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NBA Playoffs

NBA Finals Game 1 Thoughts: It’s a Spurs world, and Miami just lives in it

In the aftermath of an epic Game 1 win last night, a few thoughts stemming from the NBA Finals:
 
It’s San Antonio’s world, and Miami’s just living in it
 
92-88 game, with a 2-point differential in the last 29 seconds? Sounds like a close game.
 
But it wasn’t. Not nearly as much as the final score would have you believe.
 
The Spurs completely dictated the pace of the game, and Miami should be so fortunate that they even kept it that close. The most telling numbers:… Read more...

NBA Playoffs: Conference Semifinals Predictions

1) Miami Heat vs. 5) Chicago Bulls
 
How do the champs make this a clean sweep?
 
El Mariachi: LeBron James.
 
Can the beat-up Bulls push this to 5 or 6 games?
 
KOBEsh: There really isn’t any logical reasoning to this prediction. Everyone on the Bulls is either physically injured or seriously ill. Derrick Rose’s brother continues his rope-a-dope with the NBA fan base at large, a sentence which leaves me wondering “Why the fuck are we listening to Derrick Rose’s brother anyway?”
 
But the most salient point in defense of Joakim Noah and company? The Chicago Bulls have all the ingredients to beat the Heat–extremely physical defenders, capable shot-blocking bigs that can avoid foul trouble and enough three-point shooting to disrupt a usually sterling Heat perimeter defense. To push this to a 6 game series, Da Bulls must outrebound the Heat by double-digits every single game; after all, this sometimes offensively challenged Chicago unit simply doesn’t have the playmaker to outwit superior defenders like James, Wade and Mario Chalmers on game-to-game basis. More importantly, Jimmy Butler, Marco Bellinelli and Nate Robinson have to continue to shoot in the upper-30% on threes in order to open up the middle for Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. The Heat’s perimeter defense is completely predicated on their athletes moving inside-out so quickly, not on size alone. In order to counter-act that, those three perimeter players must hit shots.
 
Most importantly, the Bulls know they can beat Miami. Being the team that ended the 27-game streak in a raucous United Center, Chicago has that intangible confidence to combat a Heat squad that quite frankly, most oppositions are afraid of. … Read more...

To play Game 7 or not? Defending Derrick Rose…sort of

(The news for weeks is that Derrick Rose, All-Star and 2011 NBA MVP of the Chicago Bulls, has been playing full throttle after a year-long recovery from a torn ACL. However, his return for the 2012-2013 season has all been squashed; he told Turner Sports this week that his “muscle memory” isn’t getting his body to respond correctly. This all might be a moot point–the Bulls might be competing in their last game of the year tonight, a Game 7 against the Nets in Brooklyn.
 
To say that Chicago is banged up is an understatement. In addition to Rose, the team won’t have Luol Deng tonight, whose flu infection got him hospitalized not just once, but twice this past week. Rose fill-in PG Kirk Hinrich is questionable with a badly bruised calf, while his fill-in Nate Robinson was reportedly throwing up on the sidelines from illness during Game 6. Center Joakim Noah is suffering from a case of plantar fascitiis that has him playing at around 60-70%. His bench counterpart Taj Gibson is the third Bull to fall to the flu, and barely made the call for Game 6.
 
With his team almost paralyzed with injury, many have asked that if Derrick Rose is going all-out in practice, shouldn’t he be playing in his team’s most crucial game of the year?
 
Not having any practical experience in competitive basketball, we went straight to our man El Mariachi, whose teenage years were wrought with knee injuries of every kind. Take it away, bru–should Derrick Rose be playing tonight?)
 
Every injury a basketball player sustains throughout their career forever affects and changes the way they play the game. Basketball, like most other sports, is about millions of different micro-calculations made by your body every nanosecond. Hand eye coordination, vision, strength, balance, and awareness all while under physical and sometimes psychological distress, take their toll on a player’s body and mind from the jump ball to the final buzzer. Add on top of that an aching heel, weak knee, sore shoulder, or even illness, the body will adapt like the amazing creation it is. And whether it’s subconsciously or deliberate, the body of a player will always over compensate even in the smallest sense of the word.
 
In my young basketball career I was diagnosed with osteochondritis dissecans, a degenerative bone condition that took me out of the game for two years. Four surgeries, 10 months on crutches and countless hours of physical therapy later, I was back on the court. But it never was the same.… Read more...

Injuries–not the coach or front office–are what’s killed the 2012-2013 Los Angeles Lakers

(My latest from Silver Screen & Roll)
 
In early January, the Los Angeles Lakers went through an almost unthinkable wave of injuries. Within a two-game span, the team’s entire big man rotation crumbled with a laundry list of various maladies; Dwight Howard with a torn labrum in his right shoulder, Pau Gasol with a brutal concussion after an errant JaVale McGee elbow and reserve Jordan Hill with a torn labrum in his left hip. At the time, it was frankly implausible that this could happen all at once. The Lakers had already been snake bitten all season long, with Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Gasol missing huge chunks of games with various injuries. The thought of one star going down was devastating enough–but a coach’s entire front court getting hurt? All in a 48-hour period? Ridiculous.
 
And then it happened again.
 
During Game 2 in the opening round of the playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs, Mike D’Antoni’s back court rotation cratered with various physical problems. In addition to Kobe Bryant (ruptured left Achilles tendon) and Jodie Meeks (sprained left ankle) being on the shelf in the past week, Steve Blake strained his hamstring, while Steve Nash aggravated an already painful nerve irritation affecting his back, hip and hamstring. Blake has already been ruled out for tonight’s game, while Nash and Meeks are listed as doubtful. It appears that much like that fateful 48 hour period in early January, what remains of an already fragile Lakers guards corps has gone down in 3 short days.
 
The odds of this happening once, let alone twice is of course, astronomical. With the exception of Antawn Jamison (who has been playing through a painful tear in his right wrist) and Earl Clark (who only began to play during the aforementioned January apocalypse on any man 6’11” and above), every single Lakers rotation player has missed time with injury, almost all of them serious health concerns. To punch the point home, let’s go to the tape:
 
Steve Nash: Missed 32 games (Hip/back/hamstring: 8 games, fractured right fibula: 24 games)
 
Steve Blake: Missed 37 games (Torn abdominal muscle: 37 games, strained right hamstring: 0 games, but out for tonight’s game)
 
Pau Gasol: Missed 33 games (Tendinitis both knees: 8 games, concussion: 5 games, right plantar fascia tear: 20 games)
 
Jordan Hill: Missed 53 games (Torn labrum/damaged cartilage left hip: 53 games)
 
Dwight Howard: Missed 6 games (Torn labrum right shoulder: 6 games)
 
Metta World Peace: Missed 6 games (Right torn meniscus: 6 games)
 
Kobe Bryant: Missed 6 games (Left ankle sprain: 2 games, ruptured left Achilles tendon: 4 games)
 
Jodie Meeks: Missed 0 games (Left ankle sprain: 0 games, but expected to miss tonight’s contest)
 
(Read on after the jump)

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NBA Playoffs: Western Conference First Round Predictions

On Friday, we took a look at our Eastern Conference predictions. Even though one game is in the books, better late than never. Let’s get right to the other side of the bracket, the Western Conference:
 
1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 8) Houston Rockets
 
Why OKC takes it in 5 games
 
KOBEsh: It’s a 1-seed versus an 8-seed. That’s reason enough right there. 
 
But going further? You’ve got the league’s best and most efficient offense playing a squad with a middling 16th ranked defense, though they’ve certainly improved over the second half of the season. You’ve got two of the NBA’s deadliest scorers in Westbrook and Durant, and no one on the opposition that is at all suited to slow them down. You’ve got an experienced OKC front line that knows how to work advantages against a bunch of first-time playoff virgins, including Serge Ibaka whose mobility and shooting touch should tear up whatever platoon coach Kevin McHale chooses.
 
This shouldn’t be a contest. No further explanation necessary. … Read more...

MAMBINO’s NBA Finals Preview: Keys to a Miami Victory

In many ways, the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder are mirror images of the same team. Guided by three athletic superstars and one of the youngest coaches in the league, both teams had to survive the old powers in their respective conferences to make it here. The Thunder played the Mavericks, the Spurs, and the Lakers, who collectively represent every single NBA finals representative from the West since 1999. The Heat took out Boston for the second straight year and prevented the C’s from getting to the Finals for the 3rd time in 5 years.  In terms of NBA narrative, however, these teams could not be more different.  The Heat will undoubtedly be the villains in this series and most casual fans will side with the Boy Scouts from OKC.

OKC is the homegrown model, the team created by smart lottery draft picks, cap flexibility, and opportune trades. With their culture and management structure, they are set up to be the Spurs of the next decade if they can find a way to lock up their young core. And with Harden still on his rookie deal, OKC has the added advantage of the kinds of role players that Miami wished it had. My heart says that OKC will win, but my brain is telling me that I’m merely hoping instead. Miami certainly has more experience, as both Wade and LeBron have 2 appearances in the Finals each under their belts. You might say that the Thunder are merely precocious and that the Heat are still the current generation of stars. Either way, this is the time for the Miami Heat to establish a dynasty if they’re ever going to.

Looking at the numbers, you can see that we’re looking at two teams that can both score and defend at a high level. Everyone expects this to be a competitive series. If Miami is going to take home the title, they’re going to need their A-Game. Here are my keys to the series for the Heatles:
Ready for some
Boy Scouts, Bron?
  • Stars Need to Shine: This is truly a generational battle of NBA superstars and the Heat have a lot less margin for error than against Boston. LeBron has been unreal in these playoffs, but Kevin Durant has been outstanding too. In the Finals, LeBron needs to be invincible. LeBron still has dimensions that KD is just starting to develop; however, it’s time for him to show that he’s the best player in the league, not just in the regular season. The Heat cannot afford the erratic performances Wade has been providing, particularly with Sefolosha playing so well right now. The 8th ranked Heat struggled mightily on offense at times against Boston and OKC has a lot of athletic defenders to throw at them. Their stars need to be nothing less than transcendent.
  • Tough, Team Defense: The Heat allowed Boston (the NBA’s 27thmost efficient offense this year) to score punches in droves. Now they face OKC’s 2nd ranked offense and you can’t afford it against a team that can score like that AND get easy points in transition off of your mistakes. Miami’s team thrives on defense and its time to rediscover that identity. In the Western Conference, teams tried to exploit OKC in the frontcourt and play their stars physically. The Heat don’t have the same advantage, but they have incredibly athletic defenders in Wade and LeBron that can disrupt the OKC stars. Spoelstra is a defensive maestro and it’s time for him to earn the title with his schemes, particularly at disrupting the OKC pick and rolls and making their stars into jump shooters. It can be done, but the Heat need a game plan when Harden, Westbrook, and Durant are all on the court.
  • Steal One on the Road: The NBA Finals has an interesting 2-3-2 format, so the Heat will g
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Celtics/Heat Mid-Series Check-In from Two Haters

Similar to yesterday’s mid-series check-in on Spurs/Thunder with our man Thunderstolt, today two pathetic Lakers apologists bring you our updated thoughts on the Eastern Conference Finals match-up between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat. 
The CDP and I have been fascinated in a series that like the Western Conference Finals, has taken a turn for the unexpected. In a two-game swing, Rajon Rondo and the C’s have stormed back into the scrum where they were once not only left for dead, but reanimated as a Zombie and then put back down by Mila Jovovich. 
As a hardcore pathetic Lakers apologist, I’m going through a bevy of emotions on a night to night basis rooting for either the Celtics or Heat. I find that I’m consistently pulling for the team that’s losing to win, hoping that every contest ends in a heart-breaking last second shot and ultimately in Game 7, just hours before the tip, all members of both teams get a debilitating, but eventually curable case of syphilis and they just have to cancel the Eastern Conference Finals. 
My sociopath tendencies aside, let’s press on. Last night, the Thunder were able hand the Spurs their third consecutive loss after their 20 game winning streak, heading back to Oklahoma City with a 3-2 lead in their back pocket. Will the Heat be able to do the same?  

KOBEsh: Most of us on MAMBINO were calling for Miami in five games, or perhaps even the disgraceful sweep. If you had to distill the key to the Celtics’ evening of this series, what would it be? Or could you even do that? 
The CDP: Interesting question. I think we’re all a little surprised that Boston was able to strike back and really hit Miami in the mouth. There’s no doubt that this C’s squad is a veteran squad brimming with pride, but their team has less depth than ever and serious injury problems. Although there is no doubt that Miami is missing Chris Bosh, Ray Allen needs surgery and only came alive in Game 4. I’ll be very interested to see how Miami reacts – will they fold like a house of cards or show the resolve of a champion? 
Boston has made an impressive series of adjustments and their stars have risen their game to accompany the stakes. Here’s what I’ve seen Boston do right to even up the series:
  • Starting Strong: Instead of digging themselves a hole and trying to claw their way out, which would play into Miami’s strengths, Boston has been impressively focused to begin games. Dwayne Wade was totally shut down in the first half of Games 3 and 4, while Boston went back into the locker room with the luxury of a double-digit lead. With Miami relying on Wade and LeBron so much, it takes a lot of effort for them to come back from these kinds of deficits.
  • Find a Way to Score: Miami is still a defensive team at heart and uses their athletic defenders to force turnovers and fuel its transition game.  On the back of a resurgent KG, a stunningly dominant Rondo, and some big games from Paul Pierce, Boston has been able to score points against this Miami defense, putting well over 100/game after only managing to score 79 in Game 1. 
  • Role Players:  There’s no doubt that Miami overpaid Mike Miller/Joel Anthony and Shane Battier has been a bit of disappointment, but Boston played Keyon Dooling/Michael Pietrus/Marquis Daniel nearly 60 minutes in both Games 3 and 4. And won. Think about that! Boston always seems to get these kinds of performances from their role players when it matters. I’ll never forget Leon Powe and PJ Brown burning my Lakers in the NBA Finals a
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Spurs/Thunder Mid-Series Check-Up

With two dramatic victories this weekend by the Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder, both the Eastern and Western Conference Finals series have essentially been reduced to 3 game series. The final four teams all held home-court serve, so it’s down to three games apiece every other day this week to decide who heads towards the championship round. For NBA fans in Miami, Boston, Oklahoma and San Antonio, the next 6 days are going to be sheer agony – none of these cities are going to be sated by a mere conference crown. They’re all title contenders whose goals start and end with an NBA championship. Win or lose, nothing’s been accomplished except for taking years off the lives of these four fan bases.

The one silver lining to BockerKnocker’s Knicks and my Lakers getting bounced weeks ago is that our hearts have been rapidly calcified in the wake of our collective playoff disappointment. No longer feel the palpitations associated with a ball clanging hard off the back iron or careless pass floating to the other team. I happily and calmly watched this weekend’s action with wavering attachment depending on whoever had the lead. The Lakers fan in me wanted the games to end up in a tie, just so that everyone would be miserable. However, the basketball fan in me felt the slightest tickle in my cold, black heart watching Rondo pick apart the Miami defense and Kevin Durant continue his ascendancy to another level of stardom.

However, we need to check-in with people that still have a pulse, feel feelings and of course, care about the game’s outcome past pathetic Lakers apologist biases. Two MAMBINO correspondents, have graciously agreed to help us out and take the temperature of these series with the score tied at 2-2.

First up, ThunderStolt on his Oklahoma City Thunder:

KOBEsh: In the first two games, San Antonio looked like an unstoppable offensive juggernaut, shooting a combined 50% from the field and averaging 110 points a game. They were on a freakin’ 20-game win streak. In so many ways, they looked completely unbelievable – getting open shots whenever they wanted, and completely effortlessly at that. The OKC defense was reduced to rubble, and the only thing that Scott Brooks could do to slow down the Spurs attack was to play the much maligned “Hack-a-Splitter’ (which, to Brooks’ credit worked). In your words, the Spurs just flat-out looked like the better team.

So what’s changed the last two games? In Game 3, it seemed like San Antonio came back to Earth a bit, only scoring 82 points, shooting 39% and not looking like the Harlem Globetrotters. However, in a Game 4 loss, they still racked up 103 points, shot 47% from three and 50% from the field. How are the Thunder winning these games? What would you say is the main component that’s changed? 

Thunderstolt: The key word here is effort. the Thunder are winning games with effort.  In games three and four the Thunder have put together games chalked full of effort to a man.  Scott Brooks said it best: to beat this Spurs team, you cannot have only one effort on a single defensive possession but two, three, and even four times in a 24-second shot clock – you must account for those five guys because when you don’t, you give up a layup or wide open three.  
 
Granted, in game four the Spurs topped 100 points and were efficient from the field. However, the Thunder were hounding them all night long and the quality of the shots the Spurs were taking were far below that of game one and two, when they were getting … Read more...

MAMBINO’s Eastern Conference Finals Preview

The Miami Heat versus the Boston Celtics. As soon as Derrick Rose got hurt five weeks ago, this is the matchup we all saw coming. And it is going to get messy.

Even in missing starting power forward Chris Bosh and no one on the Miami roster peaking right now save for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, essentially every person whose opinion you care about is picking the Heat to win this series. I suppose this more than anything is a testament to the greatness of South Beach’s best two players, who are playing at an otherwordly level right now.

Barring an unforseen injury to the Heat’s two remaining All-Stars, this series will be a romp. In our series preview, we’ll let you know why, but also, what the hell Boston would have to do to squeak out the massive upset. The King, our resident Celtics fan, will try to decode a method to the madness that would be a Boston series win. Here we go:

MIAMI in 5 games

Is this more a question of “how Miami will win this series” or “why Boston is at a serious disadvantage”? I think it’s a bit of both, to be honest.
Without Chris Bosh, the supporting cast on this Miami roster is not only worse than last year’s runnner-ups, but one of the worst in the entire playoffs. Wing players Shane Battier and Mike Miller are shooting 27% and 37% respectively from the field. Udonis Haslem has slipped to just 5 points and 5 rebounds in 18 minutes, down from 6 and 7 in the regular season. Joel Anthony, playing 23 minutes a game has watched his usually strong post defense slip a bit, while only putting in 4 points and 4 boards. Mario Chalmers is the only saving grace of the role players, playing confidently and throwing down a 11/4/3 line. Going forward, I find it hard to believe that these guys will give the Heat much more than this. I’d expect performances equal or slightly better than what they’ve been doing the first two rounds.

I bring all this up to illustrate how unbelievable Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are. Bron’s 29/9/6 nightly stat line, as well as Wade’s 24/4/3, are elevating an weak Miami team from D-League throwaways to potential Finalists. They are the crux to both the Heat defensive scheme and offensive attack, changing the game with their incredible energy and skill on both sides of the floor. Night in and night out, these two guys have to play like the two best players in the league to win ball games. Luckily for Miami, they’ve been just that in victories. Bad games, like Game 3 in Indiana, mean losses. It’s a very, very simple formula.

I cannot possibly overstate the importance towards LeBron and Wade having great games, every game for the Heat to win. Their supporting players are giving them next to nothing and I see no reason for that to change. For as much as everyone gets on both these guys for being such weak characters, they’ve risen to the challenge that the Heat’s roster has presented them with. Every coach knows that they have to stop these guys to win the game. It’s just that no one can do it. Amazing.
Thus, a game Boston Celtics team could actually have a decently easy time of beating up on a limited Heat squad that leans so much on trascendant performances from just two guys. However, Avery Bradley (their best perimeter defender) is out for the rest of the postseason with a shoulder injury and stars Ray Allen and Paul Pierce are playing with only one leg a piece. The C’s have suffered so many personnel losses over the season that even a win over an extremely limited Sixers team took seven games. This isn’t real… Read more...

MAMBINO’s Western Conference Finals Preview

Can Kawahi contain KD?

Charles Barkley has boldly proclaimed that these two teams left are the best two teams in the NBA. It’s hard to disagree.

The San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder will begin the Western Conference Finals on Sunday, with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line. The two teams have gone 16-1 combined so far in the playoffs, with the Spurs on a 18 game winning streak and the Thunder only losing one postseason contest to a squeaker last Friday with the Lakers. No other teams are playing as well as these two squads right now, so the consesus should be, like Chuck says, that whoever wins this matchup is the presumptive NBA champion. Maybe.

We’re of two minds on this at MAMBINO HQ, but we’ve got not only our consensus decision here, but also spicy little alternative for you out there. Check it!


SPURS in 7 games

San Antonio 2.0
The CDP: OKC is the model for rebuilding at the moment, but we should take a long look at the Spurs as well. While it’s hard to call it classical rebuilding when you retain Ginobili, Parker, and Duncan, there’s no doubt the Spurs have reinvented themselves over the last few seasons. After a title in 2007, they made it to the Conference Finals in 2008, but were manhandled by the Lakers. The Spurs had a top 3 defense, but a middling 15th rankeddefense. They filled out the roster with Michael Finley, Bruce Bowen, Ime Udoka, Oberto, Matt Bonner, Brent Barry, Kurt Thomas, and Jacque Vaughn. 2/3 next seasons, the Spurs lost in the first round and it was clear they needed a fresh infusion of talent to remain competitive.
Fast forward to 2012 and Matt Bonner is the only role player holdover. The Spurs have added talent like DeJuan Blair, Kawhi Leonard, and Tiago Splitter through the draft while picking up Boris Diaw, Stephen Jackson, Patrick Mills, and Danny Green through shrewd pickups and trades. The Spurs arenow the 10th best defense, but the top-ranked offense. They haven’t lost yet in the playoffs or at home since April 11. Can you imagine the coverage that this would receive if it were the Heat? The media would even throw Tebow aside for that scoop.
The Spurs may not have had to beat the Mavericks/Lakers like OKC, but I’m not worried about a team with Popovich and Duncan being ready. In many ways, OKC is a mirror image of the Spurs, a top-heavy small market team built on three superstars and the right supporting cast. OKC has the 2nd ranked defense and #11 offense,both right behind the Spurs. They are an extremely talented young group that is growing quickly and capable of overwhelming teams with their athleticism. I just think that the Spurs still have their number this year and are playing too well. Here’s why I’ll take the Spurs in 7:
  1. All-Star Match-ups: With Danny Green, Stephen Jackson, and Kawahi Leonard in tow, the Spurs actually have the kind of long, athletic defenders that could potentially bother KD. Tony Parker is a much bigger defensive challenge than Russell Westbrook has faced thus far and has the foot speed to stay with him. Duncan looks better than he has in years. At his best, Ginobili is one of the league’s only playmakers explosive enough to counter James Harden. The Spurs are one of the only units in the league capable of keeping up with OKC’s Three Musketeers.
  2. Thunder D: The Thunder lack the kind of punishing big man that has been able to hurt the Spurs in the past (think Grizzlies), which creates defensive problems for OKC. As a result, the Spurs don’t have to play as much Tiago Splitter and can play Bonner, Diaw, and Blair – who all help the offense hum. With their
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