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07 April 2005

Spinning Out Webs of Deductions

San Antonio 84 @ Denver 102

Duncan was out, the Spurs shot 32% and Marcus Camby had 8 blocks. That's all I care to say about this particular game. However, I do want to spend some time talking about the potential Spurs vs. Nuggets first round matchup.

First, let's take a quick look at the standings. I am 90% sure the Spurs will end up the two seed. Making up two games on Phoenix is going to be very difficult when you consider the Spurs remaining schedule, which includes 6 (of 8) games on the road. Denver is currently in the 7th spot, 1/2 game (in the win column) behind Houston and 1 game up on Memphis. However, Denver has already locked up the tie-breaker against the Grizzlies, so Memphis would have to make up 2 games on them. Here's Memphis' remaining games:

vs. Miami
vs. Charlotte
@ Dallas
@ Houston
@ Denver
@ San Antonio
vs. San Antonio
vs. Dallas

BRUTAL. They'd be lucky to go 4-4 over that stretch, which means Denver would have to go 2-6. They have remaining home games against Golden State, New Orleans and Portland. That's three wins right there. Therefore, it's a virtual lock that Denver will finish ahead of Memphis.

So the question is, will Denver catch Houston? Let's look at their schedules:

Denver / Houston
@ MINN / @ LAL
SEA / @ PHX
GS / @ SEA
NO / MEM
MEM / DEN
@ HOU / LAC
@ PHX / SEA
POR

Houston's got the tougher schedule. It may come down to their head to head matchup in Houston. Whoever wins that game will have win the tie-breaker between the two teams. I think Houston has to win that game. Denver has 3 gimmies compared to Houston's 1 (LAC). I give Denver the slight edge, say 60-40, in winning the 6 spot. But, for the sake of discourse, let's pretend Denver stays at number 7.

Their are two questions.

Which team would I rather play?

This is a tough one. It seems like every key Rocket is gimpy. Juwan is gone for the season. McGrady has knee troubles. Ming has a sore calf. Jon Barry has back spasms. Mutumbo has to have arthritis or something. The Nuggets are in much better shape. Punkie has sore ribs, but the Nuggets are very deep at his position, and anyone can go 3-20 in a playoff game. Camby has a myriad of minor injuries, but that's just Marcus Camby being Marcus Camby.

If both teams were healthy, I would much rather play Denver. They don't have anyone close to McGrady and Yao Ming is as good an offensive option as anyone the Nuggets have. Plus Houston plays better defense. However, given Houston's injuries I think it's a toss-up.

So my answer is: it doesn't matter to me.

Am I worried about playing Denver?

Yes. Especially in the first round.

There are always multiple factors that contribute to the totality of how well a team is playing. But there's has to be one factor that is more important than all the others, and for the Spurs it's how Duncan plays on the offensive end. The more aggressive he is the better the Spurs are on that end of the court. And as I've said before, Duncan hates playing against ultra physical players. Denver has two guys willing to push Duncan around if allowed: Punkie and Najera. When playing for Dallas Eduardo gave Duncan fits in the playoffs two years ago. He will drape himself all over Timmeh and push him well of the block. He'll overplay the entry pass. He'll foul the shit out of Duncan if he gets near the bucket.

When faced with this type of play, Tim usually is a shrinking violet. He's not willing to fight for post position. How many times have you seen him with his arms up trying to work his way around a post defender? He likely does this to avoid fouls, and he knows he can hit the eighteen foot jumper. However, the Spurs offense works much better when he's on the block. The court can be spaced better and Duncan is a much better passer from that spot (because he often waits for the double team and isn't forced to pass off the dribble).

Duncan is also not willing to force the issue. Imagine if Najera tried to play Malone the way he plays Tim. Malone would get the ball and go straight to the bucket, likely right through Najera's chest. He'd be jumping into Najera with elbows cocked and Eduardo wouldn't last five minutes. For better or worse, that's just not the way Tim usually handles the situation. The quick, decisive and forcful post move is not his forte. And that's precisely what you need to do against the Najeras, the Madsens and the Roses. Make it clear from the very beginning that you will not be pushed around and you will not let the scrubs of the NBA keep you from getting the ball where you want it. Force the issue.

Putting Najera and Punkie on Duncan allows Camby to roam the paint and be more of a defensive force. Shot blockers are always better coming off the ball.

It all comes down to Duncan. If he's focused on exerting his will on the offensive end of the court, the Spurs take Denver out in 5 games, max. But I don't think that's going to happen. Not when I take into account how timid Tim was in the playoffs last year (against Malone, who plays the exact type of defense Najera will play). Not when I factor in Tim's gimpy ankle.

Don't get me wrong. The Nuggets aren't beating the Spurs in a seven game series if Duncan plays. They don't have anyone that can guard Ginobili and the only player that has any hope against Parker is Boykins. They don't have that one player that scares you on the offensive end. Carmelo Anthony has absolutely no idea what to do against Bowen and is shooting 30% from the field against the Spurs this year. They also aren't nearly as good as their recent record indicates. Take a look at their recent wins for chrissakes:

BOS
@ MEM
@ NO
ATL
IND
@ LAC
POR
@ SA (sans Duncan)
CHA
LAC
MIL
WAS
LAL
SAC
@ UTA
SA (sans Duncan)
@ POR
@ MEM
@ NO

How many of those are quality wins? I'll give them the two @ MEM and home against SAC and maybe WAS. That's it folks. Wow, I hadn't looked at their schedule. That definitely puts their recent "hot streak" in perspective.

So, in conclusion, I am a little worried that DEN might push the Spurs to six or seven games if Duncan doesn't bring the pain. I just said "bring the pain." I slay me.

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All content copyright Matthew Powell 2005.