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29 June 2005

Video Clip of Ian

Thanks to Kori Ellis of spurstalk.com (and WOAI) for the link.

28 June 2005

Needs to Work On: Overall Skills

Ian Mahinmi

That's the newest Spurs folks. Pronounced "Yawn." He was the only first round draft pick that I had never heard of. Here are the specifics:

-6'-10", 230# 18 year old PF from France

-Former volleyball player who has only played basketball for 4 years

-Strengths (from nbadraft.net): Ian is a real monster in the paint, using his good athleticism and long arms to grab tons of boards ... Reads the ball well off the rim, and even when he doesn't read it, his pure athleticism usually leads to the rebound ... Great length, wingspan and reflexes allow him to grab lots of long rebounds that would bounce right over most other player's heads... Defensively he is a beast ... Incredible reach allows him to alter and/or block shots other players wouldn't even think of contesting ... Has very quick hands, leading to lots of steals and tipped balls ... When Ian does score, many of his baskets come off tip ins and offensive rebounds ... This could account for his high shooting percentage (18-30 at 60% in Zaragoza) ... Very good at establishing position in the paint, reads the play very well when making cuts and calling for the ball ... Gets the ball in good position under the basket drawing lots of fouls ... A solid free throw shooter for a post player (70%) ... In fact, many of the points he scores come from free throws ... Runs the floor very well, and is one of those hustle players coaches always want on their team ... Always goes for the loose ball, blocked shot, or hustle rebound ... Has decent court vision when around the basket ... Foot work is good around the basket, but needs to add some moves to his arsenal ... His potential is considerable.

-Weaknesses (from same): At this point in his basketball career, he is still very raw and what many would call a "project" ... Still very raw offensively .... Has no shot outside of 8-10 feet ... Limited offensive skills, besides rebounding and dunking ... Strength is his biggest question mark right now. He is very good at establishing position down low, but is rarely strong enough to keep it ... Must pout on weight without losing much agility, but he's such a strong athlete, that shouldn't be a problem ... The same goes for rebounding... Must get better at anticipating shots and not try to block everything ...

-R.C. Buford said they would leave him in Europe for a couple of years.

-He was actually at the draft, so evidently he knew he was getting picked.

-My first thought at seeing him: Oh. My. God. Really long arms. Tall and lean. To be honest, I am sort of glad they drafted someone I've never heard of. Makes you think the Spurs found someone no one knew about. He sure looks like he has tremendous upside potential.

That's the only pick the Spurs had. They will certainly bring in some undrafted free agents for summer camp. I hope they take a look at Jawad Williams, the other North Carolina Tar Heel who played a big role in their title. 6'-9" tough guy who can shoot it. Of course there will probably be 15 teams inviting him to camp.

Stop Whatever You're Doing

27 June 2005

2005 NBA Draft Preview

Ah, the NBA draft. A special time for all NBA fans and especially intriguing for Spurs followers. Buford, Pop and company have shown a knack for finding quality players at all points of the draft. Here are the Spur selections from the past 6 years:

2004
Beno Udrih
Viktor Sanikidze (traded this year 2nd round pick for him)
Romain SAAAAAATO!

2003
Leandrinho Barbosa (traded away)

2002
John Salmons (traded away)
Luis Scola (third to last pick of the draft)
Randy Holcomb (traded away)

2001
Tony Parker (last pick of first round)
Bryan Bracey

2000
Chris Carrawell

1999
Leon Smith
Manu Ginobili (second to last pick)

None of those picks were higher than the 20s. They've been remarkably successful. John Hollinger went back through a bunch of drafts to reorder them; who should have been drafted at the top if we knew then what we know now. Here's what he came up with:

1999 - Ginobili 4th behind Brand, Kirilenko and Marion (and ahead of Francis, Miller and Davis)
2001- Parker 4th behind Gasol, Arenas and Randolph
2002- Luis Scola 10th

That's right. The guy (thanks to Doug for the link) hasn't even played a game in the NBA and Hollinger has him above the likes of Dunleavy Jr. and Darius Songaila. If you read that link above you would know that Skip Bayless said the following about Scola: "Luis Scola almost certainly will be a better NBA player than anyone who will be drafted Tuesday night." Uh. Wow.

Of course Skip Bayless may be a little crazy, going on to say that NBA people had doubts about whether Tim Duncan should be the #1 pick. Uh. Really? Does anyone remember this?

The majority of Spurs fans have heard of him. He's a 6'-8" Argentinian PF who's been playing in Europe for quite some time now. From what I've read he has a well-developed offensive game and is an "energy guy." His team got to the Euro League finals and he was a teammate of Manu's on the gold medal winning team (actually led them in scoring in the gold medal game). The Spurs will likely use part of their MLE to bring him over.

The Spurs get so much respect when it comes to the draft that they could probably draft me and still get a B+. I can picture Jay Bilas now:

"Well, he's a little old at 28. He's also a little short at 5'-10". His weight isn't listed, but he looks a little rotund. He couldn't make his high school team but he has a sweet jumper and is a good rebounder for his height. He'll make an impact."

So what do the Spurs need? Let's take a look at the roster.

PG
Tony Parker
Beno Udrih

SG
The Sickness
Brent Barry

SF
Bruce Bowen

PF
Timmeh!
Robert Horry
Luis Scola

C
The Solid Slovenian
Nazr Mohammed

That's 10 guys. They'll probably bring back Devin Brown (the Spurs have his early Bird rights and I doubt they will have trouble resigning him (if they're interested)). Sean Marks and LJ III would likely be cheap. They obviously have a huge need at 3. They are not deep at that position and Bowen is already 34. LJ III is a 3, but the guy hasn't played regular NBA minutes in well over a year. Devin Brown is only 6'-5". The Sanikidze kid they have stashed over in Europe is a 3, but he's only 19 or 20 and a couple of years away.

Yeah, I know, Glenn Robinson. I'm not sure SA can afford him. Will he sign for 2-3 million a year? I doubt it. And even if he would I'm not sure they Spurs want him.

I've seen the Shareef rumors. First off, he's a 4, not a 3. He cannot guard NBA 3s. Second, he's not coming for less than the full MLE. The Spurs need some of that for Scola. He's their #1 priority from what I understand.

Here's who various mock drafts have the Spurs taking with the 28th pick. For the record, the Spurs traded the last pick of the first round (PHX's) to NY in the Malik Rose trade. They traded their 2nd round pick last year to ATL from The Crown Vik (yeah, I already gave him a nickname).

hoopshype.com- Julius Hodge, 6'-7" SG from NCS
nbadraft.net- Ryan Gomes, 6'-8" SF from Providence
insidehoops.com- Ryan Gomes, 6'-7" SF from Providence (the Spurs should totally draft the taller Ryan Gomes)
probasketball.about.com- Ersan Ilyasova, SF, Turkey
fanball.com- Ersan Ilyasova, SF, Turkey
nbawire.com- Ryan Gomes, 6'-8" SF from Providence
cbs.sportsline.com- Ronny Turiaf, PF, Gonzaga or Francisco Garcia, SG, Louisville or Ryan Gomes
hoopsworld.com- Michael Gelabale, SF, Real Madrid
ESPN.com- Charlie Villanueva, PF, UConn (Chad Ford is on crack; he's the only guy who thinks Villanueva will drop this far)

There's a sampling. Feel free to offer opinions on what the Spurs need and who they should draft. Me? I'm praying Hakim Warrick get's caught with a hooker/marijuana/firearm sometime before the draft. Anything that would drop him about 15-20 spots. He'd be perfect.

26 June 2005

Tony Parker Busts a Phat (French) Rhyzime

No words are necessary.

Sacre bleu!

24 June 2005

"I Should Just Let It Go"

The following are +/- for the Spurs-Pistons series. The first number is the +/- while the player was on the court followed by the +/- while the player was off the court. The third number is the combination of the two. If a player has a positive +/- while on the court it means the Spurs outscored Detroit while he was playing. To give you an idea, here's what my numbers would look like if I played for the Spurs. (Detroit outscored the Spurs by 13 total points in the series.)

Matthew Powell, -413, +400, -813

You could infer from that line that I would not have been very valuable to the Spurs.

Here are the numbers for the main 7 Spurs.

Ginobili, +31, -44, +75
Horry, +14, -27, +41
Parker, -6 , -7 , +1
Duncan, -8, -5, +3
Mohammed, -14, +1, -15
Bowen, -14, +1, -15
Barry, -25, 12, -37

So let me get this straight. The Spurs get outscored while Tim Duncan is on the court and he's the most valuable player? Really? How does this make any sense?

This will bug me for the rest of my life. You could infer from that line that I am a loser.

By the way, at the time of this posting Manu is leading the poll 33 to 29.

23 June 2005

By The Skin of Their Teeth

First things first. Much praise and respect to the Detroit Pistons who frankly, from my perspective, deserved the title as much as San Antonio. They're mental and physical toughness were a marvel to witness. Billups is the truth. Rasheed Wallace is pure basketball talent. Rip is beyond relentless. Tayshaun is on the verge. And Ben? Their are only two Spurs I wouldn't trade for him. In fact, you can pretty much have everybody but Timmeh and The Sickness.

This hasn't fully sunk in yet. I will post a recap of game 7 and a review of the season this weekend. I want to make two comments:

1. Thank the Lord Pop finally switched Bowen onto Billups in the middle of the third. Pardon my ego, but Matty and I were 100% right about that.

2. Tim Duncan is an amazing player. The Spurs would have 0 titles and 0 finals appearances without him. He toughed it out through two sprained ankles against a brutal Piston front line. But he was not the most valuable Spur in the playoffs or the finals. Manu Ginobili was the best Spur in 3 of their 4 victories (Horry the other). He, as much if not more than Duncan, was the man down the stretch tonight. He scored 2 less points on 14 less shots.

There was a reason there was a smattering of boos when Timmeh got the award. The fans of SA know.

Hopefully Bill Simmons will address this tomorrow. He's the one journalist I read who speaks freely on matters such as these.

I realize I am probably biased towards Manu. So you tell me:





Who do you believe was the MVP of the 2005 NBA Finals?
Tim Duncan
Manu Ginobili



Free polls from Pollhost.com

21 June 2005

Shit Fuck Bollocks

I cannot believe Billups missed 10 shots. That's what the box score shows. He and Rip seemed to hit everything. Open shots, tough shots, 3s and 2s. DET got off 17 3PA, many of them wide open. A very shocking development, outdone only by the fact they made 8 of their 17 attempts. The Pistons deserve a lot of credit for getting past the memory of game 5 and playing another near flawless game. 47% from the field, 47% from 3 and only 5 turnovers.

Duncan had 21 and 15 on only 14 FGA. He missed 5 more free throws including some in the fourth. SA ran a lot of pick and rolls with him; he didn't see the ball in the post as much as in game 5.

Manu was more assertive tonight but again didn't shoot well. He missed 6 threes, many of them good looks. He did pull down 10 rebounds, more than any single Piston.

Parker was Parker. 15 points on 15 FGA. 5 assists and 4 turnovers. You can pretty much pencil him in for that in game 7.

The Spurs were comically bad in the final 2.5 minutes. Manu had two bad turnovers and one even worse 3P attempt. At one point Parker airballed a wide open 3. Duncan got the rebound in traffic and missed a layup. Got the rebound and missed another layup. Stunning. Just stunning. I'm not sure if I am being sarcastic here. You tell me.

Matty and I had a long talk after the game. We're breaking up. No, seriously, he had a very good point which I shall summarize and extrapolate on below:

Close your eyes. Block out everything but your visions of game 7. Ignore me unzipping your fly. No, seriously, imagine Detroit with the ball. What do you see? Block out Al Michael's verbal fellation of Larry Brown. What's happening on the floor? You probably see Rip running off a bunch of screens. Or you see Rasheed and Chauncey playing pick and roll. Parker cannot fight over the pick so Duncan switches...

That's what Detroit will mainly do. You know it. I know it. Everyone knows it. Billups in killing the Spurs more than any single Piston. Over the last four games (where the Spurs are 0-3 and Horry is 1-0) he's scored 92 points on only 68 FGA. He's getting pretty much any shot he wants.

And the Spurs aren't doing one motherfucking thing about it. It's driving the Mattys crazy folks.

Bowen needs to be on him from the get go and he needs to be occasionally double teamed on the pick and rolls. FORCE DETROIT OUT OF THERE COMFORT ZONE ON OFFENSE. Make someone else beat you. Will Rip have a better game with Parker on him? Probably. But isn't Bowen primarily a one on one defender? And don't most of Rip's points come off screens? How much worse can Parker be in fighting through screens? Also, think about Hamilton's top side; what's the most points he could possibly put on Parker/Ginobili/Barry? Probably about 30 points, but it will take him 25 shots to do it (he has 74 points on 73 FGA his last four games). He doesn't hit many 3s and he doesn't draw a lot of fouls. HE IS NO WHERE NEAR AS DANGEROUS AS CHAUNCEY BILLUPS. Nobody on Detroit is. Billups is their best 3P shooter, their best penetrator, their best free throw shooter and probably their best finisher.

Bruce Bowen is the Spurs silver bullet. You cannot leave him in the chamber.

*****

Speaking of, Bruce slapped Rip's mask off his face well after the whistle was blown. That's pathetic. Absolutely pathetic. Don't give me this bullshit about "Rip shouldn't talk trash because the kids see that" and then go slap somebody in the face when he's had his nose broken 3 times. Chicken shit nancy boy crap. And I'm a nancy boy, so I should know.

*****

Well folks, I'm done. I have nothing more to say. There will be no game 7 seven preview. In fact, don't expect any writing from me until sometime this weekend, no matter the outcome.

Uno Mas

The big NBA news of the day is that there will be no lockout. ESPN is reporting that a new CBA will be announced later today. "I bring you tidings of great joy that will be for all people..." The media will no doubt give credit to Billy Hunter and David Stern, but the lion's share of praise should go to the Spurs and Pistons. Their horrible display of non-competitve basketball on the biggest stage forced the powers that be to hammer out a deal. David Stern probably saw the following in a dream:

-NBA Finals, filled with bad games and lacking any real marketable superstar, end with the lowest ratings in history.
-A tall, semi-athletic white big man from Australia goes number 1 in the draft.
-Cleveland announces that Larry Brown will be the new team president. Lebron James immediately announces he refuses to play under him and will instead take the season off to work on his modeling career.
-NBA owners lock out players. ESPN then dedicates 5 hours a day to talk about how ridiculous the lockout is. Bill Walton calls it "the most shameful event in the history of mankind." Greg Anthony says "negotiating CBAs is all about matchups" and Steven A. screams incoherently.

That's not a good off season, folks. Kudos to everyone involved for getting something done before the season is even over. That's good business.

*****

I, like everyone else, noted Tim Duncan's poor performance in the fourth quarter and overtime. I wanted to revisit game 5 and point out that the man did have 19 rebounds, more than the Wallaces combined. He certainly brought great effort and took it upon himself to control the defensive glass (though he did get good help from Bowen and Manu).

I probably don't say this enough, but he's definitely a great, great player and the Spurs would have 0 titles without him. That's obvoius of course; but I am saying it to ensure I do not come across as a irrational Duncan hater. Having said that...

Watching this series has lead me to the conclusion that Rasheed Wallace has more talent than Tim Duncan. He has a better jumper. He's faster and quicker. He's a better leaper. He has scores of post moves. His fall away jumper is unguardable (Timmeh said so himself). And yet he's about 2/3 the player that Duncan is. In a way it's a little sad; the wasted gifts, lost time.

*****

Here are some things to look for tonight:

-I expect to see Bowen spending more time guarding Chauncey. He's causing the most problems for SA's defense and Bruce should do a better job of getting around screens. Also, this will encourage Detroit to force the ball to Rip who will have a size advantage over Parker. I hope Hamilton shoots the ball 80 times tonight; I had no idea I would have so much fun disliking the guy.

-Hopefully the Spurs will isolate Manu early. They cannot expect Horry to go for 21 points again; that production has to come from somewhere and The Sickness is the best candidate. Early success may numb the pain in his thigh.

Predictions are dumb:

SA 90
DET 80
The Sickness: 24/7/7
Timmeh: 26/20
Hamilton gets the MVP

19 June 2005

I Once Saw Robert Horry Scissor Kick Angela Lansbury

I cannot possibly do this game justice. I don't have the talent or the guts. How does one effectively summarize the most dramatic game of one's life?

There can be no doubt that the implications of this game are far reaching. For example:

-Robert Horry just assured himself a spot in the NBA Hall of Fame, right (assuming the NBA smartens up and starts their own separate from the joke that is the Basketball Hall of Fame)? We can just end the whole debate, right? What else would he have to do?

Is it possible to exaggerate his performace tonight? The man scored 21 of the Spurs last 35 points. He scored 7 of their last 8 (or 10 of their last 13) points in regulation (including a ridiculous tip shot from out of nowhere). He grabbed seven rebounds, 2 more than Rasheed Wallace. He had 5 of the 7 Spurs points in overtime, including a highlight reel dunk and the game-winning 3.

Allow me to simplify:

If there are words momentous enough to convey the size of Robert Horry's balls then I have yet to find them. If I am ever on trial and risking the death penalty I want Robert Horry as my lawyer. I'm sure that, if he put his mind to it, Robert Horry could find Bin Laden. Robert Horry has figured out fusion, he just ain't telling anybody. Robert Horry could convince that crazy Korean guy (~Kim Jong-Il) to give up his nuclear aspirations. Robert Horry is the brains behind Warren Buffet. Robert Horry invented the internet.

-Didn't Robert Horry just effectively save Tim Duncan's reputation? Tim went 1-7 from the free throw line in the fourth. Tim missed an extremely easy putback that would have won the game. Tim went missed two shots in overtime and had a huge and inexcusable turnover. If the Spurs lose this game the story is that Tim couldnt' get it done. Tim is a choker. Tim cannot hit the big shot when it matters. Garnett or Shaq would have stuffed home that putback attempt. On and on.

-How close was this game to being a huge disaster for the NBA? Rasheed Wallace got the rebound after Duncan's missed follow up and called time out. Detroit didn't have any time outs so that should have been a technical. Except the clock had run out; the refs got it right, but what if that happened seconds earlier? The refs have to call that right? Talk about a disaster.

Or what if Rip hits the shot at the end of overtime? In case you missed it, Rip got the ball around the top of the key and proceeded to first lower his shoulder into Parker's chest and then give him an elbow to the face. Two obvious offensive fouls. The refs swallowed their whistles. What if that went in? The public already thinks NBA refs are a joke. Hell, what would the Sports Guy have written?

I am not trying to take away from the game itself, it's just that there were so many unique story lines that added to the whole experience.

Random thoughts, because that's all I'm capable of:

-What the hell was Ginobili thinking in the overtime with that bullet pass? He came this close to knocking Robert Horry unconcious; and he then had the nerve to throw his hands up; definitely his best acting job of the playoffs. Speaking of The Sickness; his shot was off (he's hurt people; that's my conclusion) but he did crash the boards (6) and had 9 assists including a great bounce pass to Horry for the game winner. Which is ironic because it was a horrible bounce pass by Bowen that forced Horry to go to the whole for the monster dunk instead of shooting a 3.

-Lindsaey Hunter knocked the ball of Parker's leg three times. Parker had an OK game. He had a big layup in overtime and played decent defense while having to face a lot of pressure bringing the ball up the court. 6 TOs is still too many, though.

-I like the fact that Pop adjusted and left Udrih on the bench; but at one point this resulted in Barry guarding Chauncey even though Parker was on the court (I guess because Tony was tired). I'd rather see Barry guard Ben Wallace. Seriously.

-How many times did the Spurs switch the pick and roll only to see Billups blow right by Duncan? Someone please explain the Spurs thinking behind this.

-Who's more overrated: Rip or Parker?

-Chauncey was 11-26 for 34 points. It felt like he 15-25 for 40 points. He led the way for DET down the stretch when they were nearly unstoppable (it felt like they scored on 7 consecutive possessions).

-God, Nazr Mohammed has no clue at times. Brutal. Rasho cannot possibly be worse than him.

-This was the first game in the playoffs that Manu had less points than FGA (15 / 16). Which leads to:

I feel great about this game. So should all Spurs fans. But this series is NOT over. SA cannot count on another 21 point performance from Big Shot Rob. Manu is going to have to play better in game 6. Because if the Spurs lose game 6 then, well, uhhh, let's just say I don't want to see how tight Tim Duncan is in the fourth quarter of a game 7.

Game 5 Preview

Here's some changes I think the Spurs should make:

On offense:

-Stop running pick and rolls. Period. In games 1 and 2 Detroit was playing the P&R tighter, occasionally going over the screen. Now, especially in game 4, they are simply switching and collapsing into the paint. They "Dare Tony Parker to Shoot" defense is now in full effect. The P&R is also bogging down and clogging up the offense. It invites double teams and the subsequent traps. Isolate Manu at the top of the key and make Tayshaun/Hunter prove he can stay in front of him. Spread the floor. Duncan on the block, Horry on the wing and Bowen and Parker in the corners. It's a lot easier to pass around the double team if you can see it coming.

-Go small. Duncan is going to play 40 minutes. That leaves 56 minutes to be distributed to various players at the center and PF slot. Give Nazr 2, Rasho 10, Horry 32 and Big Dog 12. The Spurs need more perimeter shooters on the floor to make DET pay for collapsing on Duncan. Nazr is hampering the Spurs offense because he's always in the paint (and thus making it easy for Det to clog the lane). Rasho isn't a good outside shooter but he's at least comfortable at the top of the key; swinging the ball, etc.

Going small requires Big Dog to play some PF minutes. At this point, I don't give a shit. He cannot do any worse on McDyess than Duncan (who has repeatedly sagged off and watched Antonio drain multiple 15-18 footers). Worried about defensive rebounding? Why? DET has averaged 14.5 OFF REB in the games they lost and 15.0 in the games they won. Nazr has grabbed 11 DEF REB in 86 minutes. How much worse could Glenn be?

-Get Manu involved EARLY. As in give him the ball the first 3 times down the court. He's always the first to leave the game; I want him going to the bench with some shots under his belt; with the notion that he is going to be an offensive force (because he's going to HAVE to be for the Spurs to win).

-Move Duncan off the block some. This opens up the offense and allows Duncan to see the double coming.

On defense:

-Just why in the hell are the Spurs switching the pick and roll? I could understand doing that against PHX. It prevented Steve Nash penetration (by switching and then playing soft) and the subsequent kick out for the dreaded 3. Detroit has ONE player who shoots better than 35% from 3. That's Billups, who's the guy running the P&R in the first place. The Spurs should either:

A. Trap the pick and roll (and maybe force more than 4 TOs in a game; the TO problem isn't the number of Spurs TOs, it's the disparity between SA and DET TOs) or

B. Play the pick and roll like they did FOR THE WHOLE FUCKING SEASON. SA hardly ever switched the pick and roll during the regular season. They would send the guard over the top and have the big defend the ballhandler until the Spur guard recovered. The big would then recover to his man. The Spurs had the best damned defense in the league playing the P&R this way. Why change against DET; a team largely without 3P shooters?

-Get BACK. In games 1 and 2 the Spurs averaged 15 TOs. In games 3 and 4 the Spurs averaged 17.5. In games 1 and 2 the Pistons averaged 9 fast break points. In games 3 and 4 the Pistons averaged 21. Spot the real difference people.

My prediction for tonight's game? I have no clue. And neither do you.

*****

On Friday I did a phone interview with Mr. Paul Ihander of WOAI Newsradio. I grew up listening to Spurs games on WOAI, so this means more to me than the internet radio shows I've done. We talked about myself and the blog more than my thoughts on the Spurs which was sort of awkward. But I only wanted to smack myself in the forehead once during the interview, so it shouldn't have turned out too bad. It's supposed to air sometime Monday morning.

16 June 2005

"A Seemingly Contradictory Statement That May Nonetheless Be True"

Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton combine to shoot 9-30 from the field and Detroit wins by 31 points.

"I don't know, people. I wish I did."

That still holds true. At this point I have no explanation. I am engineer; effectively an applied scientist. But there is no equation, no mathematical model, no boundary conditions that can be applied to what has transpired so far in the NBA Finals. I cannot pretend that I can make some sense of the totality of the past four games.

Therefore I will simply punt and share other people's opinions. First off will be The Wife's sister, who shall from now on be known as The Sistizzle.

"It's either homecourt advantage or some (guy) is paying some people off to get this to seven games."

Da Blade had some thoughts as well (Note: this is edited slightly, see the comments for the post below this one for the complete rant):

"It is halfway through the third and I have stopped watching the game. I hope I miss the greatest comeback since the "Memorial Day Miracle", but I seriously doubt it.

The Spurs are undoubtedly the most mentally fragile championship basketball team in the history of the NBA. Let me repeat for emphasis....THE SPURS ARE UNDOUBTEDLY THE MOST MENTALLY FRAGILE CHAMPIONSHIP BASKETBALL TEAM IN THE HISTORY OF THE NBA.

I cannot find any other rational explanation for this recent mini-implosion (nor others in the past). They are intimidated. They cannot dribble, catch, shoot, or execute fundamental NBA offensive sets. It is also pretty apparent that they don't know how to make adjustments through the course of play. Defense? What defense? Detroit is going to hang 100 on their sorry asses.

They play soft...this is what they do...they always have...and most likely always will. They... ... never defend their own (opting to play the "classy" card rather than stand up and defend their teammates by pushing back)...I could go on, but I'm pissed and other examples are alluding me curently.

It is the ultimate irony...they have one of the toughest coaches in the league yet play like a bunch of pansies.

I guess I am also generally pissy because I have to listen to the local media tout the Spurs as the best team to ever play the game. Nevermind that they cannot produce any tangible evidence to support their claim and that when a dissenting opinion is presented their rebuttal is about as strong as the classic, "So, So, suck your toe" or...even better..."My dad can beat up your dad." I recognize that they are homers, but that doesn't justify being an idiot...nor does it justify removing quality nationally syndicated shows to listen to this crap.

Up 2-0, the only thing you can listen to from the media is the Spurs' imminent sweep of the lowly Pistons. Now...the Spurs are about to lose by more combined points in games 3 & 4 than they beat the Pistons by in games 1 & 2. Checkmate...

Wake up, Spurs fans...we may win this damn series, but we are miles away from being a dominant championship team.And they can't cover, either....the ultimate measure of championship basketball.

- Seriously pissed Spurs fan

... aka da Blade."

"A Violent Collapse Inward"

It's halftime of game 4 and the Spurs are down 15 points. They've committed 10 turnovers and are routinely being beaten down the court for easy baskets. I would be lying if I said I had answers, but I do have some ideas.

SA's offense is extremely predictable at this point. Pick and roll at the top with Parker/Manu and Duncan/Horry or throw it into Duncan in the post. It's not working. Ditch it. Isolate TP or Manu on the wing or top of the key. Make them guard you one on one. Penetrate and shoot or dish. Move off the ball.

Instead of feeding Duncan in the post move him out onto the wing. He's not going to be extremely effective going against Rasheed or Ben on the block. He doesn't have the leaping ability to create any separation. Moving him out allows the offense to flow more freely; it makes it harder for Detroit to double team; it allows more cutters. It also makes Rasheed and Wallace come out from the basket. Duncan can hit that shot and if they play up on him he should be able to go around them. He needs to make quick, decisive moves.

Trap the pick and roll on defense; make Billups give the ball up. Duncan needs to get up on McDyess; how many times must he hit the 18' before Tim starts playing defense? Play Udrih in Barry's place. He can hit all the shots Barry can and is no worse a defender. Rest Parker earlier so he can be brought back in at the end of quarters when Detroits goes to Hunter.

Nobody of any importance is in foul trouble; play aggressively on defense.

And find Mr. Miyagi so he can do some of that magic on Manu's thigh.

"Even The Cooler Played Better Than Him"

That's a fitting summary of game 3 provided by Matty da Blade. "The Cooler" is the official San Antonio Spurs Blog nickname for Brent Barry; "him" was specifically directed at Manu Ginobili, though it could have applied to everyone except To Nee Pah Kah.

The Sickness was awful. He started the game off with a horrible pass that led to a breakaway dunk by Ben Wallace. During the second Spurs' possession he barrelled into Tayshaun Prince, earning an offensive foul and thigh bruise in the process. The injury forced him to the bench and probably hampered his efforts for the rest of the night (though he'll supposedly be OK for game 4). He shot the ball only 6 times all night and was credited with 6 turnovers (though some of those were due to Nazr's inability to catch the ball).

My last post brought up Bill Simmons question regarding where Manu stands amongst other two guards. Personally, I rank him below at least Kobe and Wade (and maybe others, too). First off, there's a small talent gap. The larger (and more effectual) difference lies in whatever causes Ginobili to play 29 minutes and only shoot the ball 6 times. Maybe it can be attributed to lack of conditioning, unselfishness, playing within the system or not forcing the issue. And I do not doubt his thigh had something to do with it (though, as I've pointed out 71 times before, Manu is always passing up shots, with or without thigh bruises). Detroit also trapped the pick and roll a few times (though not frequently enough to justify 6 shots). The reason behind his timidity is immaterial; the end result is what matters, and the end result is that he's hurting the team.

Manu is the Spurs' best offensive player, and it's not really even that close at this point. He needs to shoot a minimum of 15 times every game. And on nights when Duncan is playing like absolute ass that number needs to be around 25. You could cut off Kobe's leg in the first quarter and he would still find a way to get up 15 shots. At this point, that's what is separating Manu from the upper crust of shooting guards.

Manu sucked, Duncan sucked, the Spurs turned the ball over 18 times and allowed 17 offensive rebounds. It's no surprise they lost. Quick notes:

-Parker played a hell of a game: 21 points on 16 FGA and the only one-on-one threat SA had all night.

-Bowen continued to shoot well from 3: 4-6.

-Mohammed was dreadful and had trouble catching the ball all night. He's getting better at defending the pick and roll and I am excited about his potential. However...

-Rasho played in the first quarter due to Nazr's foul trouble. The Spurs went from down 4 to up 4 while he was on the court. For the playoffs the Spurs are +29 while Rasho's been on the court (100 minutes). The Spurs are +13 when Mohammed is on the court (442 minutes). But I'm sure that's just a coincidence because everybody knows you measure centers by how often they attempt to dunk the ball.

-Duncan had 15 FGA. 3 of them were inside the lane. Conclusion: he sorta played like a weenie.

-The Spurs were outscored 20-4 on the fastbreak. Ouch.

-Richard Hamilton played his first decent game of the series, scoring 24 points but taking 23 FGA to do it. I want him to shoot more.

In 2003-04 I had a Spurs-related mantra: "No stupid fouls, no three-pointers, no bad shots." Against the Pistons I've adjusted it to "Get the rebound, no turnovers, shoot the damn ball Manu." If the Spurs improve in those three areas they'll win tonight and be 48 minutes away from their 3rd title in 7 years.

13 June 2005

Has It Come to This?

Should I just change the title to "Manu Ginobili Blog?"

Bill Simmons, aka "The Sports Guy," wrote a good article about the media's relationship with the Spurs. Similar in theme to my post but more impactful because it's written by a guy who didn't grow up rooting for San Antonio. Here's an excerpt:

Shouldn't everyone be going crazy about this Spurs team? Shouldn't we be wondering about stuff likeā€¦
1. Where they rank among the all-time greats?

2. How you could possibly beat these guys?
3. Would Miami have done any better?
4. Do they need a sweep to cement their legacy as a top-10 team?
5. If Manu Ginobili finishes the series the way he started, does he have to be considered the most dominant all-around two-guard in the league (ahead of Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady and everyone else)?
6. Where does Tim Duncan rank among the greatest players ever?

Read #5 again. Is that where we're at? Contemplating whether a skinny Argentinian making less than $7 million a year is better than Kobe? The best at his position? The best 2-guard in the league?

I'm not saying the answer to that question is "yes." But the fact that the question is even being asked is the biggest story of the NBA this year. The media probably won't treat it as such, but I guarantee you David "Globalization" Stern is paying attention.

*****

About game 2; forgot to mention Robert Horry. He was wicked awesome.

What Do You Want Me To Say?

After the game, Greg Anthony said (something like) the following about Detroit: "They are playing as individuals, not as a team. The Spurs are playing as a team." Walton added the following nugget: "They aren't playing like champions. They aren't playing with heart."

Wow. What insight. I am glad ABC gives those "analyst" jobs to former NBA players because there's no way a plebeian could wind up at the same conclusions. The same meaningless, bullshit-laced conclusions.

Here's a novel idea: maybe the Spurs are just better? Maybe the Spurs' 7.8 point differential during the regular season(with Duncan missing 16 games) is more impressive than Detroit's 3.8 point differential. Maybe when you factor in their conference strengths the gap should logically widen. Maybe the Spurs had less trouble with better teams during the playoffs. Maybe the Spurs are better at what the Pistons do best. Maybe the Spurs have more offensive flexibility. Maybe the Spurs are deeper. Maybe the Spurs have more guys that can hit the three. Maybe the Spurs have more guys that can create their own shots or, when the defense collapses (as it did last night), create shots for others. Maybe the Spurs have two different guards who Detroit cannot stop one-on-one. Maybe the Spurs have the best player in the series. Maybe the Spurs also have Tim Duncan.

Allow me to (loosely) quote the great NBA analysy Denis Leary:

They can have a big teamwork/heart/play like champions cakewalk right through the middle of Tianamen Square and it won't make a lick of difference because we've got the players, OK?

Here's the thing: Detroit played good team difference last night. Why the hell do you think the Spurs shot 24 threes? Virtually everytime a Spur beat someone of the dribble they were forced to kick the ball out because Detroit rotated to block off the lane. Their problem on defense isn't team, it's individual. They need to find individuals who can stay in front of Parker and The Sickness. Individuals that can play denial defense (is anybody noticing Parker hounding Billups to the point he's having trouble even getting the ball) and fight over picks. The Spurs have those guys. Ginobili and Bowen are both top 10 perimeter defenders. Tony Parker got 2 votes for first team All NBA defense.

Is the series over? Is Detroit through? Well, I don't the balls to say "yes." But it sure looks like it is. Since the 1st quarter of game 1 Detroit has been outscored by 39 points. Ouch. It's going to take a colossal reversal of quality of play for Detroit to have a chance. They could very well win a couple of games, but 4 out of 5? How is that feasible given what we've seen?

***

You've probably heard: the Spurs throttled Detroit last night. The Pistons never had a lead and never got closer than 8 in the second half. DET did a better job of rotating and cutting off the lane, but Manu and Parker adjusted well and found wide open shooters behind the 3P line. The one glaring negative for SA was the 18 offensive rebounds they allowed. That's about 10 too many.

Bowen did a great job on Hamilton once again and complimented his defensive performance with good 3P shooting. His point total (15) matched Detroit's highest scorer (McDyess).

Parker played terrific denial defense on Billups and was efficient on the offensive end, scoring 12 points on 9 FGA.

Duncan hit his free throws (8-9), did an adequate job rebounding (11) and played terrific defense all night (4 blocks).

Mohammed played decently, but 2 defensive rebounds in 25 minutes ain't gonna cut it.

The Sickness had 27 points on 8 FGA. That's 3.375 PPFGA. Even if you negate the free throws he still had 2.00 PPFGA. 7 assists, 3 REB, 3 STL, 3 TO. At this point it would be very hard to exaggerate the quality of his playoff performance. He's currently at 1.78 PPFGA for the playoffs, shooting 53% from the field and 49% from 3. If he maintains his PPFGA it will be the highest in the history of the NBA playoffs for a guy averaging more than 20 points a game.

11 June 2005

Game Two Preview

There's no doubt that Rasheed Wallace will get more than 6 FGA in game 2. In game 1 Detroit spent too much time trying to force the ball into Rip's hands. Run him off of one screen; if he's not open go straight into a pick and roll with Wallace and Billups. I also expect to see a lot more postups from Chauncey and especially The TayTay. The Pistons will definitely have a better offensive game than Thursday.

I am not sure what Detroit will do about Manu. Here's how he was defended in the fourth quarter, where he went 6-6 for 15 points:

-Prince guarding him; pick and roll with Tim Duncan and Ben Wallace; Wallace showed soft and Manu threaded a bounce pass to Tim who missed a 6 footer in the lane

-Prince guarding him; pick and roll with Tim Duncan and Ben Wallace; Wallace switches and gets called for the block that leads to the technical foul

-Prince guarding him; pick and roll with Duncan and McDyess; McDyess switches; Manu goes by him with right hand for layup (crashes into BW; no call)

-Pretty much exactly same as previous

-Mini fastbreak (though Detroit had 4 guys back); Manu blows by Rip with right hand and throws in the righty layup; and 1

-Rip guarding him; pick and roll with Duncan and Rasheed; Manu blows by him for dunk

-Rip guarding him; pick and roll with Horry and McDyess; McDyess switches and plays off Manu; The Sickness drains a 3

-I'm missing the details of the last score, but it's Manu's lefty layup high off the glass

The theme here is obvious: pick and roll with Duncan or Horry. The Pistons tried a soft show or a switch. Neither worked. They could try trapping the pick and roll but Manu is an expert at splitting the double team. He's also capable of passing out of the double team, which means Detroit would be leaving either Duncan or Horry wide open. They could send Manu's man under the pick, but that leads to Ginobili hoisting the 3. If I were the Pistons I would overplay the pick with Manu's man (this is what the Spurs often do with the pick and roll) and force him baseline. Of course you cannot employ that strategy at the top of the key where the majority of the offense starts for the Spurs.

I think Detroit will trap the pick and roll late in the game and trust that their defensive rotations will be adequate.

Detroit will probably play further off Parker as the series proceeds. Though he only had 15 points on 17 FGA, he got into the lane at will.

I was surprised at how many times Duncan got great position on the Detroit defenders. There were at least 3 occasions where he pinned them inside the charge semi-circle. Look for the Pistons to play Duncan more physically off the ball.

In summary, the main things I'll be looking at are Detroit's shot distribution and what adjustments they make against Manu and Parker. Also, will the Spurs be able to push the tempo more? They only had 8 fast break points in game 1.

Note: SA has never allowed more than 90 points in an NBA Finals game. Sorry ABC.

10 June 2005

Wikka Wikka Wikka San Antonio

As bad as the first half was, the opening ceremonies were worse. God awful. I couldn't even watch them. Alanis Morissette is the last person I would pick to sing the national anthem. Not because she's from Canada, but rather because her voice is all wikka wikka wikka awkward. Give me somebody smooth or powerful, give me a gospel choir. Who they going to bring out for game 2? Snoop? "...land of the frizzle and home of the bravizzle."

And then came Will Smith, who I guess has a new album out. He comes out in some pseudo-car and yells "SWWIIIIIIIIIIITTTTCH." I guess that's the name of his single. I couldn't care less. When I turned back to ABC after about 3 minutes their was some choreographed dribbling going on. This was enough for me not to SWWIIIIIIIIITTTTCH the channel for about 20 seconds. At which time Will Smith started beat-boxing and at one point said "Wikka wikka wikka San Anntoneeeeeo." At this point I was willing to miss part of the first quarter to save myself.

The entire first half was brutal to watch. ABC's worst nightmare. The Spurs started off stagnant on offense and turned the ball over 4 times early on, assisting Detroit's early 17-4 surge. At this point I called Da Blade and said simply "Uh oh." Surprisingly enough, Matty wasn't worried, commenting that "This is how I thought the Spurs would come out. Little rusty and disjointed while Detroit puts on their usual game 1 surge." I'm usually the one talking him down the Ledge of Hypernegativity.

SA was able to fight their way back to within 3 by the end of the first quarter. A seemingly big play occurred when Horry and Parker trapped Hunter just over the half court line after a made free throw. Horry stole the ball and fed Glenn Robinson for a dunk. Speaking of Big Dog, you couldn't help but feel happy for the guy. I would think it feels good to be back on the court, where he was a holy terror for the 6 minutes he was out there. 2 PTS, 3 REB and 3 BLK. Matty made a good point that his production made it seem like he logged more minutes than he did. My dad said "He did more in his 6 minutes than the entire Detroit bench did for the whole game."

Pop used his bench liberally, giving 10 players meaningful (considering when they played, not for how long) minutes. Devin Brown made an appearance and looked understandably rusty. He was active on defense but failed to pick up Billups early enough which resulted in a Billups 3 and a conspicuous on-court tongue lashing from Horry.

You want to know how bad Brent Barry was tonight? Matty called me during live action (98% of the time we talk only during commercials) to ask if there was anyway The Cooler could be cut during the game. I think Barry and Fortson had an illicit encounter during their series and Brent contracted Danny's foul ways. Get it? Foul ways. Cause they both foul a lot? Ahhhh. It's the little things in life.

I don't understand what Detroit was trying to do on offense last night. Rasheed hits his first 3 shots and then only takes 3 more the whole game. Rip takes 21 shots, many of them while trying to take Bowen to the basket. That was highest of high comedy. If Rip iso vs. Bowen is Detroit's first, second or even third option then they have serious problems.

Detroit seemed to play middling defense against Parker. They went over some picks and under others, but they still played him way too tight. Here's a good way to figure out if you're too close to The Wee Frenchman: if the SA crowd isn't at least murmuring (you know how they do when they want someone to shoot) when he's got the ball on the outside they you are too damn close.

Duncan was great. 24, 17 and 2. Outscored and outrebounded the Wallaces combined. Rasheed did an admirable job on him, and Duncan put up the type of line I expected: 24 points on 22 FGA.

Then there was The Sickness. There's probably not much more I can say about the guy. 22 points on 9-10 shooting in the second half (accounting for 45% of the Spurs points), taking over the 4th with 15 on 6-6. That's beyond ridiculous. He also had 9 rebounds for the game, more than any Piston. For whatever reason Brown had The TayTay on the bench for most of the 4th. He's their only player with any shot of playing Manu one-on-one.

Scoop Jackson wrote a good piece on Manu.

The Spurs definitely had the benefit of some questionable/bad calls in the second half. BWallace got called for a charge when Nazr was clearly inside the semi-circle. He then got called with a block on Manu which probably should have been a charge (this led to a tech on Ben). He also absorbed a lot of contact on a Ginobili drive; no foul was called but the replay showed Ben's foot on the semi-circle. Technically should have been a block, but the refs probably made the right decision in letting it go (Ben would likely have ripped somebody a new something).

But the officiating certainly didn't decide the outcome of the game. And don't give me the whole "momentum" bullshit. Yeah, the Spurs went on a 19-less than 10 run after the tech. I guess that means the Spurs had the momentum. Detroit then went on a 10-0 run. Which I guess means the Spurs misplaced the momentum. Maybe they left it in their other pants pockets.

I'll do my best to put up a game 2 preview Sunday afternoon.

In the Meantime...

Game 1 comments coming at 4:00 ET.

Yesterday morning I was on Sports Bloggers Live Extra with Jamie Mottram and the gang and Corey from the Pistons blog. Corey and I are on simultaneously starting around the 23 minute mark. The show automatically starts when you load the main page and you can fast forward by, uh, moving the slidy thingy.

09 June 2005

NBA Finals Preview

I don't know, people. I wish I did.

Against Denver I knew. Their winning streak? A mirage with a favorable schedule and timely injuries as its foundation. Their main offensive weapons? The fast break and Carmelo, both which played right into the teeth of the Spurs defense. Their defense? No answers for Parker or The Sickness.

Against Seattle I had a good idea. Ray Allen? A great offensive player going against his nemesis who had (allegedly) undercut his way into Ray's head. A defensive liability who would likely be neutralized by Manu (Ray tallied 6 more total points than Ginobili in the series; it only took him 49 more FGA to do it). Their other main offensive weapons, Rashard and Radmanovic? Both gimpy and both heavily reliant on the 3 which the Spurs defend better than anyone. Their defense? No one who could guard The Cornerstone without getting into foul trouble. No one who could stay in front of Parker or Ginobili. (In the spirit of fairness and squashing dissent: the Sonics did give the Spurs the most trouble so far and played better than I expected.)

I knew enough about Phoenix not to be worried. Too reliant on the three and the fast break. Comically thin. Matched up horribly against the Spurs; having no one who had a prayer in a one on one matchup against any of The Big Three. Allowed easy buckets way too often. Horrible coaching.

I didn't give any of those teams a real chance at beating the Spurs in a seven game series. But Detroit? Chauncey, Rasheed, Rip, Ben and Tay Tay? I just don't know.

My apprehension has little to do with Detroit's success last year. Rosters change. Players themselves change. Opponents change. People who say "Detroit should be favored because they're the defending champs" are either too stupid or too afraid to say anything of value; to actually have an opinion.

During the regular season the Spurs showcased three primary offensive weapons.

1. Tim on the block.

Against Detroit he'll face the tandem of Rasheed, Ben and McDyess. But the vast majority of the time he'll be going against Rasheed, who I consider to be the best pure one-on-one defender against Duncan. He's long and positions himself well. He guards you the whole possession, not just when the ball is on your side of the court. He doesn't bite on upfakes and makes a point of actually boxing you out after the shot.

But I'm hoping Rasheed is too good. You don't contain Duncan with great post defense. You contain him by doubling him the minute he dribbles the ball and beating the ever living shit out of him at every opportunity. That's what the Lakers did. That was the modus operandi of The Ringless Choker. I don't think Larry Brown and Rasheed will stoop to that level; I think they're too prideful, too enwrapped in "the right way," too good.

Don't get me wrong, TD will not effortlessly drop 30 like he did against Phoenix. But I would bet dimes to dollars that he'll enjoy this matchup more than playing against The Scrub Gang of Seattle.

2. Tony Parker iso / pick and roll.

Here's where my apprehension begins to mount. Everybody says Larry Brown is a great coach. Well, personally, I will get a very good idea of his greatness in the first 12 minutes of game 1.

For some reason, probably a combination of pride, stubbornness and stupidity, both Seattle and Phoenix started their series playing Parker straight up. Going over the top of pick and rolls and engaging Parker too aggressively instead of playing 6 feet off him and inviting him to shoot. It inexplicably took both of these teams 2 whole games to figure out how to mitigate The Wee Frenchman. Numerical evidence: TP averaged 26 points in the first two games, 14.9 thereafter (never again going over 18 points).

If Larry Brown is deserving of his reputation you will see Billups camped out at the free throw line when TP brings the ball up the court in the first stanza of game 1. Chauncey is a good defender (having the physical presence that bothers TP) but has zero chance of staying in front Parker. Granted, he has the shot blockers to back him up, but I cannot think of one thing Detroit gains from guarding Tony in a traditional manner.

3. Give the ball to The Sickness.

I have watched all but one Spurs game since the All Star Break. I have noted two factors that limit Manu's production: his frustrating proclivity for passing up wide open jumpers and his lack of durability. In other words, I have yet to see another team use a certain player or employ a discernable strategy that slows down Manu. This has been readily apparent throughout the playoffs (you can find the numerical evidence in about seventeen different places in my blog).

But Detroit has The TayTay. I have what I hope proves to be an irrational fear of The TayTay, mainly because if I had to choose one guy to guard Manu it would be, uh huh, The TayTay. Because, like The Sickness, there's something not quite right about him.

Have you ever watched an NBA game while on the phone? You're sort of watching the game but 90% of your attention is devoted to the conversation. It takes either something amazing or something odd to pull you back into the game. Like The TayTay coming from out of nowhere and into a sea of Mourning and Chack for a put back dunk that was at the same time thunderous and adroit.

The TayTay doesn't fit. The TayTay doesn't have an NBA body. The TayTay doesn't have a pretty shot. The TayTay is a conundrum wrapped in an enigma. Smothered in an aromatic white wine sauce.

I once had a veal shank stuffed with prosciutto and mozzarella on top of a bed of carmelized onions wrapped in bacon. I think if we wrapped The TayTay in bacon he would become a limitless source of clean burning energy. He would also gain the ability to play every Black Sabbath guitar solo on accordion.

The TayTay is 6'-9" with a wingspan of a seven footer. He was born in Compton and his underarm hair is finely spun silk. He was 49th in the NBA in PPFGA this season and sleeps on sheets with a thread count no less than 500.

The Sickness does not have a traditional offensive game. He zag zigs and over-crosses. He does reverse layups on the non-reverse side of the basket. He prefers 8-foot finger rolls over wide open 3s. He has long hair and a bald spot. He'll drop 30+ including various one-offs and posterizations and then carry a man purse to the press conference. He's left handed and has a big nose.

How do you counteract the Counter Act? You throw a non-traditional defensive player at him. The TayTay can play 5 feet off you and still contest your shot. The TayTay weighs 10 pounds more than Beno Udrih but is difficult to post up. The TayTay isn't fast but will chase you down. The TayTay is left handed and has a weird looking face.

I've long said I don't know how I would go about guarding The Sickness. I also don't know how I would go about attacking The TayTay. The similarities are troubling. Disconcerting even. Both underpaid, both too passive, both on the cusp.

You remember that part in Back to the Future where Marty asks Doc what would happen if he ran into himself in the future? Doc tells him "the encounter could create a time paradox, the results of which could cause a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the space-time continuum and destroy the entire universe. Granted, that's the worst case scenario. The destruction might, in fact, be very localised, limited to merely our own galaxy."

That's some scary shit, people. Would anyone be that surprised if two years from now The TayTay has the type of postseason Manu is having now? If you had to pick an the heir-apparent to The Sickness would it not be The TayTay? Is it not possible that I will soon be referring to The TayTay as "The Affliction" or "The Malady."

You have to understand the reason for my fears: this series, this season rides on the back of Manu Ginobili. Parker is a consistent jumper away from being Robin to Duncan's Batman. Ginobili's been the guy dominating occasional games in the playoffs (game 3 against Denver (32) and game 5 against Seattle (39) stand out). Ginobili's the lynchpin, the X-factor, the je ne sais quois, the player that keeps Larry Brown up at nights. So if The TayTay manages to hold The Sickness to under 15 points a game this series will be over before it starts. "Granted that's the worst case scenario," but if Manu goes for around 18-20 PPG the Spurs still lose in 7.

Allow me to simplify: the Spurs will need 25 a night from The Sickness to win the 2004-2005 NBA Championship.

Can The TayTay slow him down? Will he? I don't know. And that's what scares me.

(An aside: some people have pointed out that Tayshaun couldn't guard Wade and therefore will not be able to slow Ginobili. Um. OK people. I have a strong, strong man love for Manu, but he's a notch below Wade. Dwyane has the better first step, the better pull up jumper, more strength and more explosive ability. Simmer down.)

As you can see, the Spurs 3 main offensive weapons play right into Detroit's defensive strengths. Which means I am forced to hope that Pop has the flexibility to go to Plan D. But before I get into that I want to squeeze in some talk about Detroit's offense.

The Pistons' offensive efficiency ranked ~15th (knickerblogger.net is down at the moment) during the regular season.

They like to run Rip off a bazillion screens and get him that 18-20' jumper that's his specialty. Bruce Bowen lives for this: shutting down the opposing team's best wing player. I think he, combined with the Spurs big men hedging a little to prevent Rip's elbow curl, will do a more than adequate job on Hamilton.

Billups and 'Sheed will likely be involved in numerous pick and rolls. This is a little frightening considering Nazr's tenuous hold on how to defend the pick and roll. Don't be surprised to see The Solid Slovenian get 15-20 minutes a game this series. Prevent Chauncey's penetration and open looks and let Rasheed shoot the outside jumpers he loves so much.

Billups and Tayshaun will also attempt to post up Parker and Ginobili. I'm more worried about the latter because Prince has a more refined post game. I never really understood automatically posting up larger guards against smaller ones. Size advantage doesn't mean all that much if you don't know what to do with it. Billups is a dangerous offensive player but not because of his drop step or baby hook.

Detroit is a good offensive team. But I think their skill lies as much in their execution then in their skill level. They don't take bad shots, especially down the stretch. They don't turn the ball over. They don't get rattled (Billups is as cool as they come). On the other hand, they aren't going to offensively blow you out of the water, either. Which leads us back to the Spurs offense and Plan D.

At some point during the first two games the offense will bog down. Parker will be off from the outside. Duncan will be in the midst of a workman like 25 on 20 FGA. Manu will be trying too hard to draw the foul. Barry will be practicing his double-clutch set shot. Horry will actually miss some 3 pointers. At this point P.J. Carlesimo will whisper something in Pop's ear. It will sound just like the voice in Field of Dreams...

Let them go.

You've done your job Pop. You've made savvy draft selections. You've fostered the growth of Tony Parker and reigned in Manu Ginobili to a manageable level. You've convinced a group of 12 hypertalented, well paid and egotistical NBA players to commit to defense at a level seldom seen outside of the NCAAs. You've been controlling but fair. And the whole time you have deflected all praise and accolades. It's taken how many years to get to this point?

But now it's finally time. Time to release the reins and give the fastest point guard in the league the green light. Time to tell Manu to just go without fear of consequences. Release the hounds Pop.

I want to see Parker roaring down the court, faster than the Pistons can retreat. I want to see Manu going right at people and turning them around like a top with a little herk and a little jerk. I want to see Barry flying in from the wing for the reverse layup. I want to see Duncan grab a long rebound on an errant 3P attempt from Wallace and proceed to lead the break, finishing with a no look pass to whoever for an easy layup.

I want to see the boring San Antonio Spurs run the defending champs right out of the damned gym.

Because that's where we have them clearly beat. You don't win 59 games (while Duncan misses 16) without offensive flexibility. You don't dominate a 62 win Phoenix team while playing their game without having a little something extra.

Force Detroit to play a game they don't want to play. Trust your players to make the right decisions and get back on defense. Trust in all those times Parker blew by half of the opposing team for a layup. Trust your memories of Manu getting a rebound at the free throw line, dribbling right past a sprinting Al Harrington and dunking right in Tyronn Lue's mug.

Let. Them. Go.

*****

Maybe I am being overly cynical, but I don't see Pop adjusting his offense until there's a mountain of evidence suggesting he do so. I see Detroit eeking out a victory in one of the first two games in San Antonio while Parker struggles with his jumper. The Spurs make a concerted effort to push the ball for the remainder of the series and take games 3 and 5. They'll close it out at home in game 6 behind a huge game from The Sickness. The MVP will be Timmeh! and I will vehemently disagree. This leads to me writing 15 000 words about the greatness of Ginobili and will contain statistical evidence that he, not Isaac Newton, is responsible for the Universal Law of Gravitation.

Spurs in 6. Game on.

(Note: You can read another series preview (from a slightly different viewpoint) here. )

Stay on Target

My NBA Finals preview is coming @ 4:15 ET. I got a little carried away as I tend to do. If you don't like it then you can go suck an egg. That's right. I just said that. Oaktown represent! 41st and Telegraph 'til I die!

The gentleman and scholar Lance Williams once again allowed me onto his show Swish a couple of nights ago. We talked about what makes good Ivory Billed Woodpecker habitat and the NBA Finals. I need to point out that I made a huge error during my segment. I said that Parker torched the Pistons the last time the two teams met (when Duncan rolled his ankle in the opening minutes) for well over 20 points. I checked afterwards and he only had 12 or 13. I regret the error and promise to floss more.

Stay focused people. We gots a big game tonight.

07 June 2005

There's a Lesson Here

Some random thoughts about last night's game:

-At one point down the stretch Dwyane Wade drove to the hoop and got stripped of the ball and didn't get the foul call. They switched to a closeup of his look of disbelief and for a brief moment he looked just like Kobe Bryant.

-My favorite Ridiculously Bad Call of the Night happened late in the game. Chauncey had Damon Jones pinned against the sidelines and barely grazes him with his left arm. Joey Crawford comes barrelling into DJ, knocking him out of bounds. Foul on Billups. Unbelievable. There's a lesson here folks: just because somebody is on television and getting paid a lot of money doesn't mean they are good at their job.

-My favorite moment of the night was seeing a closeup of Alonzo Mourning's face after the game. His expression was sort of a cross between disbelief and pretentious horror. "What? We lost? That's not supposed to happen. We have Shaq. We have Dwyane Wade. We have my biceps. Look at my biceps. Are they not beautiful? Am I not a wonder to behold?" There's another lesson here folks: the NBA gods do not appreciate undeserving mercenaries.

Example 1: Alonzo started the season making way too much money for the Nets. I think. It doesn't matter. He demanded a trade and got sent to Toronto. I think. It doesn't matter. He then refused to report and demanded a buyout which he inexplicably got. He did everything he could to get to MIA where he thought he was the last piece of the puzzle. Didn't quite work out that way, did it? The basketball gods looked upon the Heat with disdain and smote their two best players with inopportune injuries.

Example 2: Jim Jackson; gets traded to NO and again refuses to report. They trade him to PHX for Zarko Car bar ka pa. More basketball god disdain and smiting: they broke Joe Johnson's face.

Example 3: The Lakers, last year. They added Karl Malone and Gary Payton for well below market value. The tandem of four future hall of famers were supposed to dominate the NBA and cruise to a title. Karl Malone gets hurt, Payton plays like a scrub and the Lakers implode in the finals.

*****

So it's Detroit. Series starts Thursday in SA who technically has the home court advantage. The NBA switches up its series scheduling in the finals, switching from 2-2-1-1-1 to 2-3-2. This is likely due to the possible long flights between Eastern and West Conference cities (though SEA is farther from SA than DET). But what's the point of HCA if the other team has played more games on it's home court than you? This will be the case after game 5. Dumb dumb dumb.

I'll post a series preview tomorrow. Here's a preview of my preview: I fear The TayTay.

03 June 2005

Wrapping It Up

I forgot to mention another remarkably stupid play by the Spurs in game 5:

-Manu Ginobili forcing a pass through a double team under his own basket with under two minutes left in the game despite having 3 timeouts remaining (this resulted in an easy layup for Marion).

The Sickness was definitely off his game Wednesday night (rendering my prediction of 30+ points comical by halftime). I believe it's just fatigue; it will be interesting to see how he bounces back after having a whole week of rest. He also was having his leg massaged while on the bench during the 2nd or 3rd quarter. I think he got kneed in the thigh by Q sometime in the first half (the same collision that affected Q and assisted his 0 point night).

Speaking of Quentin Richardson, I've got to give the man two head pounds for his spectacular WCF performance: 10.4 PPG on 19-45 shooting, 3 RPG, 0.8 APG and 1.2 TOPG. I don't usually mind a little demonstration after scoring. I find all the hub bub over Terrell Owens and his vast repertoire of celebrations to be ridiculous and pathetic. But, of course, Terrell Owens is one of the best receivers in the NFL who repeatedly burns defenses. Q stands at the 3P line and waits. If you're going to draw attention to yourself you should first make sure you aren't playing LIKE ABSOLUTE ASS.

Beno Udrih totally needs to come up with a celebration. Like licking his fingers and flattening his eyebrows with them. Or pulling back his jersey to reveal his Slovenian heart and that star-shaped nipple piercing that Janet Jackson made famous.

Back to Manu and his less than usual performance. He seemed to be a step slow and trying too hard to draw fouls instead of making shots. This resulted in 19 points on 15 FGA, 8 REB, 6 AST, 3 STL and 4 TO. That is still pretty damn good. Tony Parker, on the other hand, was real bad. Spurs fans may only remember his 2 3P in the third quarter (which were huge), but he still finished with 18 PTS on 21 FGA, 1 REB, 2 AST and 2 TOs. That's not good folks.

Which leads me to some quick thoughts on the finals. I would much rather play the Heat for the following reasons:

-Either team will play well off TP, encouraging him to shoot. It could very well get to the point where Beno/Barry are forced to play significant minutes; I would much rather have them guarding Damon Jones than Chancey Billups.

-Shaq is no longer Shaq. In fact, from now on se llame El Chack. The Chack's sizeable leg is obviously hurting and he's more of a defensive liability than ever.

-Tony Parker will have an easier time against Miami. Shaq and Mourning are a formidable presence inside, but they're a couple notches below the Wallaces. Also, Billups would give The Wee Frenchman much more trouble than Damon Jones.

-DET has three guys they can throw at Timmeh: Wallace, Wallace and McDyess. The Heat have three only if they are willing to risk Shaq getting into foul trouble. Rasheed is probably the best TD defender in the NBA.

-I don't know if Tayshaun can slow Manu, but I'm pretty damn sure Eddie Jones cannot. Wade is a viable matchup, but he's 2 inches shorter than Manu (and I would love to see Wade chasing around Manu on defense).

-I think Bowen can do a decent job on Dwyane. Bowen has more trouble with guys like Ray Allen and Rip Hamilton who continuously run you off screens and have a quick release. Wade is more of a one on one player like Kobe. Also, Wade does a lot of his scoring on the break. Ask DEN and PHX how easy it is to run on the Spurs. I still expect Dwyane to average about 28-32 points a game, but it will take him 22-26 FGA to do it. Because:

-MIA relies more on the 3 than DET, though not to the level that SEA or PHX does. SA will shut that down and force Wade to hit difficult shots over Bowen/Tim/Nazr/Rasho. They likely won't double team The Chack either.

So I'm rooting for MIA in seven games, but no matter who wins the finals will be the most difficult matchup for the Spurs.

One last thing. PHX deserves a lot of credit for the way they handled themselves against the Spurs. When DEN and SEA realized they couldn't guard Manu they resorted to repeatedly flagrantly fouling him and pretending that it was "part of the game." I never understood the rationale behind that line of thinking; "Well, we cannot beat them playing basketball, so let's turn the game into something else." So, kudos to PHX for not being a bunch of no talent ass clown chumps.

01 June 2005

You've Got to Belize

SA 101 @ PHX 95

That wasn't exactly pretty. Matty da Blade made a comment during the third quarter: "If the Spurs win tonight it will be because PHX loses the game." I have to admit at the time I couldn't think of anything to contradict him. It seemed like every time the Spurs were about to break the game open someone would do something incredibly stupid on the offensive end. Such as:

-Nazr attempting a running one hander out of the lane with more than 5 seconds on the shot clock (prompting Matty to say "Nazr should NEVER shoot the ball unless it's a dunk off an offensive rebound").

-Manu jumping to pass at midcourt and throwing it right to Shawn Marion.

-Tony Parker not getting a shot off before half time (prompting Matty to question if Tony is the worst clock manager in the NBA).

-Tony Parker going 1 on 2 in the fourth and missing a floater.

-Barry passing up a wide open three only to jack up a double-clutched-set-shot three (the first of its kind).

-Beno needlessly forcing a fast break and throwing a layup wildly off the glass (it went in, but still).

I know things aren't this simple, but how about getting the ball to your best players? Again, da Blade summed it up: "If your name doesn't end in 'can' or 'obili' you shouldn't be creating your own shot."

Timmeh carried the load tonight on both ends of the court. He guarded Stoudemire most of the second half and, er, held him to 42 points on 32 field goal attempts. Those are of course gaudy numbers, but coming into tonight's game he was averaging 36 on 24. 6 more points on 8 more shots seems pretty good. That seems like a ridiculous statement, I know.

Before the game Tim Legler suggested that the Spurs needed to run a double team at Amare. The Spurs hadn't double teamed Amare all year and were 5-1 against them when at full strength. Why should they change? SA emphasized slowly down the PHX fast break and their 3P shooting. The latter requires switching the pick and roll, keeping double teams at a minimum and not clogging the lane, all of which help Amare's offensive game. By the way, during the regular season Amare averaged 1.235 points per shot attempt. During the Spurs series that number actually dropped to 1.222. What does that mean? It means his scoring went up because his shots went up (because of what the Spurs emphasize on defense). What does that mean? Nothing, really.

Amare Stoudemire is crazy good on the offensive end. He's already a top 10 offensive player. Easy. But Walton needs to cut the shit about even intimating that he's better than Duncan. There are two damned sides of the court. Amare is great at one end and merely average at the other. I'm sure he will improve and probably eventually become a 1st team all NBA player, but let's just simmer down a bit here. (But, having said that, if you were starting an NBA team right now (thinking long term) who would you pick over Amare? Lebron, sure. Um. Maybe McGrady? I think that's the list folks. Hijo.)

I'll finish up tomorrow night.

I'm Wearing Gabardine Socks

When I predicted the Spurs would beat the Sonics in 5 games I forgot something very important: SA typically gives away one game per series. 0-17 against DEN. A slew of missed free throws in the 4th quarter in game 3 against SEA. Blowing a 17 point lead against DAL in a potential closeout game in 2003. Almost losing a 25 point lead against LA in game 5 in 2003 (when Horry missed the 3).

Speaking of Robert Horry, he's making $1.1 million this year according to hoopshype.com. Derek Fishes made $4.9. Why does Mullin still have a job? Answer: people are stupid.

I don't want to entirely discredit PHX's performance in game 4. They had some wonderful plays down the stretch. Nash's falling-out-of-bounds pass to Stoudemire. Stoudemire's finishing in the lane over Duncan. Joe Johnson's jumper over Bowen and, of course, Amare's clean block of Timmeh with 30 seconds left. They played well.

The Spurs played awfully. Offense? Sucked. Part of that has to do with D'Antoni and company finally figuring out that Parker can't shoot (only took them 13 quarters!) and that Duncan doesn't like to be double-teamed off the dribble. Defense? Absolutely horrible in parts of the 2nd and most of the 3rd quarter. The Suns got off 18 3s (many of them wide open) which is 3 more than in any other game this series. PHX also dropped over 20 fast break points (many of them from 3).

There's also the Popovich factor, who was dicking around again. He ran out a non-Duncan, non-Manu three separate times. That would not have happened in a game 6 or 7. He also didn't call a timeout in the 3rd quarter after the 8 minute mark, preferring to watch Parker look clueless while SA went from tied to down by 7.

Parker was 5-17 with 6 TOs. He didn't adjust well to the change in defense. Unfortunately his backup, Beno Udrih, kept passing up wide open shots.

Pop will treat this game differently. Parker, having seen this defense against SEA, should know that he needs to stop forcing penetration into a packed lane. Hopefully Duncan will hit the majority of his free throws. The Spurs will defend the transition 3 better and Bowen will spend more time on JJ. And The Sickness will drop 30+ and lead the Spurs into the NBA Finals.

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