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Monday, April 23, 2007

The Score, the Key Stat, the Bottom Line: Sunday's Western Conference Games

Sunday's three Western Conference games featured one outstanding half by Kobe Bryant (followed by a not so outstanding half) and two upsets of highly touted championship contenders.

The Score: Phoenix 95, L.A. Lakers 87

The Key Stat: Kobe Bryant scored 28 points on 11-17 shooting in the first half as the Lakers took a 48-39 lead. The 28 points ties the most he has ever scored in one half of a playoff game but the "39" is even more significant: Phoenix is not comfortable playing at that pace. Fortunately for the Suns, they can bring in Sixth Man of the Year candidate Leandro Barbosa, who scored 19 of his playoff career-high matching 26 points in the second half. Meanwhile, Bryant shot 4-16 from the field in the second half, finishing with 39 points. It should be noted that Bryant exceeded his regular season scoring average while shooting his normal percentage from the field; granted, he played at vastly different levels in the two halves but in the end the Lakers got more point production from him than usual without sacrificing any accuracy. Obviously, the Lakers would prefer to keep the game close in the first half without him having to exert so much energy, making it more likely that he can shoot 11-17 down the stretch.

The Bottom Line: ESPN's Jon Barry summed up this whole series during the pregame show: whether Kobe Bryant scores a ton of points or tries to be a "facilitator," the Lakers do not have enough weapons to beat the Suns in a seven game series. Think about some of the "key" moves that the Lakers have made recently: elevating rookie Jordan Farmar to the starting point guard spot over Smush Parker and welcoming back the injured Kwame Brown as the starting center. How many minutes would either of those guys be playing on a championship contending team? When Bryant plays like Superman, he can singlehandedly make the Lakers competitive against anyone--but he is not Superman, he just seems like he is. Whatever he does in this series--score 50 points or dish out 10 assists--it won't be enough and will surely provide more fodder for his critics. The Lakers are a seventh seeded team that will be competitive with a vastly superior Suns team primarily because of Bryant's scoring and the open shots that his teammates get when he is double-teamed.

The Score: Denver 95, San Antonio 89

The Key Stat: Allen Iverson's 31 points and Carmelo Anthony's 30 points will attract most people's attention but the key stat is .420--San Antonio's field goal percentage in this game. The Spurs usually win by forcing their opponents to shoot a low percentage but the Nuggets beat them at their own game. It will be interesting to see if they can do this three more times.

The Bottom Line: Denver's problem all year--besides suspensions and injuries--has been lackluster defense. If the Nuggets will work hard on defense consistently then they can be very dangerous--but I still think that the Spurs will win this series and that it will not go seven games.

The Score: Golden State 97, Dallas 85

The Key Stat: Dallas had no answer for Baron Davis, who had 33 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists. Dallas shot .353 from the field, "led" by Dirk Nowitzki's 4-16.

The Bottom Line: We all knew going in to this series that Golden State provides certain intriguing matchup problems for Dallas but the question here is the same one that applies to Denver: are the Warriors disciplined enough to play this way for an entire series? I still think that Dallas will win this series but I could see it going seven games.

posted by David Friedman @ 5:05 AM

12 comments

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12 Comments:

At Monday, April 23, 2007 6:19:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey,i'm a chinese fan of the nba
i've read your article Acing the Finals Test, and i just want to know the finals average points that Elgin Baylor had, i didn't see that in the article , thank u very much

chen

 
At Monday, April 23, 2007 11:07:00 AM, Blogger marcel said...

i seen the games in the spurs i think the spurs will comeback and the series it's going to be tough though but i cant see denver play like this 4 out of 7, dallas didnt look confident thats 7 games to me at least skip bayless called it dallas will win because of experience but what a game by g state at least the first. the suns beat the lakers because they dint go to odom enough he was killing them down low go played great first half terrible in the second half took terrible shots at the end dont know what he was doing there. steve nash again changed the game in the 3rd quarter thats why he's the man to me he changed the game with 12 big poins when phoenix needed it badly he changed the momentum then barbosa came in and did his thing in te fourth quarter lakers will get swept probably because there leader not a good decsion maker unlike mr nash even though kobe alot more skilled intangibles leadership etc go to nash all day

 
At Monday, April 23, 2007 11:11:00 AM, Blogger marcel said...

i meant to say kobe played great in the first half and not the second half and it will be another early exit for him

 
At Monday, April 23, 2007 4:16:00 PM, Anonymous temp0x00 said...

"he changed the momentum then barbosa came in and did his thing in te fourth quarter lakers will get swept probably because there leader not a good decsion maker unlike mr nash even though kobe alot more skilled intangibles leadership etc go to nash all day"

Are you purposely dense or are you just acting?

Leadership skills and your dubious mention of intagibles (code for stuff I make up to make my player seem more better than he is) have nothing to do with the Suns being better or winning this game. Steve Nash couldn't win jack with our team. In fact, he'd be worse, since he doesn't have the ability to carry the team on his back and go on the kind of tears (while playing heavy minutes like Kobe) that Kobe can. Whereas Kobe would more easily fit into the facilitator role with the Suns. He did it with the Laker championship teams and can do it again.

If you can't appreciate that, then I pity you, because you obviously don't understand the game at the level that you think you do.

It's always amusing to see the ridiculous standards that Kobe detractors set for him. He has to simultaneously make his own shots and those of his teammates. If his teammates don't come out with fire, it's suddenly his fault. If Kobe (a champion with a great work ethic and multiple records and experience at the highest level) can't get this group to shape up, why would they listen to a guy who hasn't even sniffed a Final in his entire career? Let alone one that can't even carry the team like Kobe can.

Newsflash, it was Barbosa who was the main one who made the difference, not solely Nash and his "intangibles" and "leadership." Well, that and Smush Parker's atrocious defense and our weak minded team (except for Kobe).

Phil has to learn to manage Kobe's minutes more. He should have taken him out late in the 3rd quarter, so he would've still had his legs for the 4th. That and he should've benched Parker-the guy has shown (yet again), that he doesn't have the mental ability to play at a high level or the desire to do so.

 
At Monday, April 23, 2007 5:11:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Chen:

Baylor averaged 26.4 ppg in his Finals career.

I posted a chart that includes the top ten Finals averages:

http://20secondtimeout.blogspot.com/2007/04/acing-finals-test.html

(If that link does not work, go to the archives on the right hand side and find my April 19 post about Acing the Finals Test).

 
At Monday, April 23, 2007 5:25:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I agree with you 100%, Temp.

Smush only played 10 minutes and, unless his attitude and defense significantly improves, those may be the last 10 minutes of his Lakers career. He was awful.

I thought that Kobe forced a couple shots, but he carried the team for the whole first half and nobody else was doing anything, so it's not like he had much choice.

I think that Jackson is concerned that if he takes Kobe out for any extended stretch that the game will get completely out of hand. He wanted to take Kobe out of the Clippers game recently and Kobe told Jackson that if he did then the Lakers would fall behind by 10 or 12 immediately. Jackson agreed and left Kobe in the game.

That said, I think that it would be better if Jackson took Kobe out at the normal time (end of third quarter) anyway. If the team falls apart with Kobe out, then it will be clear to the management, the coaching staff, the players and the fans what the real problem is--and it's not Kobe Bryant. Bring Bryant back in with 9-10 minutes to go in the fourth, when a rested Bryant will be better able to deal with whatever mess his teammates create at the end of the third and opening of the fourth. Yesterday, Kobe was missing shots at the end of the game that he had made throughout the first half and during most of his high scoring games. He is too proud to say that he was fatigued, but he clearly was. Marion said that the Suns' strategy is that Kobe cannot shoot like that for four quarters and that when he gets tired they will make their run. In other words, the Suns know that they cannot stop him but they also know that the Lakers have no other threats, so the Suns will just bide their time until he is too tired from carrying the team.

Keeping Kobe in until he is "gassed" (to use Phil Jackson's description) simply masks the real problem by making it seem that the Lakers lost because Kobe would not stop shooting. They lost because he stopped making shots; if he had stopped shooting in the first half, it would not even have been a competitive game in the first place. The same thing happened in game seven last year. Kobe had a ton of first half points to keep the Lakers close; he stopped shooting in the second half to get his teammates involved and the Lakers got blown out.

 
At Monday, April 23, 2007 7:49:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

you gotta understand what im saying temp and david if you look at the game closely in the 3rd lakers were up double digits steve nash had like 10 staight points and i remember mike breen and marc jackson say he knows when it's time to score and when his team desprately needed it. at that point the game changed it helped he was wide open and not too far from the basket but he still did what he had to do then barbosa got alot of points in a bunch after but nash initiatlly turned the tide for phoenix kobe shot 11-17 he played great jordan great that first half but he forced alot of shots and odom was playing well they shoulda pounded it to odom more is all im saying he made a bad descion trying to do too much thats why sometimes it's not good when kobe starts off hot like he did because he always thinks he's hot if you miss six in a row you got to know to pass to somebody else especially when odom is playing like that which he is inconsistent it dont always happen. at the end of the day nash knew when to take over and kobe usually does but he tried to do too much yesterday.

 
At Tuesday, April 24, 2007 12:39:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

I have to disagree with you slightly, David.

I think the Lakers needed Kobe's points in the first half, and need him to score an enormous amount of points to have a chance. Having said that, I think Kobe could have mixed it up much better than he did in the fourth quarter.

One thing: Kobe has to stop settling for extremely difficult fade-away jumpers (in general, and especially when they are not falling). He needs to take it to the basket to get some better shots. I realize that this wasn't possible towards the end of the game, when Phoenix had almost its whole team surrounding him. If Phoenix is playing him that way, and if Kobe is not feeling it like he was in the first half, he has to pass it, no matter how bad his teammates are. Going 1-10 is just unacceptable, no matter what situation you are in.

Another thing: the Lakers didn't have many places to go in the 4th when they were trying to come back, and it was appropriate for Kobe to try to carry the load. However, he should have involved Lamar Odom more in a two-pronged attack. For one reason or another, the Suns don't seem to be able to contain Odom, and he Lakers have to go to him more. I think the Lakers went away from Odom towards the end of the game, and it hurt them. He should have had 25-30 points last night (and that's what he will have to give them if the Lakers are to have a chance).

 
At Tuesday, April 24, 2007 12:44:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nash made some big shots in the third q but overall he shot a worse percentage than Kobe and scored a lot fewer points. Kobe has had a lot more great playoff moments than Nash and has already won three rings. Nash has not even made it to the Finals yet. I don't think that Nash has a better sense of the moment than Kobe does; Nash simply has more help around him. Kobe sensed the moment--he simply missed the shots. As I have documented recently, the Lakers generally win when Kobe scores 40, 50, 60 points. They did not lose because he shot too much--they lost because he went cold in the fourth q. Even that is not really entirely true, because they could have survived his slump if they could have slowed down Barbosa. You know the Lakers' roster is thin when Jordan Farmar's foul trouble is a serious issue; Farmar is a rookie who was recently playing in the D-League and now he is a key part of the rotation??? It might sound crazy, but the Lakers could actually use Scottie Pippen, just to come in the game for 10-15 minute stretches, play defense and handle the ball.

The Lakers actually did a lot better in game one than I expected, so I would not be shocked if the Lakers won game two. Before the series began I thought that the Suns might win quickly but if the Lakers take game two they could really stretch this series out.

 
At Tuesday, April 24, 2007 12:54:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Odom has the ball a lot, so I don't buy this idea that Kobe is preventing Odom from showing what he can do. Odom has proven that he is a role player--a talented role player, but a role player nonetheless. He has never wanted to carry the load, plus he is playing hurt now. Odom's been around for 8 years and has never made an All-Star team. The idea that he is a great player is a myth and every time someone compares him to Scottie Pippen I want to throw up. Pippen is a Top 50 player who made several All-NBA and All-Defensive Teams and was a legit MVP candidate in the mid-90s.

I do think that Kobe forced some shots in this game; a lot of times when people say that Kobe takes bad shots I disagree but it's pretty obvious that he forced a few this time--but I'd rather have Kobe force a shot than pass to guys who have never shown any ability to do anything. Odom is a lousy fourth quarter player; he turns the ball over and makes poor decisions--not so much on Sunday, but throughout his career.

Like I wrote before, I'd like to see Jackson take Kobe out with about two minutes to go in the third and put him back in with 9-10 minutes left in the fourth. Give Odom and the rest of the guys a chance to hold a lead and keep a deficit to a minimum. After they screw up everything and a rested Kobe comes back to save the day or nearly save the day, then maybe people will have a better idea of what is really happening with this team. The reason Jackson does not do this is he already knows that his team is a mess, that Odom is not clutch and that if Kobe sits for too long in the second half (more than a minute or two) the game will get completely out of hand. Jackson knows that his only prayer of winning is to ride Kobe until the wheels fall off.

 
At Tuesday, April 24, 2007 6:20:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

yeah kobe has had a better career than nash and lamar odom is a role player i agree but your totally wrong with saying kobe a better descion maker than nash nash is like magic johnson always making the right pass or taking over at the right time david also kobe shot better percentage but he was 11-17 and then he went 4-16 in the second half. nash made the shots when they were needed the most and kobe didnt is all im saying it aint got nuthing to do with past when shaq was there every player who played next to shaq wins it's what you do without shaq that counts same thing with wade when shaq retires by the way. your go overboard on your kobe praise then critcizes people if they critize kobe i love kobe im dissapointed sometimes at his descion makeing thas all im saying with shaq his flaws didnt show now i see them more is why im so critical if you think im a kobe hater im not

 
At Wednesday, April 25, 2007 4:13:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I don't recall calling you a Kobe hater. I don't really care if someone "hates" Kobe or not. I'm simply watching the games and analyzing what I see.

I see that Kobe is the best player in the NBA and that Nash is the best point guard. Kobe has no real help around him and carried a lottery level team to the playoffs. Nash has a championship caliber team around him that he has yet to take to the Finals. We'll see what happens from here.

In general I agree with the idea that the timing of when shots are made is important but it makes no sense to just dismiss all the shots Kobe made in the first half. If he doesn't do that then you get what you got in game two--a mess. Kobe did all he could until he was fatigued and could not do anymore. In game two he accepted the double teams and passed to his teammates and the Lakers got killed. The Lakers are simply a terrible team right now--barely watchable: they don't play defense and, other than Kobe, they seem to be very soft mentally, eager to simply quit.

 

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