20 Second Timeout is the place to find the best analysis and commentary about the NBA.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

"Transition Defense, Transition Defense, Transition Defense": Dallas Follows Avery Johnson's Mantra, Evens Series With Phoenix at 1-1

In case reporters' tape recorders were not working or the TV cameras were not rolling, before game two of the Western Conference Finals Dallas Coach Avery Johnson helpfully repeated what he hoped would be the theme of the night: "Transition defense, transition defense, transition defense." The Mavericks, listened and followed the game plan, holding Phoenix to .449 shooting from the field and 98 points in a seven point victory. The Suns got off to a slow start with a season-low 17 first quarter points but after a 35 point second quarter they led 52-47 at halftime. Dallas finally put on the defensive clamps in the second half, outscoring Phoenix 58-46. Dirk Nowitzki had 30 points, 14 rebounds and six assists for the Mavericks and Josh Howard overcame a sprained ankle to contribute a playoff career-high 29 points and seven rebounds. The Mavericks have not lost a game this season when Howard scores at least 20 points.

Boris Diaw had another outstanding game (25 points, 10 rebounds and six assists), Shawn Marion had 19 points and 19 rebounds and Steve Nash scored 16 points with 11 assists. Nash had only two points and three assists in the second half. Are we going to hear that he "quit," as Kobe Bryant was accused of doing when he did not put up big second half numbers in game seven versus Phoenix? After the game, Nash spoke about his quiet second half: "In hindsight, I would have maybe tried to be a little more aggressive, but I kept feeling like I was making the right play. I was drawing two guys and passing to the open man, and you know that's the type of player I am. I try to make the right play and then when the right time comes you want to be really aggressive." Funny, that's exactly what Kobe Bryant did when he was double-teamed. It's amazing how much better you look as a player when your teammates make open shots when you pass out of the double-team. In this year's playoffs we have seen Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Steve Nash each have at least one half in which he did not score a lot but also did not accumulate many assists. Only one of these three players was accused of being selfish.

Dallas outrebounded Phoenix 48-39 and had a 36-11 advantage in free throws attempted, clear statistical evidence of how successful the Mavericks were at slowing the game down and pounding Phoenix inside. Raja Bell did not play and may not return until game five, a significant loss for the Suns. His defensive tenacity and his three point shooting are difficult to replace; Leandro Barbosa started for Bell and struggled all night, shooting 3-15 from the field.

Phoenix Coach Mike D'Antoni put up a brave front in spite of those grim numbers and the prospect of not having Bell for the next few games: "We're in pretty good shape. We're going to go to Phoenix and hold serve. If we do that, we win the series." It is unlikely that things will go that smoothly for Phoenix. The Mavericks could easily be up 2-0--they led by nine points with 3:26 remaining in game one--and have the right personnel to execute Coach Johnson's game plan. The two L.A. teams pushed Phoenix to the brink but did not have the necessary willpower and focus to finish the job. Dallas will not likely repeat the late game collapse from game one and will win this series in six games--at the most.

posted by David Friedman @ 12:27 AM

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Turn It Up! Renewed Intensity Keys Detroit's Game Two Victory Over Miami

Detroit played with tremendous energy right from the start of Thursday's game against Miami, leading 25-12 after the first quarter on the way to a 92-88 win that squared the Eastern Conference Finals at one game each. Miami shot only 5-20 from the field in the first quarter yet despite all of those misses the Pistons held the Heat to one offensive rebound.

Miami cut the lead to four in the second quarter but trailed by 11 at halftime. Detroit came out firing in the second half and pushed the lead to 18 by the 7:52 mark in the third quarter. Then both teams hit a lull filled with turnovers, fouls and violations. It seemed that Detroit might coast to victory. With 1:46 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Pistons led 83-71. Miami refused to go quietly and went on a 17-7 run, including seven free throws. Detroit committed a five second violation--Tayshaun Prince argued with referee Dick Bavetta that he had called a timeout--after which Dwyane Wade nailed a three pointer to cut the lead to two with nine seconds left. Chauncey Billups then hit two free throws and Lindsey Hunter's strip of Wade sealed the win.

Prince led Detroit with 24 points and added 11 rebounds. Billups had all 18 of his points in the second half. Ben Wallace made all four of his shots from the field while contributing 12 rebounds and three blocked shots. Wade finished with 32 points, seven rebounds and five assists but also had nine turnovers. Shaquille O'Neal had 21 points, 12 rebounds, four blocked shots, four turnovers and no assists.

Which Detroit team will show up in game three in Miami: the one that is not focused, lacks energy and drifts through games or the one that executes with precision, is lively and carries the action right to the opponent?

posted by David Friedman @ 11:17 PM

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Playoff Potpourri

NBA.com has a section called "Click and Roll" which gathers together material from various newspapers, websites and blogs. Their "Click and Roll" page about the Mavs-Spurs series includes a link to 20 Second Timeout (scroll down to the May 11 entry to find the link to 20 Second Timeout):

Click and Roll: Spurs vs. Mavs edition

The link that NBA.com posted goes to the main page, not the specific entry that is quoted at "Click and Roll," but that's just as well because in that particular post I picked San Antonio to win the series, one of my three incorrect predictions out of the 12 series that have finished so far.

Part of the intrigue of the Dallas-Phoenix series is that good friends Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki were teammates for many years with Dallas. Nash's move to Phoenix seems to have helped both teams. It's not surprising that two-time MVP Nash has improved the Suns but it is strange that Dallas lost such a talented player and seemingly has not missed a beat. I talked with Dallas Assistant Coach Del Harris about this near the end of the 2004-05 season. A link to the interview is posted on the right side of 20 Second Timeout but for those of you who may have missed it at the time I thought that I would highlight it here again:

Del Harris Interview

Both teams have made some personnel changes since I spoke with Harris, but I think that his main points have stood the test of time. Here is Harris explaining why both players have done better apart after playing so well together as teammates: “In Steve’s case he has a better group of players to fit his style, to run with him. We didn’t have the same kind of athletes to run with him that Phoenix has. When you look at Stoudemire, Marion, Richardson, Johnson, this is like going to a race track. We had different kinds of players—we had very good players or we wouldn’t have been winning 50-60 games during the years that he was here—but we didn’t play that way and this (running style) really fits his game best. As for why Dirk is having a better season, in the past it was mainly Steve and Dirk working off each other and Finley fitting in there. We didn’t have the overall team balance, so opponents could pretty well zero in on those three guys. Particularly if two of them were involved in a play action, they could load the defense in that direction. This year Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson were able to bring nine new players into our mix and what we now have is a team that is so much more balanced that if you load up on Dirk we’ve got four or five other guys who can get 20 or 30 points on you. We didn’t have that before.”

posted by David Friedman @ 1:37 AM

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The Great Escape: Diaw's Dagger Does in Dallas

Dallas led Phoenix 114-105 with 3:26 left in the game and 116-110 with 1:36 remaining but Steve Nash scored 10 straight points for the Suns in 2:22 and Boris Diaw hit a game winning turnaround jumper with .5 seconds left as Phoenix stole home court advantage with a 121-118 victory (Tim Thomas provided the final margin by making two free throws after Dallas threw the ball away attempting an inbounds play). Diaw scored a career-high 34 points and Nash had a sensational game with 27 points, 16 assists and five rebounds. He hit threes, acrobatic driving layups and even postup shots, leading TNT's announcing crew to call him "a 6-2 Kevin McHale." Devin Harris led Dallas with 30 points, while Dirk Nowitzki had 25 points and 19 rebounds.

Dallas' strategy was to guard the three point line at all costs and the Mavericks did hold Phoenix to 5-15 three point shooting--but Nash hit two big threes in the final 2:11 of the game and the Suns shot .553 from the field due to Dallas' determination to, as TNT's Doug Collins put it, "hug" the three point shooters and not provide help against dribble penetration. Perhaps this strategy will work in the long haul--TNT's Steve Kerr said that Dallas Coach Avery Johnson was taking a page out of San Antonio's playbook for how to beat Phoenix--but Dallas gave up too many dunks and layups. The Mavericks must find a way to force Phoenix to beat them with midrange jumpers.

On the plus side for the Mavericks, they outrebounded Phoenix 48-38 and absolutely feasted on the offensive boards (18). Dallas did have the lead down the stretch after trailing for most of the early part of the game, so maybe the strategy is correct but the last minute execution of it was poor. If Dallas plays the same way for 48 minutes in game two--as opposed to 45--the Mavericks have a good chance to even the series.

Injuries could be a big story as this series progresses: Dallas' Josh Howard did not return to the game after spraining his ankle, Phoenix' Shawn Marion was hobbled by a sprained ankle and Phoenix' Raja Bell had to be assisted off of the court after he heard something pop in his lower left leg.

posted by David Friedman @ 12:58 AM

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Wilt Versus Shaq Article Reprinted at Legends of Basketball

Legends of Basketball, the official website of the National Basketball Retired Players Association, has reprinted my Classic Confrontation article about a hypothetical Wilt Chamberlain versus Shaquille O'Neal matchup. Their version of the article contains some nice photos of both players plus the legends who I interviewed. Here is the link:

https://www.nbrpa.com/news/featurearchive/Wilt_vs_Shaq.aspx

posted by David Friedman @ 7:44 PM

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Cold Detroit Shooting Propels Heat to Victory

Dwyane Wade scored 25 points on 9-11 field goal shooting and the Miami Heat seized home court advantage in the Eastern Conference Finals with a 91-86 win over Detroit. Wade and Shaquille O'Neal each played less than 30 minutes because of foul trouble, but several Heat players had strong performances that more than compensated for the time that the two Miami superstars spent on the bench. Antoine Walker had 17 points and seven rebounds, Gary Payton scored 14 points on 6-8 shooting and Alonzo Mourning made his presence felt on both ends of the court with six points on 3-3 shooting, four rebounds and two blocked shots in only 16 minutes. The Pistons only committed six turnovers and ran their offense well enough to get a lot of open looks but they simply could not make a shot, connecting on only 31 of 82 attempts from the field (.378), including an abysmal 5-21 (.238) from three point range. Rip Hamilton led Detroit with 22 points but only shot 9-22.

Shaquille O'Neal got off to a quick start, making five of his first six shots from the field and scoring 12 points before foul trouble forced him to the bench with 4:58 remaining in the first half. He seemed to tire in the second half, however, making only one of his last six shots, finishing with 14 points, eight rebounds, five turnovers, four fouls and one blocked shot. He can still show flashes of the Shaq of old but one wonders if he can sustain those flashes for an entire game.

With 2:28 remaining in the game, Miami led 84-73 and the Heat employed the "Hack-a-Ben" strategy, with Shaquille O'Neal intentionally fouling Ben Wallace away from the ball. Wallace missed both free throws and on the ensuing Heat possession Detroit "retaliated" by intentionally fouling O'Neal. The Heat were not yet shooting the bonus and Udonis Haslem replaced O'Neal in the lineup before Miami inbounded the ball. After the game, Heat Coach Pat Riley said that intentionally fouling Ben Wallace was not a psychological ploy, nor was it something he planned to do on a regular basis. He pointed out that Detroit often comes back by hitting three pointers and he did not want the Pistons to get off a three point shot on that possession.

History shows that game one winners at this level of the playoffs ultimately win the series in the vast majority of cases. Of course, with all the big games that Detroit has won in the playoffs the past few years it would be silly to declare the series over at this point. Shaq will continue to get into foul trouble because he is older and slower--this causes him to be a half step slow on defense and to rely more on power than finesse on offense. Wade will make the proper adjustment and not commit so many offensive fouls. Miami's role players will not shoot such a high percentage for an entire series. The Pistons can get whatever shots they want against Miami's defense if they are patient in running their offense. What does all of this mean? Detroit will win game two, setting up an exciting Memorial Day Weekend of hoops in Miami.

posted by David Friedman @ 12:26 AM

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Dallas Versus Phoenix Preview

Western Conference Finals

#2 Phoenix (54-28) vs. #4 Dallas (60-22)

Phoenix can win if…the Suns hit a high percentage of their three pointers, score a lot of easy baskets in transition and are active enough on defense to contain the dribble penetration of Dallas' quick guards and the deadly outside shooting of Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry.

Dallas will win because…Dirk Nowitzki will have a big series and Dallas has enough athletes to beat the Suns at their own game but has more of a defensive mindset and will be able to get key stops at crucial points during games.

Other things to consider: Phoenix has the higher seed by virtue of winning the Pacific Division, but Dallas enjoys homecourt advantage in this series because the Mavericks won more games. Phoenix needed a seventh game at home to beat a pair of inferior L.A. teams, while Dallas swept Memphis in the first round and then took out the defending champions on the road in game seven. Remember those classic images of NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle handing the Super Bowl trophy to his nemesis, Raiders' owner Al Davis? The NBA may experience its own version of this in June, with David Stern congratulating Dallas' Mark Cuban. Cuban has been mocked and derided in a lot of quarters but he has revitalized a moribund franchise and turned it into a powerhouse team. Dallas Coach Avery Johnson has done a tremendous job of transforming Dallas from an offensive oriented team to a team that plays solid defense while still being able to score. Dirk Nowitzki has built quite a resume of game seven performances, capped off by his 37 points and 15 rebounds versus the Spurs this year.

posted by David Friedman @ 4:50 AM

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Two Rounds Down, Two Rounds to Go

The Dallas Mavericks have pulled off one of the toughest feats in the NBA: winning a game seven on the road--and they did it against the defending NBA champions on a night when three-time Finals MVP Tim Duncan scored a playoff career high 41 points with 15 rebounds, six assists and three blocked shots. Dirk Nowitzki countered with 37 points and 15 rebounds and he saved Dallas' season with a three point play with 21 seconds left in regulation to tie the game, ultimately sending the contest to overtime after Duncan and Manu Ginobili each missed shots before the buzzer. The Spurs spent a lot of energy coming back from a 20 point deficit and seemed a step slow in the extra session as the Mavericks outscored them 15-7 en route to a 119-111 win. Duncan shot just 1-7 from the field in the overtime after being nearly unstoppable (11-17 field goal shooting) in the first four quarters. How tough is it to win a game seven on the road? Coming into this season, road teams were just 17-75 in game sevens in NBA history. Prior to Dallas' win, home teams in game sevens in the 2006 playoffs won easily even though the series themselves were tightly contested during the first six games: the Phoenix Suns routed the L.A. Lakers 121-90 in round one and the Detroit Pistons crushed the Cleveland Cavaliers 79-61 in round two. In the second game of Monday night's doubleheader, the Suns cruised to a 127-107 victory over the L.A. Clippers; that was yet another hard fought series that concluded with the home team winning the seventh game without much difficulty. Most of the teams that won game sevens on the road in previous seasons proved to be serious championship contenders. Dallas certainly must be viewed in that light as well.

So far, I have correctly predicted the outcome of 9 of the 12 playoff series. My three misses are picking the Lakers over the Suns, the Nets over the Heat and the Spurs over the Mavericks. The Lakers and Spurs lost in game seven, as noted above. I wrote that San Antonio "is just thismuch better than Dallas" but it turned out that Dallas is thismuch better than San Antonio. The Nets went down in five games; they provided a tantalizing taste of why I picked them to beat Miami by taking a commanding first half lead against the Heat in game one. The Nets held on to win that game despite losing Richard Jefferson to a sprained ankle but they did not play that well again the rest of the series. Jefferson returned to action but was not the same player until game five. Meanwhile, versatile veteran Cliff Robinson got suspended for violating the NBA's substance abuse policy and Nenad Krstic, who showed so much promise during the season, mysteriously lost his shooting touch after connecting on more than half of his shots during the regular season and the first round. Regardless of these circumstances, I can't offer any excuses--I was wrong about those three series; while they could have perhaps gone the other way, the same thing could also be said about some of the series that I got right.

This year's playoffs have featured some very exciting action, several overtime games and some spectacular individual performances. We have "witnessed" LeBron James' playoff debut and in less than a month we will crown a new champion. Both of my projected finalists--San Antonio and New Jersey--have been eliminated. Now I expect to see Dallas and Detroit in the NBA Finals. I previously posted my thoughts about the Eastern Conference Finals rematch between Detroit and Miami and I will address the Western Conference Finals battle between Dallas and Phoenix in my next post.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:26 AM

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Classic Confrontation: Wilt Versus Shaq

I wrote several articles for Basketball Digest looking at great rivalries such as Larry Bird-Julius Erving, Walt Frazier-Earl Monroe and Indiana Pacers-Kentucky Colonels. Last month I wrote a "Classic Confrontation" article about the Dave DeBusschere-Gus Johnson rivalry. My most recent offering in this genre looks at a "Classic Confrontation" that never took place on the court but has fascinated people for years: what would happen if Wilt Chamberlain in his prime played against Shaquille O'Neal in his prime? Dolph Schayes, Dr. Jack Ramsay, Oscar Robertson, Spencer Haywood and Warren Jabali share their thoughts on this hypothetical clash of the titans:

Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes earned selection to the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players List and played against Wilt Chamberlain for several years before coaching him with the Philadelphia 76ers. Who would he take first in a hypothetical draft—Wilt Chamberlain at his best or Shaquille O’Neal at his best? Schayes replies, "The Wilt Chamberlain of the latter years is who I would pick, merely because he was an unstoppable inside player—a much better rebounder than Shaq, a better shot blocker than Shaq and I think he was a better team guy with the guys on the team than Shaq. It was the Wilt who was the all-around player, the passing Wilt. They are both haunted by their poor foul shooting. In Shaq’s case—if he and Wilt had to play against each other—one of Wilt’s great records would have been broken and that record is never having fouled out of a game. I think that if Wilt had to play Shaq--the physical Shaq going to the basket and all that and Wilt accepting the challenge of trying to stop him—Wilt would have fouled out of games. Wilt never fouled out against the Celtics because Russell was not the offensive threat that Shaq is. As far as Shaq is concerned, there is a good Shaq and a bad Shaq. There is a Shaq that I think sometimes doesn’t compete 100% as he should—that’s the bad Shaq. The good Shaq that competes 100% would have given Wilt a lot of trouble offensively. Shaq, when he wants to be an offensive weapon, is one of the greatest in the history of the game and would dominate and would force even Wilt into foul trouble. So who’s the better of the two? In my opinion I would say Wilt."

Schayes adds, "The early Wilt I would not take (over Shaq). He took a lot of fadeaway jump shots, which was a very poor selection. I think he did that because Wilt, being a very proud person, a very egotistical person--nobody becomes great unless they have a big ego—felt that he wasn’t a complete basketball player unless he had more of a game than just dunking and being around the basket. He was constantly criticized for not being a complete player—'All you do is dunk.' So he said to himself, 'I’m going to prove that I can shoot as well as anybody.' That’s why he took those stupid, foolish, idiotic fadeaway jump shots—to prove to somebody, mostly himself, that he could play besides just being a big guy. When he took that shot I would tear my hair out (as his coach) and say, 'Oh my God,' because it put him off balance, he couldn’t rebound his own shot and his man was able to take off and get layups because he was off balance."

Schayes' fellow Hall of Famer and Top 50 selection Oscar Robertson also prefers Wilt to Shaq: "You have to take Wilt. He once averaged 50 points a game and he averaged 24-plus rebounds per game and he (had seasons in which he) averaged 5-7 assists. As dominant as Shaq is with the players he is playing against, Wilt was just awesome. Shaq is an aggressive player who uses his weight and strength to overpower people. Wilt had power but he also had the finger roll and the bank shot--Wilt had a more complete game in the pivot."

Dr. Jack Ramsay was the General Manager of Chamberlain’s 1967 Philadelphia 76ers team that set an NBA record for wins in a season and ended Boston’s eight year stranglehold on the NBA title. So he would choose Wilt, right? As Lee Corso would say, not so fast my friend. Ramsay offers this scouting report: "Wilt was an amazing player. I would say it's hard to predict how they would fare against each other. Wilt was a little taller, rangier, a great shot blocker--much more of a shot blocker than Shaq." Why was Wilt a better shot blocker? Ramsay explains, "His length. Longer than Shaq, long arms. Great timing for the ball. They didn't keep stats at that time for blocked shots. I was writing a piece about defense in general and I wanted to find out how many shots Chamberlain and Russell blocked--Russell was even better. So I called Boston and they said they didn't have any clips and they didn't keep any stats of that. I called Harvey (Pollack) and Harvey said, 'We don't have anything for a whole season, but every so often I would have one of our stat guys keep blocks. I know for a fact that there were a couple games when Wilt had 25 blocks." Keep in mind that the NBA has only officially recorded blocked shots since 1973-74 and the official NBA record is 17, set by Elmore Smith.

Ramsay notes that Chamberlain was ahead of his time with his emphasis on strength training. Was Chamberlain stronger than Shaq in terms of basketball, not necessarily bench press strength, but in terms of holding his position, backing somebody down, using the strength in a basketball sense? Ramsay said, "I think probably Shaq (is stronger), because of his body mass. He is so wide and thick--and very quick footed, has great command of his feet. You'll see every so often, some of his spin moves--they're lightning quick. I don't think Wilt had that. Wilt was more methodical, worked the ball and the finger roll, back into the basket. It's hard to say how it would've come out, but it would've been a great matchup."

I asked Ramsay point blank who he would take between 'young Wilt' or 'young Shaq' if he were building a team around one guy rather than trying to fit him in with the personnel on a given team. Ramsay says, "Very difficult. I really think that Shaq is more of a team player. Wilt was a stats collector. He would decide before the season in what stats he wanted to lead the league. He led the league in assists one year."

What about Wilt’s performance for the 1967 76ers? Ramsay says, "That was his best year. That might have been his best year ever, that one season. We had a new coach, Alex Hannum. He put in a game plan where the ball went through Wilt consistently. He only averaged 24 points a game, which is not chopped liver, but here is a guy who averaged 50. He didn't shoot. He really was patient. He looked for cutters. He made himself a good passer. That was his best season. That year Philly beat Boston four out of five in the Eastern Finals and then beat the Warriors in six games. Wilt was terrific. I thought that if he had played his career like that he'd have been regarded as a different player."

Ramsay acknowledges that Wilt played for several different teams and coaches, and that this instability surrounding Wilt is part of the reason that Wilt did not play that way for his entire career but still insists, “I think Shaq is much more dedicated to the team winning and less concerned about his stats."

Warren Jabali was an ABA All-Star as Wilt’s NBA career wound down. He says, "There's no comparison. Chamberlain is head and shoulders above Shaquille O'Neal. Who I like to compare Shaquille O'Neal with is Darryl Dawkins. What happens with Shaquille O'Neal is he is able to push people out of the way, step on them and dunk the ball. If Darryl Dawkins had been able to do what Shaquille O'Neal is able to do on the low post, Darryl Dawkins would have been unstoppable. Not only could he dunk as hard and forcefully as Shaquille O'Neal can, he had a 15 foot jump shot to go with all of that. He probably fouled out more than anybody in the history of the NBA. They did not allow Darryl Dawkins to play basketball. They controlled his game so much that when he went out on the court it was like he was walking on egg shells. In order for us to even include Shaquille O'Neal in the conversation (about Wilt), you would have to imagine Shaquille O'Neal not being able to just knock people down and dunk the basketball. That means that he would have to have the ability to consistently make a five or ten foot jump shot or hook. If that was what he had to do, then he would not be as dominant as he has been by playing the other way. So he could not compare to Chamberlain because Chamberlain had the strength to play that way but he didn't do it that way. He had a little fadeaway 10 foot jump shot, finger rolls and all that kind of stuff."

Spencer Haywood played against Chamberlain but he tosses a curveball when asked who he would take between Wilt and Shaq: "I'd take Kareem.” Haywood explains, “He could do more. He could score, he had that skyhook. You've got to have a dominant weapon that doesn't interfere with the whole flow of the game. So, with Wilt, in his latter years he changed over and had all that stuff going on (a complete game), but in his earlier years the ball had to go through him. You could play around Kareem and then at the last second drop it in to him and he'd shoot a skyhook. He just had a lot of stuff going on--he ran the floor very well… I think that guys are doing Shaq a disservice by putting him in that category until it's all over with. Everybody says that it's Shaq and Wilt, but I don't see it like that. Shaq's career is not complete, but he's no Wilt Chamberlain. Chamberlain changed his game and made adjustments. Shaq doesn't seem to want to do that. His game is always based on running you over.” Pressed to select either Wilt or Shaq, Haywood chooses Wilt and adds that Shaq would not be his next choice after Wilt.

Here is the statistical tale of the tape for Wilt versus Shaq:

Wilt, regular season: 30.1 ppg, 22.9 rpg, .540 FG%, .511 FT%, 4.4 apg , Rookie of the Year, 4 MVPs, 7 All-NBA First Team selections. Led the league in scoring seven times, in rebounding 11 times, in field goal percentage nine times; blocked shots not officially recorded during his career.

Shaq, regular season: 26.3 ppg, 11.8 rpg, .580 FG%, .528 FT%, 2.8 apg, Rookie of the Year, 1 MVP, 7 All-NBA First Team selections. Led the league in scoring two times, in field goal percentage nine times; has never led the league in blocked shots.

Wilt, playoffs: 22.5 ppg, 24.5 rpg, .522 FG%, .465 FT%, 4.2 apg, 1 Finals MVP, two championships.

Shaq, playoffs: 26.3 ppg, 12.4 rpg, .562 FG%, .512 FT%, 3.0 apg, 3 Finals MVPs, three championships.

As I pointed out in a Basketball Digest article a few years ago, the most accurate way to look at Wilt’s scoring is to divide his career in two: after the 1965-66 season (his seventh in a 14 year career), Wilt was averaging 39.6 ppg in the regular season (21,486 points in 543 games) and 32.8 ppg in the playoffs; in the remaining six years of Wilt’s career he averaged 19.8 ppg in the regular season (9933 points in 502 games) and 17.6 ppg in the playoffs (1899 points in 108 games). So, in the first part of Wilt’s career he scored at a very high rate in the regular season and in the playoffs; in the second part of his career he averaged less than 20 ppg but won two championships with two of the most dominant single season squads in NBA history. In general, most players average fewer points in the playoffs than in the regular season because of tougher competition and a slower paced game.

Shooting percentages were lower in Wilt’s era and shot attempts were higher; this explains some of the disparity in their numbers in rebounding and field goal percentage. Wilt and Shaq are tied for the league record by winning nine field goal percentage titles. As for rebounding, while Wilt was probably not literally twice the rebounder that Shaq is, it is telling that Wilt won 11 rebounding titles while playing at the same time as Bill Russell and Shaq has never won even one rebounding title. It should also be noted that the NBA did not select a Finals MVP until 1969, two years after Wilt won his first NBA championship.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:05 AM

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Sunday, May 21, 2006

Detroit Versus Miami Preview

Eastern Conference Finals

#1 Detroit (64-18) vs. #2 Miami (52-30)

Miami can win if…Shaquille O'Neal looks more like the Shaq of old instead of old Shaq, Dwyane Wade dominates in the fourth quarter and Antoine Walker provides a legitimate third scoring option.

Detroit will win because because…the Pistons are on a mission. Almost losing to Cleveland will sharpen this team's focus and prevent the Pistons from having the letdowns that they sometimes have during a playoff series.

Other things to consider: Ben Wallace and company played well enough against O'Neal to defeat his teams in the 2004 NBA Finals and the 2005 Eastern Conference Finals. O'Neal is no longer able to dominate for a whole series and the supporting cast around him is no better than it was on those occasions. Cleveland took Detroit to seven games largely because LeBron James' stellar play and tremendous confidence provided a huge lift to his teammates. Wade is not quite at James' level, so look for Detroit to win this series in six games.

posted by David Friedman @ 8:55 PM

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Detroit Smothers Cleveland in Game Seven

Stop me if you've heard this here before: game sevens on the road are death. The Detroit Pistons beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 79-61 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. Tayshaun Prince led a balanced Detroit attack with 20 points, while Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Chauncey Billups chipped in with 15, 13 and 12 respectively. LeBron James had a game-high 27 points and led Cleveland with eight rebounds. Larry Hughes, returning to action for the first time since the death of his brother Justin, had a solid all-around game with 10 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals. He was the only other Cavalier to reach double figures in points. He displayed great chemistry with James, feeding him a lob pass and taking care of some of the ball handling responsibilities, freeing James to attack the defense off the ball. Cleveland trailed 19-6 when Hughes first entered the game but cut the margin to 40-38 by halftime. James and Hughes should be a very formidable duo for years to come.

This was hardly an artistic win by the Pistons, who shot .426 from the field, .231 on three pointers and .563 on free throws while accumulating 11 assists and 11 turnovers. The game was there for the taking for Cleveland but the Cavaliers simply could not make a shot, producing one of the most inept offensive performances in postseason history: their 23 second half points tied the record for fewest points in a second half in playoff history; their 10 third quarter points set a franchise record for fewest points in a quarter in a playoff game; their 61 points were the third lowest total ever for a playoff game and the worst ever in a game seven. Of course, credit must be given to Detroit's defense but Cleveland also missed open shots and failed to execute their offense smoothly. Other than James, the Cavaliers shot 9-41 from the field.

Two things stand out from this game:

1) Chauncey Billups, who received heavy MVP consideration, was his team's fourth leading scorer in the biggest game of the season. He shot 4-10 from the field with eight rebounds, three assists and three turnovers. The most important defensive assignment--LeBron James--was handled at various times by Prince, Hamilton and Lindsey Hunter with a lot of double-teaming by Detroit's bigs. So, again, I ask the question: How can Billups be the MVP of the entire league when he is neither the best nor the most important player on his own team? When the Pistons need a basket, they go to Rasheed in the post, Prince in the post or Rip coming off of screens. Billups has shown a knack for hitting big shots over the years--and he made some in game six--but to even put him in the MVP discussion is ludicrous unless you are going to include all two dozen All-Stars in that talk.

2) James scored 21 points in the first half on 10-15 shooting from the field but in the second half he scored six points on 1-9 shooting. James had 1 point and shot 0-3 from the field in the third quarter. Do those numbers have a familiar ring to them? They should, because in his much criticized game seven performance versus Phoenix, Kobe Bryant scored 23 first half points on 8-13 field goal shooting. He also scored 1 third quarter point on 0-3 shooting. LeBron finished with two assists and Kobe had one assist. Basically, they played the same offensive game and obtained the same result--a blowout loss on the road in game seven. Yet I would be willing to bet that no one is going to accuse LeBron of being selfish or quitting or pouting--and don't tell me that this was different because the game was close for a longer stretch of time or that LeBron was being more aggressive than Kobe. LeBron's "aggressiveness" in the second half consisted of taking forced jumpers, committing offensive fouls and attempting off balance drives; it was not a productive aggressiveness. What happened in both game sevens to these superstars is very simple: their teammates did not meet the challenge of playing in a game seven. Neither Kobe nor LeBron could accumulate assists because none of their teammates could make a shot. Their teammates were so inept that the other team could double-team them at will and then send even more defenders once they put the ball on the floor. Kobe did the best that he could to carry his team to a game seven and then to give his team the best chance to win that game seven--and so did LeBron. The question is why will these two performances be written about and discussed in such different terms. The answer is simple: a lot of people don't like Kobe--they are "haters" and whether Kobe shoots 30 times or 3 they will always criticize him.

Near the end of the season, I wrote an article for ProBasketballNews.com in which I said that Kobe should be voted MVP; I ranked LeBron fifth "with a bullet" at that time. I would move LeBron up to number two after seeing him perform in the playoffs. He is still not good enough defensively to be placed ahead of Kobe. During the ABC telecast of game seven, Hubie Brown repeatedly pointed out that Tayshaun Prince was the one Detroit player who consistently met or exceeded his regular season performance throughout the series. Prince had a superb game seven and he played 47 minutes--which is nothing new for him since he led Detroit in minutes played during the series. Well, who had the primary defensive responsibility on Prince? LeBron James. There was a beautiful play in the second half when Hamilton came off of a baseline screen and received a pass in the lane; LeBron turned his head and Prince cut to the basket, drawing a foul. LeBron's on ball defense has improved a lot and he uses his athleticism to get steals and blocked shots in the open court but his off the ball defense is still not at a championship level. I am sure that he will improve in this area. In one of the post-game press conferences during this series, LeBron talked about not listening to what Charles Barkley or other critics say about his game--but he then listed some of what has been said about him, showing that he is indeed aware of his shortcomings and has worked hard to eliminate them. If their teams improve their rosters just a little bit, Kobe and LeBron will be battling for MVP trophies and championships for years to come.

posted by David Friedman @ 7:49 PM

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