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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Billups and Anthony Lead the Way as the Nuggets Advance to the Conference Finals for the First Time Since 1985

Chauncey Billups added another chapter to his fairy tale return to Denver, posting 28 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds and just two turnovers as the Nuggets beat the Mavericks 124-110 to close out their second round series 4-1 and advance to the Western Conference Finals. Carmelo Anthony had a team-high 30 points, while J.R. Smith contributed 18 points off of the bench. Dirk Nowitzki had 32 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in defeat.

The Mavericks jumped out to a 10-4 lead but then Billups--who prefers to distribute the ball in the first half and then score, if necessary, in the second half--nailed back to back three pointers to kick off a 30-13 run; Billups scored 11 first quarter points overall and the Mavericks never got closer than five points the rest of the way. Billups, who is averaging 22.1 ppg in this year's playoffs, has repeatedly demonstrated a finely tuned understanding of exactly what his team needs at a given moment: he helped the Nuggets overcome any possible first round jitters by scoring 36 and 31 points in games one and two versus the Hornets and his three point shooting in the postseason has been as timely as it has been deadly (33-61, .541). I thought that he looked worn down in the past couple postseasons but Billups has rejuventated himself in Denver and is playing even better in the playoffs than he did in the regular season, something that definitely had not been the case in recent years.

Anthony did not have much of a playoff resume to speak of prior to this season but he is averaging 27.0 ppg in the 2009 playoffs while shooting .480 from the field. After a shaky 13 point performance in game one versus the Hornets he scored at least 22 points in each of the next nine playoff games, including a playoff career-high 41 points in game four of this series.

Nene and Kenyon Martin are both healthy for the first time in a while and they are providing great inside play at both ends of the court, while Dahntay Jones has emerged as a Raja Bell-style defensive irritant. The Nuggets have an excellent bench, led by the scoring prowess of J.R. Smith and the shotblocking of Chris Andersen.

Nowitzki played wonderfully in defeat, averaging 34.4 ppg and 11.6 rpg in this series. Nowitzki averaged 26.8 ppg and 10.1 rpg overall in the playoffs, numbers that his critic Chris Webber could only dream of posting; in Webber's most profilic postseason, 2002, he scored more than 30 points just twice in 16 games and he averaged fewer than 10 rpg in eight of his 10 playoff seasons. Nowitzki played at an MVP level all season long; of course, he was not a serious candidate for the award this year because LeBron James and Kobe Bryant are at a whole different plateau right now, but Nowitzki definitely deserved his selection to the All-NBA First Team. His comments to the media may not suit Webber or Charles Barkley but the only thing that counts is that when Nowitzki was on the court he was productive.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:12 AM



At Thursday, May 14, 2009 1:19:00 PM, Anonymous st said...

hey david,

keep up the good work. just finished reading this article, and I thought you would enjoy reading it as well. not related to this post, but it's a solid read on playing defense on kobe.


At Thursday, May 14, 2009 6:02:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I read that article in the print edition of SI.

I have no problem with the Rockets trying to get some kind of edge by using stats but it seems like I am the only person who has noticed that despite Houston's stack of numbers and two All-Defensive Team members Kobe is actually scoring more points with a better shooting percentage versus the Rockets than he did against the league as a whole. If Houston only had the numbers but did not have great individual defenders then you could perhaps argue that their data is helping them to even out the odds--but other teams who have lesser defenders and presumably do not have access to Houston's "exclusive" data have done better defensively versus Kobe and at some point either the Rockets or their media proponents need to explain that discrepancy.

At Friday, May 15, 2009 1:44:00 AM, Blogger Ben said...

I really enjoy watching Battier play D. Even though Kobe dropped 32 on him, it took him 11-27 shots.

And you gotta love that hand in the face ...

At Friday, May 15, 2009 2:53:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Last year, the Spurs defended the Lakers by giving Kobe the shots, but drastically reducing his trips to the free throw line. Kobe shot an amazing percentage from the field, but the final scores were still close. If the Spurs had a healthy Ginobili, they could have withstood Kobe's 35+ points. They did the same thing with Amare, let him get his, but reduce his trips to the line and shut down everyone else.

The Lakers have excellent freethrow shooters who depend on Kobe to get the other team into the penalty quickly.

My guess is, Morey's primary reason for that article was to minimize the other Lakers' involvement on the offense. Except perhaps for Fisher, the other Lakers have a tendendy to be a step behind on defense when they do not get their usual shots.

So I think that Morey has another stat sheet that he's not showing. The Lakers' defensive numbers when Kobe shoots a lot without getting to the line.

I think Battier is that good a team player that he can willingly accept being the focus of "he can't guard Kobe" taunts if it helps his team.
It doesn't matter that Battier is not doing as well against Kobe as other lesser defenders, but the Rockets are doing better against the Lakers than most of those other teams.


At Friday, May 15, 2009 7:33:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Battier played good defense but he is also getting a lot of help. So many people talk about how Houston is using "advanced stats" but in this particular case I don't understand how their strategy deviates from the strategy that one would develop based on "old school" thinking: the Rockets want to contest every shot Bryant takes while keeping him out of the paint and off of the free throw line. They have two All-Defensive Team members to rotate onto Bryant plus several committed and physical help defenders--and despite all of that, Bryant is still averaging nearly 30 ppg while shooting a good percentage (.463). I don't dispute that using stats can be helpful in some cases but I fail to see what the big deal here is in this particular instance: the Rockets are using a conventional strategy versus Bryant with modest--at best--overall success. The Rockets have forged a 3-3 tie not because they are doing so well guarding Bryant but because Gasol, Odom and the Lakers frontcourt have not stepped up to the challenge, particularly on defense, as Jeff Van Gundy has repeatedly mentioned during the telecasts.

At Friday, May 15, 2009 7:39:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


San Antonio's strategy did not work because Kobe has a deadly midrange jumper and he shot better than .500 during that series. Manu looked healthy enough in game seven versus the Hornets, so unless he suddenly got hurt right before the Lakers' series I have to stick by what I said during the playoffs: Manu enjoyed a matchup advantage versus the Hornets but did not have a matchup advantage versus the Lakers. That is actually why I correctly picked the Spurs to beat the Hornets last year; I said that Manu would be the X factor and he certainly was. By the same token, I said that he would have much less of an impact versus the Lakers and that also proved to be the case.

As I mentioned above, even though the media has fallen in love with the Battier/advanced stats story, the reality is that the Rockets have not really slowed down Bryant at all; the series is 3-3 because the Rockets' bigs are handing it to the Lakers' bigs. Look at it this way: even if Kobe had shot 17-27 the Lakers still would have lost game six.


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