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2012 NBA Playoff Preview: Eastern Conference Semis: Indiana Pacers Vs. Miami Heat

You’re getting no objectivity in this preview, if such a thing even exists. Your correspondent is regionally biased towards the small-town, hardhat, no-stars, blue collar, made by local workers for local people team in this second-round series, between the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat, and anyways, it’s not like you know anything about the East’s 3-seed. Indiana was on national TV once in this shortened 2012 season. The Heat, I figure you’ve seen them.

Expect some stock farmland footage:

If the Pacers play well, this series has the potential to be one of those talked about by NBA junkies for years: This could be the series that vaults Miami’s SuperTeam into the first of a gazillion championships, this could very possibly maybe be the series that sets up Indiana for another run as the Spoiler Sans Stars that maybe will break through someday soon, like they were for so much of the Nineties and early Aughts.

Effective bigs, big wings, a bunch of shooters, youth, experience–that’s what the Pacers got going for them this year, and if they don’t fall apart (which I don’t expect), we’re getting a classic.

Some notes on what makes the Pacers the best bet in the East to beat the Heat:

No Man An Island

No one who’ll be playing significant minutes for Indiana can be left alone. No, Roy Hibbert, despite all of his improvements, cannot yet hit threes, but he’s not going out into the Promised Land. LeBron is at his defensive beastly best when he gets to play free safety, and though Danny Granger isn’t nearly as good a pure scorer as Carmelo, Batman can’t be left alone. Miami was really bad at 3-point percentage defense for an elite team–the Pacers aren’t reliant on the three, but they can hit them, especially when they’re in rhythm and open, which brings me to point two…

David West Is A Swinger

If you’re at work, just read Zach Lowe on this series and come back to me in five, but if you’re pressed for time I’ll sum it up: David West has been really, really effective on offense late in this season, and getting the ball in his hands in high pick-and-roll situations has been really, really important to the Pacers scoring buckets. Indiana is 16-4, including the Magic series, since April began, and a lot of that has been George Hill dumping the ball to West, who then makes a decision. He was slinging crosscourt passes during the Orlando series and Indiana was rotating the ball around quite well, excepting that horrid Game One collapse.  As Lowe points out, lots of side-to-side action involving a bunch of shooters is the Heat-beating blueprint-reference Dallas Mavericks, 2011.

Whip Out The Measuring Stick

It’ll doubtless be pointed out ad infinitum over the next week or so, but the Pacers are a pretty big squad. Roy Hibbert is very tall, and pretty good at basketball. He wasn’t so effective on offense against the best Big Baby we’ve ever seen, but if Indiana is following their recent pattern, that’s not so important. If Hibbert can protect the rim and rebound without fouling-Frank Vogel has already begun inveighing against the refereeing-and drop in just a few awkward hooks over Joel Anthony, the Pacers will keep the Heat from running them off the floor, which brings me to even more cribbing from other peoples…

Destroying The Big-Small Dichotomy

The Pacers are big, and LeBron is a freight train, and so Indiana should slow the game down. You’ll hear this from someone, probably on the ESPN side of the broadcast divide. And truly, it’s not a good idea to let LeBron and D-Wade get loose in transition. The Pacers can run too, though, and they showed a desire to push the ball in the Orlando series after Game One got all mucked up. One Indiana blogger called this the Power of And-power through the post, and points from running. Kareem and Magic, Bird and Parrish and McHale–those teams could do everything. Jordan and Pippen ran the floor, and then Rodman and whatever center du jour slaughtered you on the boards. Without a superstar, until Paul George gets some more seasons in, Indiana has to play every way they can to win a series like this one.

An Independent Variable Of Lesser Discussion

Darren Collison played pretty OK in the Orlando series (23/1 assist-turnover ratio), and Leandro Barbosa had his moments, too. Everyone knows Paul George is the X-Factor; Collison and Barbosa could be the Y. It’s a bad defensive backcourt, but they brought a lot of energy against the Magic, and Miami’s defense against guards-anchored by Derek Fisher-wannabe Mario Chalmers-isn’t so hot either.  If those two guards coming off the bench along with the sometimes effective and always irritating Tyler Hansbrough and Lou Amundson can be effective at all, at least holding serve for a few minutes, that might be enough to tip the series to the Pacers. The Heat were going eight-deep against the Knicks, and that includes 20 minutes a game for Anthony and Udonis Haslem.

I’m going Heat in 7, because I don’t think the Pacers are quite ready. Barkley’s hedging his bets and saying that Indiana can win in 6 or Miami in 7. Chuck really likes this series by the way; I could’ve just said that and been done. It’s gonna be a doozy.

Photo Credit: Michael Hickey / US Presswire.

2012 NBA Playoffs: Your Brain, During Timeouts

There’s one terrible thing about obsessive consumption of playoff basketball, and that is the commercials. The games are live, and you must watch them as such to be an objectively good fan(atic), and so those commercials keep on coming; the ad buys are already made and whatever awful, no-good, obnoxious (and therefore, in the twisted world of Commerce, good) idea some executive had months ago beats itself into your brain with alacrity. With so many games coming over so many weeks, there will be new ads popping up from time to time, but the worst offenders are already here to stay.

In the Mayday spirit, let’s register our displeasure with late capitalism as expressed through the spectacle that is TNT with that most subversive of activities, a Power (To Drive You Insane) Rankings.

Merely Dull

We already discussed Jimmy Johnson’s private parts, but the Pompadour Cowboy doesn’t appear to be in heavy rotation this May, unlike the new up-and-comer in the credit score game: Credit Karma. I suppose that sites like this make money off traffic or something, or from the poor saps who need higher-test credit reports for which they must pay (who knows-I only take payment in maple syrup pegged currencies); however it works, they badly want you to know they exist. Credit Karma doesn’t have a band of scruffy 20somethings screaming a ditty at me from a pirate ship yet, so they (so far) get a pass as being only annoying through stick-to-itiveness.

Time To Drink

It’s true: Our macrobrewers are the cultural avant-garde. Corona deduced far before the rest of us that people liked beaches, and so they continue to bathe us in the divine knowledge that, with Corona and a lime, anywhere you go will be as a beach, but now, they figure, you don’t even have go more than a mile away to get un-ordinary these days, such is the transformative power of their Mexican brew.

Eat Work Gym Shower CORONA LIGHT.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=viXhp0v1gGY

And Heineken and Bacardi continue spreading the gospel that when we consume alcohol in a well-branded way, we become attractive as Don Draper, except with less work and emotional ambiguity and more women and dancing in an amalgam of Twenties Weimar Germany and Fifties Havana. Stale pale lager and $12 rum is a mystical cocktail, too subtle for the unattractive whiskey and Bud drinkers that live somewhere far away from your 400 square foot whitewalled coastal city apartment.

Yet the runaway winner for innovation in alcohol consumption this spring is Miller Lite. The world was asking what they’d do to follow up on the groundbreaking VORTEX system-because you couldn’t get that beer out of the bottle before-and SABMillerCoors has delivered, with the Punch Top Can.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-dAZ-qhwTw

There were the Dark Ages, when only stadium vendors and fat frat boys who had cracked the 5,000 Gallon Mark knew how to stab a disposable aluminum can for a quick pour, and then 2012 came, and we were all freed from tasting Miller Lite.

Run Your Car Off A Ledge

By now we all know Flo the insurance lady, who is aiming for that demographic that finds the dotty aunt on British sitcoms sexy and/or hilarious, and that lizard, but now Geico’s stepped it up just in time for a sea change in human consciousness. Warren Buffett spent most of 2010 in Australia, exhorting Owsley Stanley to cross him some diamond with pearl, and the result is a Hawaiian Punch-looking likker that blows Kesey’s Orange Sunshine out of the cosmic waters.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2tXkR8Usp8

wooWOOHOOhoodeyhOOOOOOO

36 hours later, you’ve insured your home, car, motorcycle, all the vinyl and East Indian spices in your niece’s apartment, every Dairy Queen in Iowa, and a goat painted Day-Glo orange, which won’t stop following you across this endless mini-golf green, which would be a fine place to play if the Sphinx there would just spit out your ball.

A Comment On Network Self-Promotion

The nice thing about TNT/TBS having reliably terrible original programming is that if you do have a friend who adores one of their shows (for we all have our guilty pleasures), after watching the NBA/MLB playoffs you’ll know every joke/plot-point the series has on offer, and then will be able to humor your friend with a knowing chuckle/nod when s/he brings up that show in conversation. This also applies to the new Adam Sandler/Andy Samburglar movie that’s getting pushed by Shaq & Chuck.

Weep And Gnash, For Wasted Time

AT&T’s “OMG I KNEW THAT BEFORE YOU” series of commercials informing us just how not crappier than Verizon Mama Bell’s heir-in-name-only wireless service is need little further explication as a piece of Instant Internet Culture criticism. Please don’t rush me in my own rethinking of the possible AT&T, please; it’s a daily process that doesn’t need the added information that Bob woke up late and was then anxious he’d miss the American Airlines presentation, and then he ate some chocolate cake.

Yet the AT&T/Nokia commercial pushing whatever new phone du jour achieves a blatancy in This=Sex marketing that even our preceding booze purveyors can’t match.

Yes, Winnie Cooper lookalike, I have so many friends. Look how strong my thumbs be!

Lock The Gun Cabinet And Throw Away The Key

I hate you so much Dorito Taco, already, and only one series is through Game Three. It’s not only because you don’t come in Cool Ranch. Nor is my fury attributable to the memories  you stir of a time when, perhaps, you could have appealed to my grossest senses-in the darkest hours of the soul’s night-and how  since then my digestive system has grown old in a way that would not allow you safe passage.  Nor did I resent until right now that PepsiCo isn’t just running this far superior commercial:

SPICY.

No, I merely resent your sources, culled from people’s online mutterings, attached to attractive faces, poorly worded, with no disclaimer that the reviewer might be working in an ironic vein, which is always possible among the kiddos who can’t velcro their L.A. Gears without distancing themselves from the action.

http://youtu.be/kf3S66nY95E

There’s my vote, if I had one, for the playoff ad that needs freakin’ so bombed out of its delicious French unicorn existence, hells to the yeah.

2012 NBA Playoffs: Pacers Vs. Magic Gets An Extenzion

Pacers vs. Magic, Game One, was a gut-scrambling watch for this native Hoosier. Well, duh, you say, Indiana lost to an obviously inferior team, at home, and it was really ugly, and it just proves that the Pacers aren’t ready to take the Next Step, and even if they do get by Orlando, a Miami series is going to be just no fun at all.

All very true, I’m saying it too. The Pacers should not have been beaten by a team led by Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson (a middling third banana, at his peak) and the marvellously inefficient Glen Davis, and though the Enlightened part of my mind says there’s lots of basketball left to play, the Reactive part is lighting up with disaster scenarios: Ryan Anderson was awful! What if he gets going, too! and Nelson just obliterated George Hill off the dribble, and Darren Collison was pesky on defense, but only against Chris Duhon, and if Roy Hibbert can’t hit that jump hook over a fat 6-foot-8 guy, what’s he going to do against a real center after the Pacers give him $60 million this offseason, and WHAT THE BLANKETY BLANK DANNY a travel and over-and-back sequence in the last 30 seconds is a GREAT way to establish yourself in the national eye as a humble semi-star worthy of inclusion in those montage highlights that are the NBA’s canonization process.

Now that that’s out, happy thoughts must prevail. There are very few sweeps of seven-game series, and the Pacers are playing a club that’s done a good deal more in May and June recently. Chris Mullin, in all of his Brooklynite eloquence, said several times of Indiana “that’s a tough step, going from an eight to a three-seed.” The tougher step, though, is winning a series. And then two, or three, or four. Playoff basketball is an entirely different entity than the regular season, and what Indiana has yet to learn (and Memphis, too, after their devastating giveaway Sunday night) is that getting buckets in the last minutes can’t be a chuck-it-up-there affair. You gots to dance the same steps that got you there, and those, especially against this Orlando team, include going through Hibbert and David West. Otherwise, you get the same sort of late offensive incompetence that plagued them in that quite close first round five-game series last year against Chicago, saying “Granger’s our best player, give it to him” while conveniently forgetting that he’s not much of a creator.

Also, Paul George had eight points, and two open 3s rim out in the closing minutes. He turns 22 on Wednesday; then the Pacers will be OK.

In all, this was already the Public Access series coming in, particularly without Dwight playing-Games Two and Three are on NBA TV, if you need proof-and the level of play was appropriately Dr. Steve Brulesque.  Thus, the lead-in commercial on ESPN was apropos: I give you Jimmy Johnson talking about improving his nether regions:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oF7peOWD0ws

2012 NBA Playoff Preview: Indiana Pacers vs. Orlando Magic

A knowledgeable NBA fan could have predicted in the preseason that the Pacers and the Magic might finish as the third and sixth seeds in the Eastern Conference, respectively. What many would have failed to predict is that the Pacers would be the host to the Magic in the first round of the Playoffs. Currently, there may not be two more divergent teams in the entire NBA playoff field. The Indiana Pacers on one hand, have exceeded the expectations of most analysts, and have a vapid fan base more consumed with off-season football melodrama than on the court execellence. While the Orlando Magic have come apart at the seams as a franchise, polarized by a season long soap opera most noted for the roller coaster trade-winds surrounding Dwight Howard.

Indiana finished 42-24 in this compacted 66 game season, with five more wins than all of last season, quietly demonstrating the tremendous growth of a ball club ready to contend. Last season’s grueling five game series against the top seeded Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs laid the foundation for the success the team has experienced this year. They return to the playoff stage a deeper, more efficient, and better defensive team than a year ago, with six players averaging double figures, and a tenth overall ranked scoring defense. In a normal 82 game NBA season, the Pacers were on pace to win 52 games, eight more wins than in any of the previous seven seasons, and their best since a franchise record 61 in 2003-2004.

The current state of the Orlando Magic franchise is not one that coincides with the fun-filled, exciting ethos of the city’s famed Walt Disney Resort. There is no question though, this season has been filled with mickey-mouse antics, from rumored deals to the Lakers, Nets, and Mavericks for soon to be free agent franchise center Dwight Howard, to unscripted tell all interviews by embattled coach Stan Van Gundy about his impending firing. Further sowing the seeds of this season of discontent, Dwight Howard has been sidelined with a season ending back injury that significantly curtails the chances of the Magic to advance past the first round for the first time since the 2006-2007 playoffs. The Magic won the season series against the Pacers 3-1, in part because of their scoring defense (93.4), none of which matters now without the 3-time defending Defensive Player of the Year.

X-FACTORS

INDIANA

The front court size of Indiana will be of greater importance in these playoffs without Dwight Howard on the floor. That is the obvious. Indiana is one of the biggest teams in the league with significant length in the post and on the wings. But, the difference in just how well this oiled machine runs will depend on the point guard play of George Hill, Darren Collison and Leandro Barbosa. Collison and Hill have been the starters, with Hill taking over the starting job in the last month of the season. Indiana has gone 7-2 in that span, facing the Sixers as their only playoff foe, with whom they split two games. Hill figures to log the most minutes going forward, but Collison and Barbosa will play significant roles off the bench, depending on the game tempo and matchup. Another key factor in the Pacers chances of moving to the next round could be the play of Paul George. On good nights, George can do a lot of things well, from rebounding to attacking the rim with ferocity. His shooting percentage has generally been better against the Magic, and without Howard clogging up the middle, put backs and drives to the bucket may come a little bit easier for the second year guard.

ORLANDO

Built around their franchise center, the Magic offense is predicated on spacing for open perimeter shots. Third year forward Ryan Anderson had his best season yet, leading the league with 166 three pointers, and is in strong consideration for the Most Improved Player award. JJ Redick has also stepped up his game in the absence of injured Hedo Turkoglu, scoring 14.5 points a game, while shooting 45% from behind the arc in 22 starts. While the open looks may be more difficult to come by, especially when you factor in the opportunistic defense of the Pacers (15 forced turnovers a game), Orlando is still capable of moving the ball quickly enough to get good shots. Anderson and Redick will both have to do a better job of creating their own shots in this series if they hope to make up for the scoring loss of Howard. Glen “Big Baby” Davis will also play a pivotal role for Orlando, as their lone inside presence without Howard. More than anything else, the question regarding Davis will his ability to handle the increased minutes against a physical and deeper Indiana frontcourt unit.

PREDICTION

Pacers in six. Well, I wondered how many times I would mention Dwight Howard despite the fact that he isn’t playing. Doing so as many times as I have, underscores his value to the Orlando Magic franchise, and ultimately their chances at winning this series. Having led his team in scoring, rebounding, steals and blocks this season, there is no question that his presence, or lack thereof will be the ultimate deciding factor. Indiana will almost certainly attempt to attack Orlando in the paint behind aggressive play from Roy Hibbert, David West and Tyler Hansborough. They should ultimately be successful in doing so, as the Pacers perimeter players will also have less fear of penetration into the middle of the paint for easy layups and dish offs. The leading scorer for the Pacers, Danny Granger has gotten his game together after struggling in the early season. Look for his play to also elevate in this series, especially in clutch situations.

The Orlando Magic should have a glimpse or two of success and past glory against an Indiana team with less playoff experience in this series. Assuming that the aforementioned shooters Anderson and Redick are able to get open consistently, and Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson and Turkoglu are able to use their experience to drive the lane and kick the ball out successfully. Unfortunately a lethal combination of front office turmoil and the loss of their franchise player to injury, the Magic have been given little chance to win this series. Stan Van Gundy will have to rely on every bit of coaching knowledge and game plan trickery that he can muster just to keep this series competitive. That will be a very tall order for such a short turnaround.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/John Raoux

2012 NBA Playoff Preview: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Memphis Grizzlies

Am I excited for this Clippers-Grizzlies series? You betcha. The regular season’s been ugly, and it was best to tune out for a while, but now we have Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and the 30-foot bricks of Mo Williams on one side, set against Zach Randolph’s shambling post game combined with Gasol the Younger’s finesse and whatever praises or curses you want to lay on Rudy Gay. There’s intrigue in Chris Paul taking on the long arms of Mike Conley and Tony Allen, suspense in the question of whether Z-Bo can run the floor. He did this time, but will he get back again?

These are not your father’s Clips nor Grizz, not even the same teams from a couple years ago. Memphis beating the one-seed Spurs last year in six games was the franchise’s first playoff series win ever, after they were swept in three straight first-round series from 2004 through 2006. The Clippers won their second playoff series ever in 2006, and are returning to the postseason for the first time since this year. Both teams are talented, with young stars, with plans in place for the future.

And yet, for all of this anticipation of Good Basketball, I feel anxiety for these two teams, much in the way a poor mother worries about her late-blooming bucktoothed daughter dating a broker at Goldman Sachs, or foreign policy wonks concern themselves with the one crazy uncle of Banana Republic Z’s most recently installed dictator-for-life: The fall back to Cold Hard Reality is only a missed step, a misfired shot away.

Maybe it’s just my basic jersey biases coming through, but it’s strange to see these two teams in the playoffs and expecting success. Becoming a winning team is a precarious process, one that must be renewed every 48 minutes, and these two teams still have two of the worst owners in the league in Michael Heisley (Grizz) and the abject Donald Sterling (Clippers). Bad ownership always trickles down, eventually. For L.A., their hopes for now and at least next season rest on the finest Carolina pulled pork shoulder currently holding together Chris Paul’s knees, and his supporting cast, besides Griffin, can’t be called stellar. In Memphis, the Grizz are creeping up the attendance standings (20th this year), and there’s plenty of precedent for the NBA doing very well in single sport cities, but it takes years of winning and likable guys to keep the building rocking. Becoming a Portland or Utah doesn’t necessarily require repeat Finals wins, but it does take the hope that it could happen this year, or the next. This core has come together nicely, but if say Gay and/or Gasol don’t take the Big Step into elite status, does a front office that sent away Kevin Love (for the admittedly alright O.J. Mayo) and drafted Hasheem Thabeet (which will, in a decade, look worse than Darko if only for the sheer volume of talent that went after No. 2 overall in 2009) have the knowhow to retool on the fly like the best organizations?

Worry, anxiety, distress about the future, though–these are not thoughts for playoff time. Not when there’s as much talent as there is in the NBA right now. The Clippers and Grizzlies are playing what should be a competitive, important playoff series: what more evidence do you need for the State of the Game than that?

A Possibly Important Variable That’s Not So Obvious To You, Common Observer

If this incarnation of the Clippers is to compete for a championship, DeAndre Jordan has got to play more than 27 minutes a night, and he’s got to be a true $10 million big man. Blake Griffin is a pretty terrible on-ball defender, and Jordan isn’t so hot, either, but the latter has to play defense out there–his 7.2 ppg isn’t exactly off self-created offense. Jordan has rebounded well this year on both ends of the court, and blocks shots well from the weakside; none of that matters in the playoffs if you can’t keep the opposing big man from scoring on the block. Memphis will be throwing it down low to Gasol and Randolph a lot.

Prediction

Grizz in 6. Chris Paul’s pretty great at his job, and there’s been times when it has all come easy for the Clips this year, but not enough so that I think they can get by this Memphis team. San Antonio will be thrilled to see them, I’m sure.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill