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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Pistons Contain Howard, Roll to a 91-72 Victory

Dwight Howard put up very impressive numbers in Orlando's first round victory over Toronto but he had just 12 points and eight rebounds as Detroit cruised to a 91-72 game one win over the Magic. Chauncey Billups led a balanced Detroit attack with 19 points and seven assists. Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis paced Orlando with 18 points and seven rebounds each.

Orlando's offense is based on Howard attacking on the inside and drawing double teams that result in wide open three pointers for Turkoglu, Lewis and other perimeter players. Detroit countered by staying at home on Orlando's outside shooters and mainly using single coverage on Howard, who injured his left thumb in the second half but returned to action after getting it wrapped; the Pistons were able to do this because they have enough frontcourt depth to rotate several different primary defenders on to Howard, including Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess and Jason Maxiell. A great player cannot allow himself to be defended one on one, so the onus is on Howard, the Orlando coaching staff and the Orlando guards to make sure that the Pistons are not able to get away with this strategy in game two.

Detroit led for most of the game but the Pistons were only up 43-42 at halftime and they did not pull away for good until the fourth quarter. That suggets that Orlando should be able to compete with Detroit if the Magic tighten up a couple key areas: they must get the ball to Howard deeper in the post so that he can get Detroit in foul trouble and they must cut down on their turnovers (13) and/or force more Detroit turnovers (six) . The Pistons have repeatedly shown that they have a tendency to relax during a series, so a vigorous effort by Orlando in the wake of Detroit's easy game one win could very possibly lead to a victory for the Magic in game two.

Trailing 80-62 with 6:23 remaining in the game, the Magic officially waved the white flag by inserting J.J Redick into the lineup; Redick rarely appears on the court if the outcome of the game is still even vaguely in doubt. He missed all three of his field goal attempts in garbage time. I have not written about Redick for a while because he has fallen completely off of the map: he had four minutes of mop up duty in one game in the first round and he only appeared in four games in April--and that included the last two games of the regular season when the team's usual starters hardly played. Other than those two games, Redick has not played more than 10 minutes in a game since February 27.

The only reason that Redick is even worth mentioning is that prior to this season ESPN's David Thorpe insisted that Redick will one day be a starter on a playoff team. Thorpe's regular job is to provide training for NBA players, so one could say that this lends credence to his player evaluations--or one could argue that this is a conflict of interest, since Thorpe may have commercial reasons to pump up (or downgrade) certain players' abilities (for instance, if Thorpe works with--or would like to work with--a given player one could reasonably wonder if this affects what he writes about him for ESPN). I've never met Thorpe, nor have I spoken with him but for someone whose paper credentials are so impressive on the surface--and who ESPN touts as some kind of basketball guru--he comes up with some evaluations that are so off the wall that one cannot help but wonder if something else is at play. Obviously, no one is perfect and even a knowledgeable person can make a mistake but an NBA scout who really knows his stuff laughed out loud when I first told him that Thorpe said that Redick could one day be a starter for a playoff team; I mean, at this point the real question is whether Redick can even find a spot in the regular rotation--starting for a playoff team is pure fantasy. That is why every time I see Redick glued to Orlando's bench I think back to that old Thorpe article and I wonder what the deal really is--does Thorpe honestly believe that Redick has the game to be a starter for an NBA playoff team or is that Thorpe's way of obliquely suggesting that he can train Redick well enough to eventually meet that challenge?

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:53 AM

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