Tuesday, May 11, 2010

One Play Tells the Tale of a Team, of a Season

One play said it all. I saw it during game action. I saw it again, replayed, over and over on ESPN after the fact. One play told us why the Magic swept the Hawks by the largest average margin of victory, ever. 

You might have seen it. It was replayed only a dozen times. Dwight is posting on the left block, the Magic shooters are spaced around the 3-point line, and Al Horford is trying to front. Horford is a good player. He works hard, and by virtue of the things he does at his position, is a great piece for a playoff time. But just look at him. He gives up at least 20 pounds to Dwight just from the looks of his frame, and to top it off, Dwight is a little taller, too. 

What's telling about this play is the way the Hawks have chosen to defend Howard. I know you have to show him different looks. But whenever you front a good post player, you have to have a contingency plan in case the offense goes over the top. In this case, the contingency plan one. That's right. Against the best big man in the NBA, the Hawks decided to forget about getting between your man and the ball. 

I understand that this was a hard series for Atlanta. They were over-matched. Jamaal Crawford was right when he said that the Hawks would need to play perfectly just to be in this thing. But to leave your center on an island against Dwight? That is inexcusably bad coaching. Dwight is good, but he is not superman (at least not to me). He turns the ball over, and even a smaller help defender can swipe it him, maybe draw a charge, something. But you look at this play, and no one is within 7 feet of Howard/Horford. I know the Magic were sizzling from range yesterday, but to me, if you are going to lose the game, you have to make them make shots. You cannot let them dunk on you. You can't do anything about them raining 3's, you can make them work for those shots.

The second part of the play is also telling. Dwight goes up, catches the 'oop, then decides he doesn't have enough body control to dunk it, lands on the ground, gathers himself in (with a pump fake thrown in), then elevates for the jam. While he does all of this, Horford does...nothing. That's right, Al just stands there, knees straight, weight on his heels, and watches the whole thing unfurl. The one good thing is that Josh Smith comes flying in from the elbow to at least contest the shot (hence the pump fake), but Dwight sees it and waits it out (This also solidifies my belief that Josh Smith is the only worthwhile player on this team. I know he takes bad shots. So does LeBron. But don't tell me if he played for LA/PHX/CLE/BOS, Orlando wouldn't be a lot more scared of him. His team just sucks). 

I know what you might be thinking. At the rim, Howard will score whether you play defense or not. Horford isn't going to alter the outcome of the dunk, so he might as well just get ready to inbound the ball. But this is Dwight Howard we are talking about. An atrocious free-throw shooter. This is the playoffs we are talking about. You have to make him work for his points!!! You absolutely have to foul him in this situation. You have to hit him so hard that his shot won't fall. Who cares that you are the only serviceable center on your team!?!? This is the playoffs! You are down 0-3! THERE IS NO TOMORROW!!! Orlando should never have gotten a clean shot within 5 feet the whole game! I am incensed! The Hawks should have been setting playoff records for most free throws allowed to an opponent, not largest average losing margin. I don't care if the whole team fouls out (a la Doc Rivers, anyone?). This is the playoffs. You absolutely must make a terrible foul shooter go to the line. Why do you think the Cavs got Shaq, then re-signed Ilgauskus when they have Varejao and Hickson? They have 24 fouls between the four of them to throw at Howard (potentially). That is the mindset of correctly-executed playoff basketball.

All in all, this was an ugly night for Atlanta fans. There were other plays that you can watch ( I particularly like the part at about 34 seconds in where Jamaal Crawford helps on Vince, Bibby helps on the wing, and no one helps on Howard inside. What is Jamaal thinking here? Wow, that lane is far away. Howard is a big man. I think I'll go head the other way INSTEAD OF GETTING IN THE LANE AND FOULING. Even when it's all over, two Atlanta players can be seen rushing into the paint just in case...while Jamaal just stands there. Fantastic. If you can bear the torture, go to 1 minute in and you can see Dwayne Wade, I mean J. J. Redick totally blow past Maurice Evans and draw three defenders on the pick and roll before dishing for the corner 3. Because, you know, J. J. Redick is a threat like that, you absolutely have to help.

The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports GuyAnyways, great win for Orlando, they will deserve the rest they get before the Conference Finals (forget all this rust crap, this team is ready to play). All in all, the whole series can be summed up in that one Horford/Howard play. Is there any hope for these Hawks? You make the call.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Why the Suns will beat the Lakers

First of all, I am very unsure about this prediction. I don't know who the Suns will have in terms of interior defense if Lopez doesn't play, and I don't know how he will do if he is back. By I do know this: the Suns can be an offensive nightmare for any team that plays them, and I think in beating San Antonio, they beat a team that plays very similar to L.A. So I'm going to be brash and bold, and say that the Suns are going to win this matchup, and advance to the Finals (and wouldn't you love to see Nash, a guy that's been so close, hold the trophy?).

First, let's look at matchups. On defense, Nash will guard Fish (advantage, Suns). I'm assuming Grant Hill will take Kobe (big advantage, Lakers). Richardson marks Artest (even), A'mare takes Gasol (slight advantage, Lakers), and Lopez/Frye take Bynum (I can't really tell until the injury situation sorts itself out. I see Dudley taking Odom, with Dragic taking turns at point, and Amudson providing a big body and fouls underneath. I think the Suns are going to try to take the ball out of Kobe's hands, make him pass it like they played Ginobili, and live with a few easy baskets by the L.A. big men. Obviously Kobe is better than Manu, but I think in terms of what the Lakers try to do offensively, they're similar to the Spurs. Both have a great PF, decent centers, spot-up SF's, ok point guards, and a good wing creator. Both will try a combination of pounding it inside (Duncan/Gasol), or letting wing players create (Ginobili/Parker/Bryant). The Lakers can and will score, but I think this year's Suns team brings a defensive toughness (especially off the bench) that they haven't had before.

Despite their defensive improvement, the Suns' chances lie with their offensive, and I think this is where I can show Phoenix's superiority. Nash vs. Fish/Brown/Farmar? This is not going to be close. Nash is a different beast than Westbrook or Williams, and the Suns have surrounded him with different talent. Williams is so strong, and has become an elite shooter. Westbrook is pretty exciting and can do it all. But I think Nash is better in terms of getting in the paint and finding guys, or creating for himself. He's not as fast or strong, but he's more sudden, more unpredictable. Also, his guys are better at finishing at the rim, and won't get blocked like Boozer/Milsap. Finally, the Lakers switched Kobe onto Russell when the going got tough, and relied on Fish to check the offensively challanged Sefolosha. I don't think they can take that risk with the Suns because Jason Richardson has taken his play to another level in this year's playoffs. You absolutely cannot leave him alone right now. Theoritacally, you can match Kobe onto Nash, Artest onto J-Rich, Odom on Hill, Gasol on Stoudemire, Bynum on Frye/Lopez, but I think that lineup takes the Lakers out of a lot of their offensive flow, lets the Suns run and shoot all over the place (but does take away the paint), and most importantly, decimates the L.A. bench. I don't know if you'll see this lineup in crunch time, but it definitely is not a good option.

In other places, I see Kobe playing great D on Jason, Artest and Hill a wash, and Stoudemire taking it to Gasol. A'mare has been playing with zeal, and I don't see Gasol being able to check him when Duncan failed. At center, the Suns are going to probe how L.A. is going to handle Frye shooting the 3: that was huge for them against Portland when they were outmatched in the paint.

I know L.A. has been playing well, and should finish it's own series soon. I know Kobe has a few extra gears in there, and that the team is a different beast in the playoffs. I know that L.A. took the season series from the Suns, and you cannot discount that (remember Cleveland/Orlando last year). But I think these Suns are playing at a level we have never seen a Phoenix team. They are together (have you heard the B.S. report interview with Jared Dudley?). They are tough. They get rebounds and play defense (the two most telling things about playoff basketball). Nash is in the zone. Amazingly, so is A'mare. They have the better bench. They shoot better. I think they can do it. And if they beat L.A., I love their matchups with Orlando/Cleoveland, too. Maybe we will see Nash hold that trophy this year.

Mo, Mo, Mo

Mo Williams is an All-Star with an asterisk. After being snubbed from the team, twice, he subbed into the lineup in '09 because of injuries and proceeded to do absolutely nothing. At the time, his exclusion was met with derision from Cavs fans who were up in arms about their league leading team receiving only one All-Star placement. So he got in.

Going into the playoffs that year, Williams and Delonte West were considered one of the better starting backcourts in basketball. Among major contenders, Rajon Rondo was considered too young, Jameer Nelson too injured, Derek Fisher too old. Williams and West were the way of the future. Then they played Orlando, and we saw them for what they were: streaky shooters that don't scare defenses, and liabilities in terms of their ability to guard fast players.

This year, Williams is still starting. He still has the ability to hit a series of clutch shots, as shown in the Cavalier's game one victory over the Celtics. But in the two losses, all you have to do to gauge Williams' performance is to look at the player he's been marking (Rondo): 19 assists in one game, and a triple-double in another.

What does this say about Williams? To me, it validates the snubbing that he received before being included on the All-Star bench. It speaks of why Milwaukee let him go, and now has better prospects at point than Williams might ever be. It speaks of why in clutch moments, Williams, the point guard, the floor general, the supposed second option on this team, gives the ball up to LeBron at the point, while Rondo still commands his teams attention and controls the ball.

I still believe that Williams and the Cavs can beat the Celtics in 6. I don't see any sort of consistency out of anything the Celtics have been doing all season. But when they play Orlando, who has a more healthy Nelson, Vince Carter, and Barnes/Redick off the bench? Tough.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Atlanta at Orlando, Game 2, a look at Joe Johnson

This is not meant to be demeaning or demoralizing. While he will never read this post, I actually hope it serves to invigorate, to stir to anger, and then focus. But the truth is clear, and it must be known.

You absolutely can not win an NBA championship with Joe Johnson as your best player. I am hedging on whether you can win with him as your second-best. Here is why.

Joe got his start in Phoenix with the go-go Suns, a fun team that shared the ball and was offensive dynamite. He had the good fortune to play with Steve Nash for a few years, and like many other players (Quentin Richardson, Boris Diaw, Shawn Marion), cashed in on their collective success. They even had playoff success, enduring a series of bad calls, and terrible injuries (broken face, anyone?), and heartbreaking losses in the postseason.

At the end of it, all of them cashed in: Quentin to New York, Diaw back to Phoenix and now on to Charlotte, Marion off to Miami, and Joe ending up in Atlanta. Their success was a by-product of their team's success, and their team's success was a by-product of Nash. But what these players received crisp passes from their point guard, none received the real education that playing with a superstar could provide.

Steve Nash is an odd fellow to be playing in the NBA. His story has been told over and again, how a small-college, no athleticism white boy from Canada could become the best player in the NBA, twice. He is a nice guy, a guy that makes funny commercials, a guy that heads basketballs to teammates in the dunk contest ( He is a fun-loving, free-wheeling playmaker that could just as soon dish 20 dimes as score 20 points.

But over the years, Nash has changed. Bill Simmons writes about it in The Book of Basketball.
Somewhere down the line, Nash went from nice to cold. You can see it in the playoffs, with the way he goes after balls, the way he attacks the rim, he way he talks to the refs, the way he talks to his team. The years of failure have worn on him and a competitive fire has slowly burned into a blaze inside his soul. He has discovered survivability. He is a survivor. He has discovered what it takes to win, that cruel, killer instinct you have to develop for the game, that makes his playoff play a spectre to behold. In short, he matches up to the Jordans, the Birds, the Duncans, the O'neals as a great playoff competitor.

What does this have to do with Quentin, Boris, Shawn, and Joe? All four filled their stat sheets with the fruits of Nash's genius, but none filled their brains with what it takes to win. All four seemed to only see good Nash, the fun Nash, but not the nasty opponent who will scratch and claw and do what it takes to win. After they left, three have digressed: Quentin and Boris are nothing more than bench players on a contender, Shawn could potentially start as a defensive stopper and little else. Joe is good, but Joe was always supposed to be good. Perhaps that's why his tale is the saddest of all.

In his fifth year with the Atlanta Hawks, Joe still puts up gaudy stats: 21.3 points on 18.2 shots, 4.6 rebounds, 4.9 assists, a steal, and only 1.9 turns while shooting 46/32/87. He gets his points, gets his teammates involved, is what you would see from a stats perspective and from a number-of-possessions dominated perspective as a team leader. But he is no leader, or at least, no leader like Nash.

I first saw it in the Milwaukee series. Joe had a tendency to disappear as the game wore on. There was a fantastic rally in game 4 that ultimately came short, but you look at his other games, and you see a remarkable absence in the 4th quarter, the quarter when leaders, competitors take over. It seems like in the wins, all the buzz was about other players, Jamaal Crawford in particular. Crawford and Joe play similar positions. Both need the ball in their hands. And for some reason, Crawford is the headline.

I know chemistry is important. But so is leadership. So is having a superstar. And that is what Joe is not. If he were a superstar, he would get sick of all this Crawford crap and DEMAND THE BALL. In the last two minutes of the game, he would start every possession. The Hawks could call timeout with a few minutes left in a close game, and he would say: "I got this: everyone get on my back, space the floor, give me one good pick and get ready to either rebound or shoot the open 3." Who cares if they catch on? The great thing about superstars is knowing what they will do and not being able to stop it. LeBron has it. Duncan has it. Rip Hamilton had it. What do you think Byron Russell was thinking on that last play in '98? While Jordan was still dribbling, he was thinking: "oh crap, we just lost the game."

Last night's Hawks/Magic game is the perfect example. I'm going to compare Joe with his Orlando counterpart, Vince Carter, another supremely gifted player who does not always have his head in the game. In the first half, Joe played well as Vince went 1-4 from the field. In the third quarter, Vince heats up, and then totally destroys Joe in the fourth. But perhaps more important than shots made/missed are the way they get the shots. In the first half, Joe had two shots at the rim, one that missed, and shot four more times within the free-throw line on both sides. Vince had his own point-blank miss, and scored on a soft shot from the block. In the third, Joe is nothing but top of the key, long twos, while Vince is at the rim, inside the elbow, and hitting from range. In the fourth, Joe makes a free-throw line shot, misses a contested shot in the lane, and misses two 3's, while Vince scores at the rim, from the right block, and from distance.

By the end of the game, Vince was huge and Joe had performed another textbook disappearance, ending up as the 3rd scorer on his team. Second for the Hawks? Jamaal Crawford.

All this being said, I love Joe. I think he's a great player. You can never leave him alone on offense, and he finds ways to get his teammates involved, knowing that they are all good finishers. But he has shown through a decade of NBA experience that he is the prototypical second banana. He needs a superstar around him, a Nash with that cuthroat determination to win. Thing is, looking at a team like Orlando, I don't know how good they would be with Joe instead of Vince. I mean, Dwight is their best player, but where do the chips fall from there? Can you win with Joe as your second-best? Especially if he is getting paid max money? I don't know. I hope for Joe, that you can. But I really don't know.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Jazz and Lakers

Perfect post. Nothing more needs to be said. Except my firm belief that Jerry Sloan is a very good 2nd-place coach. That's his ceiling. He always gets his guys' respect and attention, knows the X's and O's of basketball, gets his players to play smart. He does all those things right. But as far as the ability to build a playoff contender? I don't see it. The Jazz have never had the defensive toughness in the paint or pure scorer that you need to build a championship team. And I think it is because of Sloan's philosophy.

First, paint defense. They Jazz went to the Finals twice in the 90's when the second-best team in the West was a Seattle team that had Ray one else. It's easy to be big in the paint when the Sonics had no post presence. In The Book of Basketball, Bill Simmons writes that if Allen and Miller switched teams in the 90's, their career arcs could have been totally different (with Allen perhaps beating Jordan to get to the Finals...oh wait, Jordain is a winning maniac). The point is, had the Jazz played in the East, it is questionable with their approach if they could have gotten to the Conference Semifinals. They have never had good post defense because they don't have the players or don't teach the players they have. That responsibility has to come from the coach.

Second, pure scoring. First of all, let me make clear two points: Deron is a great scorer and Carlos is a great scorer. But I don't believe that they are scorers you need in the modern NBA. I think that you can win with these two as your top 2 players. But I think you need another good shooter at the wing position, probably at 2 since you have Andrei at 3. Case-in-point: the 1989 Detroit Pistons, with Isaiah as their best player. Their top scorer was Adrien Dantley, and their No. 3 scorer was Joe Dumars. Neither really shot particularly well, but I believe that to be a by-product of the early days of the 3-point line. Case-in-point No. 2: the 2005 Detroit Pistons, with instant offense from Rip Hamilton. Chauncey was the best player, but Rip was their sure-fire, we need these two points guy. Which brings me back to the Jazz, who have usually had a PG as their best player, from Stockton to Williams. I think you can win with those guys, but you have to have a good wing scorer to go with them (I know Hornacek was a great scorer, but I think you need both parts, post and scoring). How does this have to do with Sloan's philosophy? I don't think he likes good scorers. Sloan is a get-the-best-shot type of coach. He revels in open looks and layups, and eschews difficult shots. But with good to great scorers, you have to live with difficult shots. At some points, it is a volume thing: Rip Hamilton is never going to be good with 15 touches per game. But I strongly believe you need a guy that can create for himself or get open at any point on the floor, takes some difficult shots, and makes them.

I keep going back to the Pistons of 2005. They are so similar to the Jazz in my eyes. Prince/Kirilenko, Billups/Williams, 'Sheed/Boozer, McDyess/Millsap. I think the Jazz match up well, except they have no answer for Ben Wallace and Rip Hamilton, post defense and wing scoring.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Eastern Conference Update, Why the Magic May Beat the Cavs

First of all, I'm going to stand by my earlier prediction that the Cavs will beat the Celtics. I know that the last game wasn't pretty, but I believe that a lot of things had to come together for the Celtics to win, and even though it happened, I don't believe it can happen 4 times in 7 games. I just don't see that type of consistency out of the current Celtics group.

But for one night, the Celtics showed you where the Cavs are vulnerable. In a post yesterday, I discussed the biggest difference between this year's Cav's team and last years, that difference being the bench. I still believe that the Cleveland bench is deeper than most teams and allows them to play more styles than most teams. I think it is something else that bothers these Cavs, that makes the Magic and the Lakers still the teams to beat in this year's payoffs.


In the playoffs, only every so often do you get a dominant team like the '00 Lakers. Often we talk about players or teams finding a way to win in the playoffs. Until you hold the Larry O'Brien trophy, each game, each series, is about grinding it out, surviving to fight another day. A perfect example would be most of the Spurs Championship teams. You look at the way they play, their toughness, their intensity in big moments. Even in their memorable playoff failures, they are a tough out. Remember Fisher's .04? Remember Dirk drawing the foul? The Spurs would never let him get a clean look at the basket. You knew the foul was coming (on the other hand, it was sheer idiocy to have Manu foul Dirk: Dirk has shown you he can be tough, and Manu is the exact opposite of a defensive enforcer. If I had to pick a list of the most activity-without-real-physicality defenders, I think Manu and 'Sheed would vie for the top spot).

The point is, the Spurs have Survivability. I think ultimately, Survivability is dependent on two things: your best player (for the Spurs, Duncan), and your coach. First, on the best player. If your best player does not have survivability, you will not win championships regardless of how good your team is. A modern example is Joe Johnson. He gets his points and is a great player, but as far as finding a way to win, well, these Hawks have turned to Jamaal Crawford for that. And that's why the Hawks will never win the championship with Joe as their best player (note: I did not say Joe couldn't play on a championship team, he just cannot be the alpha-dog). Duncan has survivability. Nash has survivability. I believe the Celtics have survivability, even if only they believe it. Kobe has survivability, and LeBron has survivability.

Second, survivability comes from coaching. Sure Duncan has always had playoff heroics for the Spurs. He, unlike some power forwards in the modern era, has a knack for utilizing all aspects of his talent in big games. But then you look at the guys the Spurs have put around him: Kerr, Horry, Bowen, Parker, Ginobili. These are survivors. Personally, I think that having these role-players play the way they do is an exact reflection on coaching philosophy. Pop has found guys that survive, or made them into guys that survive. Remember Stephen Jackson? Pop made him into a survivor. Then he cashed in, got in a brawl, and now Larry is making him into a pseudo-survivor. Basically, the Spurs, sans Duncan, don't panic. They find different people to step up. They do their jobs. They get clutch boards and make clutch threes.

An example of non-survivability in these playoffs would be the OKC Thunder. They had the pieces. They had the momentum. They had a couple on-the-brink All-Star's. They did not have survivability. When they needed Westbrook to make clutch shots or Durant to get open at the end of games, it happened, but only some of the time (I remember Westbrook's open 7-foot miss as well as his gutsy offensive rebound and-one. You have to take one with the other). But they are young, and well coached. Let's see if Brooks can coach them survivability.

A team that used its survivability this year is the Orlando Magic. I know, they swept Charlotte, and Charlotte had no business being in the playoffs anyways. Well Milwaukee had no business being in the playoffs and we know what happened there. This is why the Magic exhibited survivability: Their best player played like crap. Their second-best player has (for the most part) played like crap. And they swept the Bobcats. Their still-not-fully-100% point guard eviscerated his opponent, they had guys come up huge of the bench (French guys, even). And they swept the NBA's best defensive team, a cohesive, well-coached team. They have survivability. I cannot believe that Howard will continue to foul out of games, or that Vince will continue to mail performances in (ok, I can believe that second part). When those guys are on, it's over. Thing is, even when they're not, you might not be able to beat them.

Which brings me back to the Cavs. They've gotten to the point where LeBron is completely un-defensible. You cannot just sit back and watch him shoot jumpers because he will A) drive by you anyways or B) knock the shots down. You cannot bank on him having a bad game. Even in the loss last night, he was individually huge. But then you start looking at the rest of the team. Mo Williams is their second-best player, and after a game where he was on fire and brought the Cavs back from a deficit, he was obliterated by Rondo. Shaq is not their third-best player, but he is a significant piece; the Cavs need him to be a defensive presence, but right now, he is a pick-and-roll liability. Rondo can dribble to any spot on the floor right now. Last night's result is a by-product of a coaching philosophy that is the antithesis of survivability (though in Mike Brown's defense, he did blast his team for lack of urgency; let's see if it changes anything).

Ultimately, I still have the Cavs over the Celtics in 6. The home-court the Celtics used to enjoy has lost a lot of magic this year, and the basketball gods will punish them for being so nonchalant about it in the regular season (this is so true, basketball is so karmic). But the Cavs have not shown that they can survive bad games, and that does not bode well for them. Let's see if they can start taking charge of their own destiny and start surviving.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Why the Cavs Will Beat the Celtics

It has nothing to do with LeBron. Ok, that was a lie, it has everything to do with LeBron. But this year, in the Cav's quest to win it all, he has more help than ever.

Shaq. Antawn. Those were the two big names, the former All-Stars that Danny Ferry added to the roster in his win-at-all-costs strategy. And it has worked. Shaq has provided a much needed post presence (an up-and-under layup and an offensive rebound layup in the final 2 minutes were priceless), Jamison fought Garnett stoicly, set good screens, and got boards. But it was the lesser-known players that have put this Cavs group over the top.

Anthony Parker, J. J. Hickson, and Jamario Moon will likely combine for 0 All-Star appearances among the three of them. But they have meant much to this current Cavs team. When Rondo was raging freely across the paint on Saturday, in came Parker to body him and keep him uncomfortable. While Garnett was scoring on Jamison and Shaq was in foul trouble, Hickson scored 3 times from within 10 feet. Moon didn't do much in the last game, but has been sizzling from downtown this postseason and simply finds ways to demand playing time.

What difference have these three made? Just look at the lineups. Last year in the ECSF against the Magic, the Cavs bench really let them down. Outside of Varejao, no one coming off the pine could provide any consistency, defensively or offensively. Now they have Delonte West (starter last year) off the bench to provide passing and scoring. Hickson is there, and so is Moon. Ilgauskas can't get in the game, the Cavs are so deep, and who know's where Danie Gibson has gone.

This is the kind of depth that few NBA teams have exhibited. 2 starters last year come off the bench. Boston can't say that; in fact, outside of Glen Davis, I don't trust anyone on their bench. Orlando has Gortat, Pietrus, Reddick, and Jason Williams, which I admit is a good group, but West will destroy Reddick/Williams, Moon is slightly worse at Pietrus, and Zydrunus/Marcin is a draw to me. The Hawks have Zaza and Jamaal (who happens to play very good, but they need that to make up for Marvin William's non-existence). The Lakers have Odom. Who knows what the Jazz have. The Suns will terrify you with Frye, Barbosa, and Dudley, while the Spurs have Parker and Blair. I mean, a lot of teams have a few guys, but the Cavs have the unique ability to go deeper. It's not just about having the talent; Mike Brown has done the inexplicably brilliant thing in developing his bench throughout the season, getting guys involved so that in the playoffs, the Cavs can afford to go more than 7 deep. And this has nothing to do with LeBron, other than the fact that without him, this team is competing with New Jersey.

Dissecting the Lakers win over the Jazz, WCSF 2010

For the most part, the Jazz played a great game. Deron Williams was a beast, scoring 24 on 15 shots, 8 dimes, 1 TO, a steal and a block. Boozer and Millsap played larger than life by combining for 8 offensive caroms. Matthews and Miles didn't shoot well, but contributed at the line (Miles 7-8) and in other ways (defense, rebounds, assists, steals). But there was one keys to this game that put it out of reach. Which is why I think that barring a big setback for L.A., this series is already written.

1: Paint scoring. I watched in the first quarter as L.A. had open look after open look from close range. Jerry Sloan is in a pickle here because his best defender (Kirilenko) and best help defender (Kirilenko) is out with an injury. I know that Okur is out, but he is not going to contest better than Fesenko. Sloan needs his bigs to bang with Bynum, but when they are in, they don't have the lateral quickness to cut of drives or the defensive instincts to get in passing lanes. For all the things that Sloan has done for this franchise, he has never been great at developing defensive centers, a must in this league.

You absolutely have to have a guy that will not only play his man, but shut down the lane. Boozer is too often occupied with Gasol, and is really better one-on-one than in team defense. Here is a list of defensive bigs from the last few Finals winners: Gasol/Bynum, Perkins, Duncan, Shaq, Ben Wallace, Rodman, Olajuwon. All those guys are in the all-defense discussion. None of the Jazz bigs are. You may say that Perkins may be a weak link, but in the playoffs in 09, he averaged 11+ boards and 2+ blocks in 36 minutes as a starter. In Mehmo's best playoff year ('07-'08), he did average almost 12 boards, but only .7 blocks and scored 15 points per game on 13 shots, shooting 42%. Not exactly what we're looking for in a 5.

The fourth quarter of Sunday's game just highlights my point. Sure, Kobe had his heroics, but when playing the Lakers, you have to live with some of those. A better measure of performance is the shot chart. L.A. took 14 shots to Utah's 10, and converted opportunities at the rim. In the last two minutes, L.A. had 2 layups, 2 blocks, and one offensive rebound. The Jazz had a dunk and an offensive board of their own, but ultimately, their limitations in the paint held them back.

From years of watching the Jazz, this seems like a microcosm of an ongoing problem. The Jazz have never been strong in the paint. I think the '05 Pistons are a perfect model for the Jazz: best player a PG (with Deron better than Chauncey), reliable scoring and one-on-one defense at PF (again, Boozer better than Rasheed), athletic swingmen (AK-47 when healthy, Miles and Matthews developing). But the game changer is the defensive presence of Ben Wallace versus whatever soft tissue the Jazz have inside.