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Throwin' 'Bows: The Playoffs

 






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/ May 14, 2004

Playoff observations:

Nets/Pistons. The Nets are a well-built team. Rod Thorn identified a strength in Jason Kidd's speed and transition game, and he built around it. Four of their five starters are among the fastest in the NBA at their positions. When the opposition is playing carelessly, the Nets are just punishing. Fortunately for them, the Pistons have been perfectly accommodating in New Jersey, playing two dumb and lazy games, and the Nets have pounded them to even the series.

Sometime early in Game 4, Chauncey Billups decided to revert back to the old Chauncey Billups, before Larry Brown turned him into a true point guard. Joe Dumars could've given them better minutes at the point. I don't know if it's because his back was hurting or what, but he was taking bad shots like it was his job. It was like he asked Jason Kidd on the way up the floor what he wanted him to do. "Chauncey, would you mind bricking an 18-footer with about 15 seconds left on the shot clock?" "No problem, J." Clank.

Rasheed takes too many outside shots, too. Long shots yield long rebounds. Long rebounds lead to the Nets getting to the other goal in about 1.2 seconds. The Pistons are a halfcourt team and need a scorer down on the block. Give Kenyon Martin a lot of credit for being aggressive and fronting Rasheed in the post, but Rasheed's got to work harder to get position. Stepping out for the occasional three-ball is fine, but his primary spot should be under the basket. If his foot is keeping him from doing that and limiting him on the defensive end, the Pistons are better off with Mehmet Okur in the game.

For the Pistons, the best defense against the Nets is a good offense. Do not turn the ball over, do not let them run. Once they start getting easy baskets, their confidence builds, they turn their games up in every other area, and they become very difficult to beat. The outcome of this series will be determined by how smart the Pistons play. Time to earn that paycheck, Larry Brown.

Kings/Wolves: These games baffle me. Entertaining basketball? Sure. Two championship caliber teams going head-to-head and playing close games? Slow down. Both teams have had a game where they've played solid, built a lead, and then decided they felt bad for beating the other team, so they let them come back. I'm sure their kindergarten teachers would give them all A's for sharing, but I don't think that's how championship teams roll. As I've watched both of the comeback games, it's felt more like two colossal meltdowns than an instance of a team with a championship will to win coming back and making a game out of it.

What's going to be interesting to watch from here on out is what the Wolves do at the end of games when a bucket is needed. I've never thought of Kevin Garnett as an elite clutch player. After Game 2, I was pretty confident that he wasn't. After Game 3, maybe, but it's going to take a lot more convincing. Yes, he hit a jumper from the free-thrown line to seal the win in overtime. But only after he was unable to even get a shot off against Brad Miller 1-on-1 at the end of regulation.

The W is the important thing, and he did enough to get it, so credit KG for that. But if I'm Flip Saunders, my first option in a clutch situation is Sam Cassell, no question. If he's not around, then I don't like my chances. Sam has proved that he's qualified to take and bury clutch shots, and then run down to the other end of the court showing off his glands. I'm not sure Kevin Garnett is qualified to do the same.

Lakers/Spurs. A complete team effort in Game 3. Kobe Kobe Kobe in Game 4. And now Derek Fisher at the buzzer for the win in Game 5. So much for my prediction of a sweep.

Kobe is amazing. I don't think there's a person alive that can relate to what he's doing. Plead not guilty to rape in the morning, drop 42 against one of the NBA's best defenses a few hours later. When the Lakers play team basketball, that's one thing. It makes them a very good team, but I still think the Spurs can beat them. When Kobe goes into unstoppable mode, however... the Lakers aren't getting beat.

Here's my theory about why Kobe always seems to excel after a court date. When a guy is in the zone, his mind is just slightly off the task at hand. He's not thinking too much about it, and his actions are unconscious. He's not thinking, he's reacting, and what happens is perfect. Let's get a quote from the expert, Ebby Calvin 'Nuke' LaLoosh, who wore a garter belt when he was pitching for the Durham Bulls. "Annie says I should wear this to keep one side of my brain occupied while I'm on the mound, thus keeping my brain slightly off center, which is where it should be for artists and pitchers."

Exactly. And when Kobe performs like he did in Game 4, it is artistry. His mind being off center is why he can drop 42 on the Spurs, why Nuke can strike guys out, and why MJ could drop 38 against the Jazz when he had the flu.

Heat/Pacers. Watching the Heat play at home is pure joy. It's a group of young guys with big hearts and big other things that don't know they aren't supposed to win. They fear nothing. They play hard, and they play smart. Dwayne Wade is already a better decision-maker at the point than either Steve Francis or Baron Davis, and I can't name 5 guys in the NBA who I'd rather give the ball to with 10 seconds on the clock, down by a point.

Has home court advantage ever meant as much to anyone as it does to the Heat? When that crowd gets hype, the Heat perform with a confidence that even most veteran teams aren't familiar with. Dwayne Wade not only has an unbelievable set of skills, he also wants the ball in his hands when the game is on the line. He's going to be a superstar and an elite clutch player. When's the last time a rookie averaged 20, 5, and 5 in a playoff series? Just amazing.

While I've got a lot of respect for the Heat, the Pacers are just too good, too steady, too complete. The Heat may win all three of their games at home, but unfortunately for them, they don't have home court advantage, and the Pacers aren't the Hornets.

While we're on the subject, these could be two of the best teams in the league in a few years. If Miami can keep Wade, Butler, and Odom around, and add some quality role players, they should eventually be contending for NBA titles. The Pacers have two young studs in Al Harrington and Jonathan Bender, and Ron Artest and Jermaine O'Neal still have a lot of years ahead of them when they'll be in their prime.

The Mailbag

Nice call on Jim O'Brien, but what rock have you been hding under? He's the new coach for the Sixers. Love the 'Bows though, keep up the good work. - Richard, Netherlands

Oh, you thought I meant Jim O'Brien, former coach of the Celtics? Ha. I was talking about Jim O'Brien, current head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes. I've felt very strongly for a while now that he was ready to make the jump to the NBA. He won the 1999 Clair Bee Coach of the Year award. He was also Atlantic 10 Co-Coach of the Year in 1983 with St. Bonaventure, and... ah, who am I kidding. Ya got me.

Sometimes things slip. Someday, when I have a proofreader and a paycheck, these things won't be happening. When the Sixers made the hire, I had commented on it at my own website, and a few days later when I did The 'Bows, that information seemed to have left my mind. It will surprise none of you to know that am a moron. Perhaps I should start doing this sober. But thanks to you and the other 82,927 of you who pointed out my error.

In your last column, you kept mentioning how Malone hasn't "won anything" and how the Sacramento Kings "haven't won anything" and consider themselves one of the league's elite teams but "haven't proven it by winning a championship." This championship that you're talking about must not be the same one that I'm thinking about because, last I knew, there was only one winner at the end of the game, HOWEVER there has always been more than one ELITE team in the league. The Kings may be elite, but someone else may be more elite. Malone is the best ever at his position, but does that mean that he MUST win a title? His game, his stats, his wins speak for themself (I am not a fan of his either, but there's no denying it). People place way too much of an emphasis on winning the title. In the case of someone like Karl Malone or the theoretical argument of Kobe without Shaq, there is way too much importance being put onto this one person. Basketball is a team sport, individual players can't win a championship. As for the Kings, they are a team in every sense of the word (until the defensive end) and they haven't won a title, but that is because there are other, more elite teams out there. It is NOT because they are not elite. That is a load of bull and you know it. Every preseason poll and power ranking has had them in the top 10, week in, week out. There is no denying their greatness, you can just place the blame with the Lakers and Spurs being that much better. - Kyle, New York

I agree about individual players, I don't agree about teams. I shouldn't have said Malone hasn't won anything. That was a silly emotional response to a question whose author I thought was a tool. In general, I agree with you. Charles Barkley's career is not less notable because he didn't win a championship, and if it goes down the same way for Karl Malone, no one should hold it against him.

Teams, however, I don't think can be great until they win a championship. The Kings can't just look at the Lakers and Spurs and say, "Oh, it's too bad we came along at the same time those teams did." For a couple of reasons.

If the Kings were mentally tougher, they'd have beaten the Lakers in a 7-game series. They certainly had their chances. Winning a championship requires talent and mental toughness. One without the other is worthless, and the Kings haven't been able to put the two together the same way the Spurs and Lakers have. If they could, they'd have a championship, and they could be called a great team.

The other reason is that I don't think the Spurs or Lakers of the past five years are among the NBA's all-time great teams. I don't think either of them could hang with Magic's Lakers, Larry's Celtics, Isiah's Pistons, or Michael's Bulls. Being a close second to those teams is one thing. Being a close second to the last five championship teams is quite another.

Hey man, I got 3 parts to my question. First of all I was wondering what you think of Julius Erving maybe becoming the Raptors GM. Secondly, Do you think Carter would be motivated to play as hard as he can. And do you believe that Vinsanity has really slacked off ever since signing that big contract. p.s - Will the Raps make playoffs next year. - Jordan, Toronto

That's four questions. And not a question mark in sight. But that's alright, we don't discriminate against people with poor grammar skills here at Throwin' Bows.

1) It appears to me that all the talk about Dr. J becoming of the Raptors has been started by Dr. J. himself. I have no idea how serious Toronto's interest is in the Dr. I also have no idea how he'd fare at the job. Good players don't always make good front office types. 2) I doubt it, he never has been before. But it's possible. 3) I don't know if it has anything to do with his contract, but there's no doubt in my mind that Vince Carter is way more talented than he is effective. He may just be one of those guys without a huge burning desire to dominate. It happens. 4) If they add a big man and hire a great coach, yes. If they don't do either of those, or only do one, no.

Who would be your starting five composed purely of today's overrated players? Gary Payton would be my first choice at point. - P. Ang, Manila

PG - Steve Francis. SG - Tracy McGrady. SF - Latrell Sprewell. PF - Antoine Walker. C - Zydrunas Ilgauskus. Your thoughts, anyone?

If the Spurs get past the Lakers, who, in your opinion, among the playoff teams left can beat them? I think LA's the last major hurdle for them; I just don't see Minny or the Queens beating 'em in a 7 game series, and you can forget about the East. - Gino C., Cebu, Phils.

If they do get past the Lakers, and that's a big if at this point, I agree that neither Minnesota or Sacramento could beat them. But I wouldn't say we can forget about the East just yet. I think the East has closed the gap significantly this year. I'll predict right now that the championship series goes six games.

MJD, just what is a "mad-fly crossover?" Some Canadian slang for a hockey move maybe? Talk about overstepping your boundaries. But fortunately Dave's comments are in line with what's on my mind. To start, I would like to clarify that I actually do know how the game should be played. I also hate 'Sauce' and the 'And 1 Tour' just as much as I hate K Malone. Never said he couldn't play, just that I hate him. And now I don't even respect him or GP. Can we please stop praising these guys for their so called unselfish act. Joining some real winners to 'coat-tail' your way to a ring is very selfish and most of all, weak and punk-like. A respectable gamer would have sacrificed less loot to save his own team cap space to get better and busted his butt to win with his own team. After watching LA-SA game 1, it's clear that LA will learn that adding busters with HOF numbers and nothing to show for them rarely works. By the way, doesn't that extremely talented and fundamental ball player on San Antonio wearing jersey 21 with 2 titles already play power forward? - Youngin', The D

Indeed he does. I don't have a response, but I thought I should allow you to retort.

Whats on my mind is why the Laker fans boo Luke Walton whenever he gets hold of the ball? Doesn't anyone notice that? It's been going on for a long time and it really annoys me. What's it all about? - Dobby, Philippines

Not a lot of people outside of L.A. heard about it, but Luke Walton was caught building an elaborate video system that secretly taped the Lakers girls in their locker room. He then sold the tapes over the Internet, made billions, and used the money to fund a black-market baby-selling ring outside of Tijuana.

No, I made that up. They're not booing, they're saying, "Luuuuuke." They like him, I promise.

Question, comment, problem, tirade, hate mail, love note? Send it along here.

M.J. Darnell runs www.themightymjd.com.



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