Tag: playoffs first round

NBA Playoffs: Bulls fight valiantly, but the Cavs are still the Cavs

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rose and noah game 5.pngThe Chicago Bulls were neither deep enough nor talented enough to pose much of a threat to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but they competed. They worked defensively and made things as difficult as they could for LeBron and co., but facing an opponent with so many scoring options and such chemistry ultimately proved to be too much.

Expecting Chicago to be a significant obstacle would be somewhat misguided, given how many of their possessions end in bad shots and how heavily the Bulls are forced to lean on their starting five. Chicago got just 32 total minutes out of their reserves, and those three players totaled 10 points (on 4-of-11 shooting), six rebounds, and two assists. Oh, and their names are Brad Miller, Flip Murray, and Hakim Warrick. Not exactly a Sixth Man candidate among them, and no sure-fire contributions lest you count Flip’s tendency to take over the scoring load for stretches.

By comparison, Cleveland’s reserves score 28 points (11-of-22), grabbed 11 boards, and notched five assists in about 78 total minutes. To make matters worse, that’s without tapping Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Leon Powe, or Daniel Gibson for minutes. The Cavaliers are a veritable army, and their ability to play a number of different lineups with varied strengths is tough for almost any team to counter. Factor in LeBron James as a big part of most of those lineups, and you’ve got a team that looks like a no-brainer for the Conference Finals, at the very least.

I could tell you that Rose was impressive with 31 points on 27 shots but was a play or two away
from glory, that Antawn Jamison has been overlooked entirely in this
series, or that Joakim Noah’s aggressive style got the better of him —
but what’s the point? The outcome of this series isn’t exactly a
surprise, and neither was the outcome of Game 5.

The Cavs weren’t perfect in this game, and they weren’t perfect in the series; Shaq is still working himself back into a groove, LeBron is forcing some things, and their defense could stand to improve. This team, despite their status as a title contender, is not necessarily in tip-top shape for championship-level competition. That’s okay, though, because a second round date with the Boston Celtics should be just what the doctor ordered. There’s enough animosity on both sides that if the Cavs need a wake-up call, they’re sure to get it in the coming games.

The Bulls don’t need a wake-up call. They can snooze until the draft and until free agency, as they’ve made their case as an intriguing free agent destination. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade should take note of every Derrick Rose floater, every Joakim Noah rebound, every shot that Luol Deng bothered.

Chicago may not be deep now, but they could very well be by next season’s opening tip. The developing talent there is undeniable, and while I can’t imagine a single NBA player declaring their desire to go play for Vinny Del Negro, the prestige of the team and the talent already in place (don’t forget about supplementary pieces like Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson, either) could be enough to draw some major upgrades.

NBA Playoffs: Mavs and Spurs to embark on a journey for the ages

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NBA_nowitzki2_250.jpgIt’s usually not a good idea to over-hype a series, because the practice can only backfire. A great playoff series will organically drum up interest, as NBA fans are drawn to good, competitive games. So those series’ don’t really need help on the front. If a series isn’t so great? Well, then hot air, hot presses, and hot…virtual ink (?) goes to waste for absolutely no reason. In general, it’s best to let the nature of each series speak for itself, and though analysis on the possible nature of a series is quite alright, promoting one series as a “can’t-miss” matchup or the highlight of a particular round is very misguided.

Now that I have that disclaimer out of the way: this is a can’t-miss matchup and the highlight of the first round.

The Mavs and the Spurs play each other so well so consistently that I refuse to believe this series will be anything but highly entertaining. The two franchises bring out the best in one another, and have done so ever since the Mavs rose from solid playoff team to serious contender based on the Spurs model. It’s impossible to deny the formative influence that San Antonio has had on Dallas, and that influence is just one of many reasons why their rivalry is so compelling.

At the heart of this series are, of course, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki. Duncan is the best Spur even if he’s no longer the most important, and despite the half-step he’s lost this season, TD is still one of the league’s most effective bigs. Nowitzki is a scoring machine, and while he’s never lit a candle to Duncan defensively, his ability to anchor an offense from the high and low post is somehow immune to the Spurs’ typically excellent defense.

All eyes in this series will be on Manu Ginobili, the man who not only kept the Spurs afloat down the stretch, but pushed them to new heights. It’s Manu’s return to prominence that has elevated the Spurs’ play, and his effectiveness could essentially determine this series. Otherwise, Dallas and San Antonio have so much balance that predicting the winner is pointless.

San Antonio will likely have the defensive edge and Dallas the offensive one, but those two strengths could easily flip based on a big scoring performance from Tony Parker or strong defense from Shawn Marion. Dallas has more depth, but they’re less consistent. San Antonio’s two quick point guards — Parker and George Hill — are tough to gauge because the former only recently returned from injury and the latter tweaked an ankle in the final game of the regular season. Dallas’ two centers have the size and strength to help limit Duncan, but how successful will they be?

There are so many questions left to be answered in this series, but the interesting thing is that the answers don’t indicate a huge swing one way or another. Even if Manu Ginobili keeps performing at an incredible level, that doesn’t mean San Antonio wins handily. Even if Shawn Marion and Caron Butler completely lock him down, that doesn’t mean Dallas wins easily. There are so many small, minute advantages still in play, but the sheer quantity minimizes the effect of each variable.

We know so much about these teams and how they play each other, but they’re so close that there’s literally no way to tell how it’s going to down tonight. That’s what makes this series a must-watch, and the history between the teams, their division rivalry, and geographic proximity are just supplementary bonuses.