether Wade simply suggested the change or Lue is trying to give Wade public credit after coaxing it behind the scenes, the result is the same.

The Cavs can now use their most logical rotation, and they should be better for it.

Suns GM Ryan McDonough: Eric Bledsoe hair-salon claim about tweet was unbelievable

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Eric Bledsoe reportedly requested a trade from the Suns before the season then tweeted yesterday:

Clear message?

Apparently not.

After sending home Bledsoe today, Suns general manager Ryan McDonough explained his rationale:

The hair salon! What a wonderful excuse.

Is it true? I’m not going to call Bledsoe a liar. It might be.

It’s also probably true that Bledsoe isn’t long for Phoenix.

Report: Suns send Eric Bledsoe home, expect to trade him

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In a shocking twist, the Suns firing Earl Watson did not end the dysfunction in Phoenix.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Bledsoe:

That is a first-rate tweet by Bledsoe. It’s great that he’s having fun with the wild situation, because the rest of us sure are amused peering in.

This was always going to be a long season in Phoenix, but things got out of hand in a hurry. The 0-3 Suns have been outscored by 92 – the worst three-game start in NBA history by 16 points. Now, comes the fallout.

At 27, Bledsoe was getting to be a little too old for a rebuild centered on Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender and T.J. Warren. The Suns could have dealt Bledsoe in the offseason. Now, they’re negotiating from a position of weakness.

Bledsoe is a good starting point guard when healthy. He’s earning a reasonable $14.5 million this season and due $15 million in the final year of his contract next season. There should be suitors, and Phoenix can gain long-term assets while stepping up its tank.

But this sure seems like a crisis-control move more than anything else.

Willy Hernangomez ‘mad’ about falling from Knicks rotation

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Knicks president Steve Mills started his second tenure talking about rebuilding and listed Willy Hernangomez as a core piece.

But Hernangomez, coming off an All-Rookie first-team season, barely played in New York’s season-opening loss to the Thunder– drawing scrutiny.

Then, he didn’t play at all in a loss to the Pistons – eliciting a strong reaction from Hernangomez himself.

Hernangomez, via Fred Kerber of the New York Post:

“The same. I’m still mad,” Hernangomez said. “I cannot help the team win if I’m sitting on the bench. Two games in a row. It’s tough. I have to wait my moment. I cannot say nothing more.”

The Knicks are moving in different directions. Management is talking about building for the future. Coach Jeff Hornacek, who was hired by previous president Phil Jackson, is trying to win now.

There’s a fine line between developing Hernangomez through playing time and making him earn his minutes. Enes Kanter and Kyle O'Quinn might be better right now.

But being marginally better this season won’t get the Knicks anywhere meaningful except lower in the lottery. On the other hand, even on rebuilding teams, winning is most important to a coach’s job security. Earl Watson implemented the Suns’ tanking scheme, and look where that got him.

Hornacek is backed into a corner, and now one of the team’s most important young players is publicly expressing his displeasure. It’s the latest troubling sign in a locker room already suspicious of Hornacek.