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Friday, February 24, 2012

Mel Daniels Finally Receives Long Overdue Hall of Fame Call

Mel Daniels has long been one of the ABA's Unsung Heroes but he has finally received the overdue recognition that he so richly deserves: Daniels is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame's 2012 class. Daniels won the 1968 Rookie of the Year award as a member of the Minnesota Muskies in the ABA's first season and then he helped lead the Indiana Pacers to three ABA championships (1970, 1972-73) while winning two ABA regular season MVPs (1969, 1971). Daniels captured three ABA rebounding crowns (1968-69, 1971), ranked second in that category three other times (1970, 1972-73) and is the league's all-time rebounding leader (9494 rebounds, with a 15.1 rpg average that ranks second in ABA history behind only Artis Gilmore). Daniels played eight years in the ABA but after the ABA-NBA merger in 1976 injuries limited Daniels' NBA career to just 11 games.

Jerry Colangelo, the Chairman of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Board, deserves a lot of credit for pointing the Hall of Fame in the right direction after decades during which that ship sailed wildly off course by largely ignoring the contributions made by ABA legends like Daniels and Artis Gilmore. When I interviewed Colangelo during the 2010 All-Star Weekend I specifically asked him about creating a special ABA Hall of Fame Committee to reexamine the careers of Daniels, Gilmore, Roger Brown and other great ABA players; Colangelo was non-committal about that idea at the time but he did pledge to do something about "a number of those players who slipped through the cracks." This is the second year of the ABA Committee's existence and it has already corrected two huge oversights by honoring Gilmore and Daniels.

I have insisted for many years that ABA Numbers Should Also Count and, while I am not seeking any credit for the Hall of Fame honor that Gilmore and Daniels fully earned with their high quality play, I do sincerely hope that my advocacy on their behalf had some impact.

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Further Reading:

Honor Roll: Pro Basketball's Most Decorated Players

Supergames I & II: The 1971 and 1972 NBA-ABA All-Star Games

Classic Confrontations: Pacers vs. Colonels

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:42 PM

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Happy 62nd Birthday, Julius Erving!

Julius Erving, the legendary and incomparable Dr. J, turns 62 years old today. Casual fans may remember him most for his spectacular dunks and smooth moves but it should never be forgotten that he was a highly productive player, a champion in two professional leagues. Erving is one of the most prolific and consistent scorers in NBA Finals history and he was even more dominant during his two ABA Finals appearances (contrast that with LeBron James, who has been the best regular season player in the NBA since 2009 but has scored 25 points or less in each of his 10 NBA Finals games--including four games with fewer than 20 points--despite posting a career regular season scoring average of 27.7 ppg). Erving scored at least 1000 points in each of his 16 professional seasons and he was the first athlete in North American professional team sports history whose teams qualified for the playoffs for 16 straight seasons (Karl Malone and John Stockton both surpassed that mark, with each player making 19 straight playoff appearances). Erving was just the third player in professional basketball history to surpass the 30,000 point barrier; five players have accomplished that feat now, but Erving and Michael Jordan remain the only "midsize" players on that exclusive list. Erving is one of just eight members of the exclusive 25,000/5000/5000 Club.

Here are some photos of Erving from various stages of his career, courtesy of a Sports Illustrated photo gallery:














Julius Erving skying for a rebound at UMASS.

















Erving looking for a cutter versus the Denver Nuggets. Erving led both teams in scoring (37.7 ppg), rebounding (14.2 rpg), assists (6.0 apg), steals (3.0 spg) and blocked shots (2.2 bpg) as his New York Nets defeated the Nuggets in six games to claim the 1976 ABA title in the league's final season.
















Erving makes his debut as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers. Colonel Steve Austin was a fictional "Six Million Dollar Man" in the mid-1970s but Erving was the real Six Million Dollar Man; after the 1976 ABA-NBA merger, the cash-strapped Nets sold Erving to the 76ers in a $6 million deal, with roughly half of that sum being paid to the Nets and the remainder being paid to Erving over the next six years, a huge contract for that era.














Erving sports his three championship rings (1974 New York ABA, 1976 New York ABA, 1983 Philadelphia NBA). He later sold those rings and other memorabilia from his career in a record-setting $3.5 million auction.




















Passing the torch: a young Michael Jordan standing alongside Julius Erving.

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Further Reading:

Happy 60th Birthday, Dr. J!

Rewriting History: Julius Erving's Dunk Over Michael Cooper, According to Inside Stuff Magazine

Great Julius Erving Stories

Julius Erving on the Art of Knowing When to Dunk--And When Not to Dunk

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:59 PM

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Find the Data Provides Detailed Information About Pro Basketball Franchises

One way that websites try to increase traffic and improve their "page rank" is to exchange links with many other websites but I prefer quality to quantity and I don't want to maintain a "link dump" (or any other kind of dump) here; when I put a link in "Cool Links" I want to be reasonably confident that if one of my readers clicks on that link he will not feel like he wasted his time (I just removed two links from that section because I found out that they are no longer active links).

I added Compare NBA Franchises to the "Cool Links" section because this page--part of the Find the Data website--includes a lot of interesting information about not just the 30 active NBA franchises but also 22 defunct pro basketball franchises, including ABA teams like the Virginia Squires; Basketball Hall of Famers Julius Erving and George Gervin both started their professional careers with the Squires, playing for Coach Al Bianchi. Erving joined the Squires in 1971-72, while Gervin arrived during the middle of the 1972-73 season. Erving told me that he used to play one on one with Gervin after practice in order to sharpen each other's skills and get to know each other better, an idea that Erving got from Pete Maravich during the brief time that Erving and Maravich both played for the Atlanta Hawks during the 1972 preseason.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:11 AM

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A Bit of Housekeeping

No, 20 Second Timeout did not just enter a six or seven year time warp. It recently came to my attention that the links to several of my articles from that period no longer work, so I decided to publish those articles as new posts and then link to those posts in the right hand sidebar of 20 Second Timeout's main page. I made some minor changes to the text of some of the articles--correcting a few typos and changing some punctuation marks--but obviously I did not change any of the predictions or analysis that I originally wrote: I was right on target about a lot of things and I was wrong about a few things and now those articles are once again part of the extensive basketball history archive that I have created here, an archive whose quality and completeness I would proudly match against any other basketball history archive that exists online or in print.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:25 AM

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2005-06 Western Conference Preview

This article was originally published in two parts at Suite101.com on October 12, 2005 but those links have been taken down so I have combined both parts here as one article.

2005-2006 Western Conference Preview, Part I

I could post the complete rosters and statistics for each team, but I suspect that most readers of this article fall into one of two categories: (1) you visit NBA.com regularly and know the name of every team's 12th man or (2) you are a casual fan who is just looking for the bottom line: who I think is going to do well and who I think should book reservations for Secaucus, New Jersey in time for the 2006 Draft Lottery. So, without further ado, here is how I see the Western Conference stacking up in 2005-06.

Note: Division winners receive the top three playoff seeds regardless of the records of the other teams, so since the Spurs and Rockets are in the same division they cannot be seeded one and two. I am listing the teams based on how I perceive their chances to win the NBA title, without regard to playoff seeding.

1) San Antonio Spurs: Quite simply, this team is stacked. The NBA champions added Michael Finley, Nick Van Exel and Fabricio Oberto, a 6-10 teammate of Manu Ginobili's on Argentina's national team. If Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili stay healthy it is hard to see anybody beating the Spurs in a seven game series.

2) Houston Rockets: Houston also had an excellent offseason, adding Stromile Swift, Rafer Alston, Derek Anderson and Lonny Baxter. The dynamic duo of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming is the key to everything for the Rockets and the two superstars played well together down the stretch last year. Their chemistry only figures to improve this season. The only down note is the questionable health of Bob Sura, who provided a lot of toughness and energy last year.

3) Dallas Mavericks: Coach Avery Johnson is trying to remake the Mavericks into a defensive-oriented team. The loss of Michael Finley to the already powerful Spurs is sure to hurt. Dirk Nowitzki gets a lot of criticism for a player who regularly puts up 25-plus points and 10-plus rebounds. As long as he maintains that kind of production Dallas will always be a factor.

4) Denver Nuggets: Denver was the hottest team in the league in the second half of the season after the hiring of George Karl as head coach. There is no way that the Nuggets will maintain that torrid pace for an entire season, but expect to see a career year out of Carmelo Anthony and steady play out of the point guard duo of Andre Miller and Earl Boykins. The key for the Nuggets is the health and productivity of Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin. To beat Dallas, Houston or San Antonio it is vital that they provide an answer for Nowitzki, Yao or Duncan.

5) Phoenix Suns: Amare Stoudemire just had microfracture surgery on his knee and is expected to be sidelined for the first four months of the season, a devastating blow to a team that failed to retain the services of Quentin Richardson and Joe Johnson, two key members of the rotation last year. Even if the offseason had gone perfectly for the Suns they would have been hard pressed to match the record they posted in 2004-05. Now everything revolves around how quickly—and how completely—Stoudemire recovers from his knee surgery. The best case scenario is that Stoudemire returns in time for the second half of the season and is in peak form by playoff time. If that happens, Phoenix—regardless of their regular season record—could become a very dangerous team. The worst case scenario is that Stoudemire's knee ends up like Penny Hardaway's or Jamal Mashburn's, in which case Phoenix—regardless of their regular season record—will go nowhere in the postseason.

One of these five teams will win the Western Conference in 2006 (it will be the Spurs unless Duncan or Ginobili suffers a severe injury). Check out Part II to see who will earn the other three playoff berths and to find out if it is true that the Draft Lottery Studio will be renamed after Los Angeles Clippers' owner Donald Stirling.

Kobe and Phil have reunited—will it feel good? Can Seattle stay alive in the playoff chase after enjoying surprising success in 2004-05? Quick, read Part II of the Western Conference Preview before I make another reference to a 1970s song lyric!

Western Conference Preview, Part II

In Part I we looked at the Western Conference’s contenders. Part II examines the pretenders--those who will make cameo appearances in the postseason and those who won't even make it that far.

6) L.A. Lakers: As I mentioned in my Eastern Conference Preview, I don't buy the notion that the NBA is a "player's" game in which coaching doesn’t matter. Phil Jackson will absolutely have a significant impact on this team. Don’t forget that the Lakers were solidly in the top eight in the West before Kobe Bryant sprained his ankle. Bryant was never completely right after that, the team was further rocked by a mid-season coaching change and when Lamar Odom went down with an injury the life seemed to go out of the team. This team will win at least 45 games.

7) Sacramento Kings: Sacramento is no longer a championship contender, but any team with Mike Bibby, Peja Stojakovic and Shareef Abdur-Rahim should not miss the playoffs. As always, defense is a question mark for this squad, but their offensive fire power will be more than sufficient to keep them over .500.

8) Seattle SuperSonics: Seattle was one of the surprising teams in the league last year. Coach Nate McMillan left to take the Portland job and it will be interesting to see if new coach Bob Weiss can get similar results out of this group. I think that this team, like the Chicago Bulls in the East, overachieved a little bit and that they will fall back a bit this season.

Secaucus Here We Come!

Of the teams on the outside looking in, Golden State probably has the best chance to grab a playoff spot. Golden State excited its fans by winning some games down the stretch after the Warriors were out of postseason contention—the Cincinnati Bengals used to do that too, only to revert to their losing ways when the next season began. The Bengals seem to have gotten out of that rut this year, but I wouldn't bet on Golden State doing so just yet. The Warriors do have some young talent but I think it will take one more year of seasoning—and Baron Davis staying healthy--before they reach the playoffs. Memphis made the playoffs last year but their roster got a lot older after making several offseason moves; it is unclear if the Grizzlies actually got better.

The rest of the West is a mess. Two questions simply cannot be avoided: (1) How many frequent flier miles have the Clippers racked up over the years from their annual treks to Secaucus? (2) In the interest of fuel conservation shouldn't the Draft Lottery simply be moved to Clippers' headquarters?

While the Clippers' annual trips to New Jersey provide comic relief of sorts (except to Billy Crystal and three or four other Clippers fans), there is nothing funny about the Hornets' situation. The franchise just moved from Charlotte to New Orleans and now Hurricane Katrina has forced the team to relocate temporarily to Oklahoma City. They will be sentimental favorites but even if they somehow double last year's 18 wins they still won't be in the playoffs. Utah actually looked fairly decent last year before do-everything forward Andrei Kirilenko got hurt. Still, even a fully healthy Kirilenko will not be able to keep the Jazz in the top eight in the West for an entire season. Minnesota went from Western Conference finalist to complete train wreck; for that team to miss the playoffs with no major roster changes is inexcusable. The Timberwolves got rid of Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell, both of whom seemed to be causing a lot of the team's chemistry problems, but it is questionable if the overall talent level of the roster has been significantly upgraded. Portland has gone from once being a model franchise to looking something like Clippers Northwest.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:45 AM

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2005-06 Eastern Conference Preview

This article was originally published in two parts at Suite101.com on October 12, 2005 but those links have been taken down so I have combined both parts here as one article.

2005-2006 Eastern Conference Preview, Part I

I could post the complete rosters and statistics for each team, but I suspect that most readers of this article fall into one of two categories: (1) you visit NBA.com regularly and know the name of every team's 12th man or (2) you are a casual fan who is just looking for the bottom line: who I think is going to do well and who I think should book reservations for Secaucus, New Jersey in time for the 2006 Draft Lottery. So, without further ado, here is how I see the Eastern Conference stacking up in 2005-06.

1) Miami Heat: I'll be frank at the risk of sounding wishy-washy: I have doubts about putting Miami in the number one slot—specifically Shaq's health and the combustible chemistry experiment of bringing in Jason Williams and Gary Payton at point guard. Looking at the point guard duo first, this has all the makings of a soap opera—call it the Young (Williams) and the Restless (Payton). What happens when J-Will cranks up a 30 foot three pointer while Shaq waits in vain to receive a post feed? What happens when Payton decides that it makes more sense for him to go one-on-one in the post than to give the ball to Shaq or Dwyane Wade? Will any court in Florida prosecute Shaq if he wrings either player's neck if those situations develop? As for Shaq's health, he has already announced that he intends to gain back the weight that he lost last year, saying that dropping the weight left him weak and vulnerable to injury—I'm not sure what kind of doctor signed off on the logic that gaining weight when you are already well north of 300 pounds is a good way to preserve the health of one's knees, back and feet. Of course, as the cliché goes, pointing these things out about the Heat is like saying that Cindy Crawford has a mole. She's still gorgeous and Miami is still the best looking team in the East. This voice in the back of my head keeps whispering that Miami will not make it to the NBA Finals, but it also has yet to supply the identity of the Eastern Conference team that will knock off the Heat.

2) New Jersey Nets: The Nets have a great perimeter trio of Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson. The sight of the three of them filling lanes on the fast break must terrify opposing teams—two great finishers flanking Kidd, who could reclaim the title of the league's best all-around point guard if he can stay healthy. Other than health, the main question is how much production the Nets will get out of their "bigs," specifically Jason Collins and Nenad Krstic. I see this team winning 50-plus games.

3) Indiana Pacers: Everyone knows the adversity that the Pacers suffered last year, albeit some of it self-inflicted. The Pacers overcame the suspensions of numerous key players—and a rash of injuries—to win 44 games and a first round playoff series. The return of Ron Artest—assuming he avoids further misconduct—should be worth several wins. The retirement of Reggie Miller hurts the team from a leadership standpoint but his statistical contributions are certainly replaceable at this point.

4) Cleveland Cavaliers: Ric Bucher once suggested during a "Put Up or Shut Up" segment on ESPN that Chris Bosh would win Rookie of the Year, leading David Aldridge to retort that there should be an investigation if that happened; Bosh did make the All-Rookie Team, but LeBron James won Rookie of the Year—and if the Cavaliers avoid injuries to James, Larry Hughes and Zydrunas Ilgauskas and still don't make the playoffs, that would be worthy of an investigation. This is a very talented team and there is no reason that the Cavaliers should not be among the top four seeds in the East at the end of the year.

5) Detroit Pistons: In some quarters it is popular to suggest that the pros are a "player's" game and college is a "coach's" game. The reality, as Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said in reference to winning the World Series, is you can't win the Kentucky Derby riding a donkey. You have to have the horses to win in any sport—but at the very top of each sport everybody has the horses and that is when the preparation and knowledge of a great coach can make a difference. Replacing Larry Brown with Flip Saunders while keeping the core of the roster intact makes the 2006 Detroit Pistons a great test case in the importance of coaching at the NBA level. I suspect that Detroit will fall from the elite of the conference to the middle of the playoff pack.

The above five teams are the only ones that have a realistic chance of representing the East in the NBA Finals. I think that the battle for the last three playoff spots will be as chaotic in 2006 as it was in 2005. Check out Part II to find out which teams will claim the last three playoff spots in the East and which teams will appear in digitally altered photos of fishing trips with Kenny Smith.

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"Play the right way" makes its Broadway debut while Milwaukee hopes to drive a Ford to the playoffs. You've heard of being a legend in your own mind—Orlando is a contender in its own mind. Atlanta and Charlotte have excellent title chances—in the NBDL. Yes, it's Part II of the Eastern Conference Preview, with bonus coverage of the Road to Secaucus.

2005-2006 Eastern Conference Preview, Part II

In Part I we looked at the Eastern Conference's contenders. Part II examines the pretenders--—those who will make cameo appearances in the postseason and those who won't even make it that far.

6) Philadelphia 76ers: Chris Webber was having a pretty good season in Sacramento before he was traded to the 76ers. I don't believe that he left all of his game on the West Coast—and it's not like he’s going to see Duncan, KG, Stoudemire and Nowitzki every night in the East. Look for him to put up decent numbers in 2005-06. Allen Iverson is still one of the top players in the league and it looks like the sky's the limit (literally and figuratively) for the high-flying, versatile Andre Iguodala.

7) Milwaukee Bucks: Milwaukee added number one overall pick Andrew Bogut, Most Improved Player Bobby Simmons and point guard T.J. Ford (who missed the 2005 season with a spinal cord injury) to a lineup that won 30 games last year. I think that those three players will be worth the 10-15 extra wins the Bucks need to qualify for the postseason.

8) New York Knicks: Considering the Knicks' recent track record this may seem to be a bit of a reach, but even last year New York won 33 games and was in mathematical contention for a playoff berth down the stretch. Larry Brown is worth 8-10 wins. Marbury's biggest problem is his tendency to dribble too much. Look for Brown to put Marbury in high pick and rolls, forcing him to either shoot open jumpers or pass if he is double-teamed. Marbury can make that shot and will give up the ball if he is trapped. Brown is not going to let Marbury just dribble out the shot clock trying to find an open shot for himself. Marbury is more athletically gifted than Chauncey Billups and if he is smart enough to heed Brown's counsel, as Billups learned to do, he can build a new reputation for himself. Brown will also teach Marbury and the rest of the defensively challenged roster to at least pay token attention to defense.

Secaucus Here We Come!

Boston, Chicago and Washington made the playoffs last year but each lost a key starting player via trade or free agency. The Celtics will miss Antoine Walker now just like they missed him the first time they got rid of him. Paul Pierce is a great scorer but not a great leader. The young and talented Al Jefferson will take over Walker's spot but he cannot replace the scoring, rebounding, passing and savvy that Walker provided. Chicago traded starting center Eddy Curry to the New York Knicks after Curry and the Bulls could not agree on how to deal with Curry’s heart condition. Chicago seemed to overachieve a bit to get to 47 wins and I think that the Bulls will drop to the 38-40 win range this season. Washington lost Larry Hughes to the Cleveland Cavaliers, a devastating blow that weakens the Wizards while strengthening a team that finished behind them in the East in 2005. The battle for the last three playoff spots will be fierce and these three teams do figure to be in that mix.

Atlanta, Charlotte, Orlando and Toronto need help. In the immortal words of Jim Mora, "Playoffs??? I just hope we win a game." The 82 game schedule of the NBA versus the 16 game NFL schedule ensures that these teams will win some games in the course of the season, but the playoffs are a distant dream. Charlotte is a second year expansion team, while Atlanta plays like one. Toronto traded away franchise player Vince Carter for one Mourning (Alonzo, who ended up in Miami), two Williams (Aaron and Eric) and two first round draft picks. Maybe Toronto will return to the playoffs if/when those draft picks pan out. I know that a lot of people think that Orlando is some type of sleeper team, but I don't see it. Grant Hill is the team's best player and I think that he will play even better this year than he did in his first year back from injury. The problem is that Steve Francis thinks that he’s the team's best player, although he is not sure if he is a shooting guard or a point guard. He is competing with Marbury to see who can dribble the most before taking an ill-advised shot; now that Larry Brown is in New York I think that Francis will "win" that battle. Dwight Howard looks like he will become a very good player, but he is hardly a franchise player at this point. Orlando will again finish in the 30-35 win range.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:40 AM

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2005 NBA Finals Review: San Antonio Outlasts Detroit

A slightly different version of this article was originally published at Suite101.com on July 14, 2005.

The NBA Draft has come and gone and summer league play is underway, but before we completely turn our attention to the 2005-06 season it is worthwhile to briefly examine the 2005 NBA Finals. After blowouts in the first four games, basketball fans were treated to a classic championship battle--in effect a three game mini-series for the title. San Antonio won "game one" on Robert Horry's clutch three pointer but Detroit countered by winning "game two" on the strength of 23 point by Rip Hamilton and 21 points with no turnovers (!) by Chauncey Billups, who channeled Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth when he memorably described Detroit's motto as "If it ain't rough, it ain't right." Detroit had come back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the series and then bounced back from Horry's heroics to knot matters once again. It had certainly been "rough" for Detroit and when the Pistons took a 48-39 lead in "game three" of the mini-series it seemed like it would turn out "right" for the defending champions--but Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili made all the big plays down the stretch and the San Antonio Spurs claimed their third title in seven years.

Sports are a second guesser's delight. Would Miami have won the title if Shaq and Wade were healthy? Did fatigue from the Miami series cause Detroit's slow start in the Finals? (the Pistons took three of four from the Spurs in the middle of the series and might have won four straight games if not for Horry's shot) Why on Earth did Rasheed Wallace leave open the guy who had been killing the Pistons the whole second half of game five--the guy whose nickname is "Big Shot Rob"--to shoot a three pointer when Detroit was up two with less than 10 seconds left? How good would the Lakers have been if Shaq had lost weight and willingly deferred to Kobe the way that he lost weight and willingly deferred to Wade? The first two questions are unanswerable, the third will cause Larry Brown, 'Sheed and Pistons' fans endless sleepless nights for years and the fourth sounds like the basis for a future article.

While second guessing is entertaining, sometimes it is important to stick to cold, hard facts--just the stats, ma'am, to paraphrase a famous line. The Finals stats make for some interesting reading. One team outscored the other by nearly two ppg, had more assists, more steals, more blocks, many more field goals made (248-216), a better field goal percentage, a better free throw percentage, fewer turnovers and was only outrebounded by .7 rpg. That same team had six players average at least 10 ppg, compared to four such players for the other team. If you think that the team with the gaudy stats was San Antonio then you were not paying attention to the Finals. So how did the Spurs win? They dominated Detroit from behind the three point arc, punctuated and symbolized by the one moment that will always be remembered from this series--Horry's game five dagger. San Antonio made 51 threes and shot .398 from that distance, compared to 18 and .240 by Detroit. San Antonio won so convincingly in this category that the Spurs could lose almost every other statistical category and still emerge victorious. Despite his roots as an ABA player and coach, Larry Brown is not a big fan of the three point shot that was made famous by that league and after looking at the 2005 Finals stats he probably likes it even less.

If Larry Brown returns to coach the Pistons in 2005-06 it will be interesting to see how the Pistons seek to narrow the "three point" gap--will they add more shooters to the roster or will they place more emphasis on reducing the three point accuracy of their opponents? This question brings to mind a memorable sequence in Shaquille O'Neal's ESPN reality show; during a road trip bonding session with his new Heat teammates, O'Neal said that Phil Jackson's coaching philosophy versus the Spurs was to single cover Duncan and not leave any shooters open, believing that they could not create their own shots and that Duncan would not have four monster games in a seven game series. Who will test that theory first against the Spurs--Shaq's Heat in the NBA Finals or Jackson and Kobe's Lakers in the Western Conference playoffs?

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:31 AM

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2005 NBA Finals Preview: San Antonio versus Detroit

This article was originally published at Suite101.com on June 8, 2005.

The NBA Finals matchup of San Antonio versus Detroit should not be surprising to my readers. Detroit had a slightly tougher time with Miami than I expected, winning in seven games instead of six, and San Antonio beat Phoenix faster than I predicted, prevailing in five games instead of six, but we have arrived at the Finals confrontation that I envisaged in my April 21 First Round Playoff Preview article. Overall, my record is 9-5 in picking playoff series winners this season; in five instances I also correctly predicted the length of the series.

Let's take a closer look at the battle between the only franchises other than the Lakers to win titles since Michael Jordan ended his run in Chicago.

2005 NBA Finals

San Antonio (Western Conference Champion) vs. Detroit (Eastern Conference Champion)

Regular season records: San Antonio, 59-23; Detroit, 54-28

First Round result: San Antonio def. Denver, 4-1; Detroit def. Philadelphia, 4-1

Second Round result: San Antonio def. Seattle, 4-2; Detroit def. Indiana, 4-2

Conference Finals: San Antonio def. Phoenix, 4-1; Detroit def. Miami, 4-3

Head to Head: Tied, 1-1

Team Playoff Leaders:

Scoring--San Antonio: Tim Duncan (24.9 ppg); Detroit: Rip Hamilton (21.3 ppg)

Rebounding--San Antonio: Tim Duncan (11.7 rpg); Detroit: Ben Wallace (11.7 rpg)

Assists--San Antonio: Tony Parker (4.8 apg); Detroit: Chauncey Billups (6.6 apg)

Analysis/Prediction: The Detroit Pistons' playoff runs during the past several seasons have a James Bond-like quality to them--just when it seems that there is no escape they find a way out. The Pistons overcame a 3-1 deficit versus Orlando in the first round of the 2003 playoffs and made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals before getting blitzed 4-0 by New Jersey; last year in the first round Detroit gave away home court advantage to Milwaukee by losing game two before closing out the Bucks with three straight wins. Then, in the 2004 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Detroit trailed New Jersey 3-2; Detroit eventually advanced to the NBA Finals only after beating the two-time defending Eastern Conference Champions in New Jerseys in a close game six and then routing the Nets 90-69 in game seven. In the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals, Detroit lost game one to Indiana before taking four of the next five contests. This year Detroit trailed Indiana 2-1 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals before reeling off three straight wins. So, when Miami took a 3-2 lead in this year's Eastern Conference Finals and many people broke their legs jumping off of Detroit's bandwagon, the Pistons were probably thinking to themselves, "What's the big deal? We do this all the time." Reversing the order of what they did to New Jersey last year, Detroit won a game six blowout and a game seven nail biter to return to the NBA Finals, becoming the first team to win an Eastern Conference Finals game seven on the road since Julius Erving and Andrew "Boston Strangler" Toney led the Philadelphia 76ers to victory over the Celtics in the Boston Garden in 1982. Suffocating defense and resiliency are the trademarks of the Detroit Pistons. They do their best work when their backs are planted firmly against the wall; while they may seemingly give away a game early in a series, they simply will not beat themselves once they face elimination.

The Spurs' title chances seemed a little dicey at the start of the playoff; Tim Duncan had been hobbled by repeated ankle injuries and a hot Denver team stole home court advantage from San Antonio in game one of the first round. Since then the Spurs have rolled, taking four straight wins from Denver, beating Seattle 4-2 and completely dismantling Phoenix--the team with the NBA's best record--4-1 in the Western Conference Finals. Duncan's scoring average has risen steadily in the postseason--22.0 ppg versus Denver, 25.2 ppg against Seattle and 27.4 ppg in the Phoenix series. Other than his occasionally erratic free throw shooting he completely lives up to the nickname that Shaquille O'Neal gave him--"The Big Fundamental." It is easy to predict--but difficult to stop--what Duncan will do on offense: when he is not putting his defender in the "torture chamber" on the left block with jump hooks and power moves to the hoop, he likes the top of the key jumper and he has a deadly bank shot, particularly from the left wing. If his defender crowds him, he will drive to the hoop and finish with authority. Duncan also foils defensive pressure on his jumper by swinging the ball underneath the defender's arms and then going up for the shot, invariably drawing contact and earning two free throws. His footwork (on offense and defense) is balletic, he has tremendous hands and his rebounding and shot blocking numbers discredit the notion that he is not "athletic." Without question Duncan is the best individual player in the series. All-Star guard Manu Ginobili, who led Argentina to the gold medal in the Athens Olympics, ranks second on the Spurs in scoring and assists, third on the team in rebounds and leads the way in steals. He and backcourt mate Tony Parker are the only Spurs other than Duncan who average more than 9 ppg.

As I indicated in my preview of the Detroit-Miami series, Detroit does not have a superstar player but the Pistons' starting five of Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton and Chauncey Billups is probably the best in the league. Foul trouble has limited Rasheed to 33.2 mpg, but the rest of the starters are averaging at least 38.8 mpg in the playoffs (no Spur is averaging more than Parker's 36.9 mpg). If you think that this heavy workload is going to wear down the Pistons, answer this: Did fatigue seem to affect Detroit's execution in the pressure-packed final minutes of game seven in Miami?

There are several excellent reasons to pick the Spurs to win this series, including home court advantage, more than a week's worth of rest leading up to the Finals, the brilliance of Tim Duncan and the electrifying Manu Ginobili. There were also good reasons to pick the Pacers in last year's Conference Finals, the Lakers in last year's Finals and the Heat in this year's Conference Finals--but Detroit won each of those series and the Pistons will win this series as well, repeating as champions by beating the Spurs in six games.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:20 AM

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2005 NBA Conference Finals Playoff Preview: Miami versus Detroit and Phoenix versus San Antonio

This article was originally published at Suite101.com on May 21, 2005.

Two rounds of NBA playoff action are complete and at this point my prognostication record is roughly equivalent to a 48-34 season--seven correct series predictions (including five which also pegged the exact length of the series) and five incorrect picks. Playoff season is also cliche season, so it should be noted that I "stepped up" in the Conference Semifinals round, selecting the winner in three of the four series, in two cases also nailing the exact number of games.

Much like the NCAA Tournament, which features upsets early but generally matches up "chalk" teams in the Final Four, this year's NBA Conference Finals round includes nothing but one and two seeds. Each of the remaining teams has a distinct identity--Miami showcases "Shaq Diesel" and "Flash," Detroit has "The Defenders" (the title of their postseason media guide), San Antonio has "Groundhog Day" (Charles Barkley's nickname for the metronome-like efficiency of Tim Duncan) and Ginobili and Phoenix has MVP Steve Nash, emerging superstar Amare Stoudemire and the "Matrix" (Shawn Marion).

Eastern Conference Finals

Miami (1) vs. Detroit (2)

Regular season records: Miami, 59-23; Detroit, 54-28

First Round Result: Miami def. New Jersey, 4-0; Detroit def. Philadelphia, 4-1

Second Round Result: Miami def. Washington, 4-0; Detroit def. Indiana, 4-2

Head to Head: Detroit, 2-1

Team Playoff Leaders:

Scoring--Miami: Dwyane Wade (28.6 ppg); Detroit: Rip Hamilton (19.9 ppg)

Rebounding--Miami: Udonis Haslem (11.5 rpg); Detroit: Ben Wallace (12.5 rpg)

Assists--Miami: Wade (8.4 apg); Detroit: Chauncey Billups (7.0 apg)

Analysis/Prediction: The defending champion Pistons got off to a slow start this season, but down the stretch it became apparent that Miami and Detroit were on a collision course to meet in a much anticipated Eastern Conference Finals. Miami's roster is constructed like the rosters of many previous NBA champions--two stars (Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade) surrounded by excellent complementary players who know their roles and fill them without complaint. The Pistons do not have one defining star--Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace comes closest to fitting that description--but they have perhaps the beset starting five in the league: Ben Wallace at center, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince at forward and Rip Hamilton and Chauncey Billups at guard. Collectively this quintet has size, speed, length and toughness. Detroit Coach Larry Brown is playing most of his starters 40-plus mpg; the three bench players who are receiving the most playing time are Antonio McDyess, Lindsey Hunter and Carlos Arroyo. The Pistons showed that they could beat a Shaquille O'Neal anchored team in last year's NBA Finals, knocking off the Los Angeles Lakers in five games. It is clear that the "Shaq Diesel" that Detroit will face now is considerably less than 100% physically. Detroit's suffocating defense wears teams down mentally and physically during the course of a playoff series and, as Detroit Free Press columnist Drew Sharp mentioned in his May 20th column, "Game 6 is their stage." The Pistons have six straight Game 6 wins and will make it seven against the Heat, defeating the Eastern Conference's number one seed in six games.

Western Conference Finals

Phoenix (1) vs. San Antonio (2)

Regular season records: Phoenix, 62-20; San Antonio, 59-23

First Round Result: Phoenix def. Memphis, 4-0; San Antonio def. Denver, 4-1

Second Round Result: Phoenix def. Dallas, 4-2; San Antonio def. Seattle, 4-2

Head to Head: San Antonio, 2-1

Team Playoff Leaders:

Scoring--Phoenix: Amare Stoudemire (26.4 ppg); San Antonio: Tim Duncan (23.7 ppg)

Rebounding--Phoenix: Shawn Marion (12.3 rpg); San Antonio: Duncan (10.7 rpg)

Assists--Phoenix: Steve Nash (11.7 apg); San Antonio: Tony Parker (5.0 apg)

Analysis/Prediction: Phoenix has the NBA MVP (Steve Nash), the Coach of the Year (Mike D'Antoni) and the Executive of the Year (Bryan Colangelo). The status of shooting guard Joe Johnson (19.0 ppg in six playoff games before being sidelined by a broken facial bone) is questionable, but the Suns get plenty of offensive firepower from Amare Stoudemire (26.4 ppg on .529 field goal shooting) and Shawn Marion (22.5 ppg on .508 field goal shooting). Nash, traditionally a pass-first, shoot-second point guard, erupted for 30.3 ppg against Dallas, shooting a sizzling .550 from the field. In 10 playoff games Phoenix has averaged 116.0 ppg while shooting .491 from the field, .443 on three pointers and .751 from the free throw line. San Antonio has some heavy duty weapons as well, led by Tim Duncan (who has won two regular season MVPs and two Finals MVPs), Manu Ginobili (the versatile hero of Argentina's Olympic team who is second on the Spurs in playoff scoring and assists and third in rebounding) and speedy point guard Tony Parker. Bruce Bowen, a perennial All-Defensive Team member, Nazr Mohammed, who is shooting a team-best .574 from the field during the playoffs, and Robert "Mr.May" Horry (second on the team in both playoff three pointers and blocked shots) are also key members of the Spurs' rotation. Phoenix has more "talent" in terms of athletes who are explosive scorers but the Spurs have championship experience and a relentless defense that has limited postseason opponents to 91.1 ppg on .435 field goal shooting. In a classic matchup of tenacious defense versus fast break offense, San Antonio will beat Phoenix in six games.

Before the playoffs began, I predicted that Detroit would repeat as NBA champions by defeating San Antonio in the NBA Finals and there is no reason to waver from that pick now.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:42 AM

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2005 NBA Second Round Playoff Preview: Detroit versus Indiana and Phoenix versus Dallas

This article was originally published at Suite101.com on May 8, 2005.

Saturday night's two climactic game sevens turned out to be, well, anticlimactic. As TNT analyst Kenny Smith noted--playing off the network's "We know drama" slogan--the games were not "dramatic" but rather they were "traumatic," at least for the viewers (other than those in Indiana and Dallas, of course). Houston joined this year's Chicago Bulls by "accomplishing" the relatively rare feat of losing a playoff series after winning the first two games. Thanks to the collapses by the Bulls and Rockets, I went 4-4 instead of 6-2 in first round predictions.

Speaking of drama, it does not get any more dramatic than Detroit versus Indiana in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, a rematch of last year's Eastern Conference Finals. That series was hotly contested and the teams split their four regular season games this year. All of that will be pushed to the side in favor of endless rehashing of the incident that occurred last November 19 at Auburn Hills, when fans threw objects on the court and Pacer forward Ron Artest bolted into the stands, soon followed by his teammate Stephen Jackson. The ensuing mayhem resulted in NBA Commissioner David Stern suspending Artest for the rest of the season, handing out lengthy suspensions to Jackson and Pacers' star power forward Jermaine O'Neal and issuing shorter suspensions for several other Pacers and Pistons. Other than increased security at the games, the main direct impact that this will have on the upcoming playoff series will be the absence of Artest, a vital player for the Pacers on both offense and defense.

While the Pacers and Pistons can be expected to have another grind it out, defensive minded series, Dallas and Phoenix will engage in a 1980s style fast break shootout; the halftime scores in this series may approach the finals scores in some of the Pacers-Pistons games. Here are previews of both of these series:

Eastern Conference Semifinals

Detroit (2) vs. Indiana (6)

Regular season records: Detroit, 54-28; Indiana, 44-38

First Round Result: Detroit def. Philadelphia, 4-1; Indiana def. Boston, 4-3

Head to Head: Tied, 2-2

Team Playoff Leaders:

Scoring--Detroit: Rip Hamilton (21.4 ppg); Indiana: Stephen Jackson (18.9 ppg)

Rebounding--Detroit: Ben Wallace (12.2 rpg): Indiana: Jermaine O'Neal (7.7 rpg)

Assists--Detroit: Chauncey Billups (6.8 apg); Indiana: Anthony Johnson (5.4 apg)

Analysis/Prediction: Before the "Malice at the Palace" incident on November 19, the Pacers were handily beating the defending world champions. That is irrelevant now--Detroit has recovered splendidly from its slow, dreary start to the season and the Artest suspension plus numerous injuries have weakened the Pacers. The fact that Indiana has even made it this far is a tremendous tribute to the coaching of Rick Carlisle and the resiliency and determination of the Pacer players. They simply refused to give up on their season and they will not be an easy out. Nevertheless, the task that they face is daunting. The Pistons are hitting on all cylinders now (couldn't resist that one...)--the starters are playing excellently and Antonio McDyess provides good production off the bench. Detroit does not have as much depth as it did last year, but that is not likely to be a factor considering Artest's absence and the injury problems plaguing O'Neal and point guard Jamaal Tinsley. Detroit will beat Indiana in six hard fought games.

Western Conference Semifinals

Phoenix (1) vs. Dallas (4)

Regular season records: Phoenix, 62-20; Dallas, 58-24

First Round Result: Phoenix def. Memphis, 4-0; Dallas def. Houston, 4-3

Head to Head: Phoenix, 2-1

Team Playoff Leaders:

Scoring--Phoenix: Amare Stoudemire (22.8 ppg); Dallas: Dirk Nowitzki (21.3 ppg)

Rebounding--Phoenix: Shawn Marion (12.5 rpg); Dallas: Nowitzki (8.9 rpg)

Assists--Phoenix: Steve Nash (11.3 apg); Dallas: Jason Terry (4.3 apg)

Analysis/Prediction: As predicted here, Phoenix swept Memphis easily, winning by an average margin of 11.0 ppg. However, Dallas poses a much more significant challenge for the Suns. Houston stunned the Mavericks by winning the first two games in Dallas, but the Mavericks took four of the next five games, including a remarkable 40 point blowout in game seven. Dallas is a deep, versatile team led by one of the league's best players, power forward Dirk Nowitzki. You know that you are a superstar when you lead your team with 21.3 ppg and 8.9 rpg in a playoff series and everyone is talking about how terrible you are playing. Most NBA players would love to ring up those numbers, but Nowitzki did shoot an uncharacteristically poor percentage from the field against Houston and his statistics were down across the board compared to his regular season output. That trend is unlikely to continue versus Phoenix, which does not play the kind of defense that Houston does. The major subplot in this series involves Suns' point guard Steve Nash, who reportedly will be officially announced as the 2004-05 NBA MVP later today. Nash spent six seasons with the Mavericks before returning to Phoenix as a free agent prior to this season. A lot of attention will be focused on his matchup against new Dallas point guard Jason Terry, probably the MVP of the Houston series. Dallas and Houston were two of the hottest teams in the NBA as the regular season closed and when the playoffs began I expected that hte winner of that series would at least advance to the Western Conference Finals. Dallas will beat Phoenix in six games.

My predicted Eastern Conference Finals matchup of Detroit and Miami is still possible, but my Western Conference Finals prediction needs a little tinkering. Pencil in Dallas for Houston as San Antonio's victim in that series. I still expect the Pistons to repeat as champions by knocking off the Spurs in the NBA Finals.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:14 AM

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2005 NBA Second Round Playoff Preview: Miami versus Washington and San Antonio versus Seattle

This article was originally published at Suite101.com on May 7, 2005.

At this point--pending the results of Saturday night's two seventh games--I have correctly predicted the winner of four out of six NBA first round playoff series; in three cases I was also right about the length of the series. Of course, it should be pointed out that there was a typographical error in my Seattle-Sacramento analysis. The passage about Seattle's post players should have read, "Jerome James, who entered this season with career averages of 4.9 ppg and 3.7 rpg (3.8 ppg and 2.3 rpg in six postseason contests), is poised to become a double-double threat on a nightly basis. Sacramento's frontline will have no answer for him." OK, OK, I admit--I did not see that coming. What's next--Darko Milicic replaces Ben Wallace in the starting lineup for Detroit? James deserves much credit for his dominant performance against Sacramento--17.2 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 2.2 bpg, .581 shooting from the field and .824 free throw accuracy. My other miss so far is picking the Chicago Bulls over the Washington Wizards in seven games, when in fact Washington won in six games. The Bulls joined a short list of teams that lost a playoff series after winning the first two games. Phoenix, Miami and Detroit performed exactly as I projected, while San Antonio stumbled in its first home game and then actually had a slightly easier time than I expected, knocking off Denver in five games instead of six. I picked Boston and Houston to win the two series that are still going, but thought that both teams would win in six; in fact, both teams actually did win game six, but those wins did not close out the series.

The second round of the NBA playoffs will begin on Sunday with Miami facing Washington and San Antonio squaring off against Seattle. Here are previews of both matchups:

Eastern Conference Semifinals

Miami (1) vs. Washington (5)

Regular season records: Miami, 59-23; Washington, 45-37

First Round Result: Miami def. New Jersey, 4-0; Washington def. Chicago, 4-2

Head to Head: Miami, 4-0

Team Playoff Leaders:

Scoring--Miami: Dwyane Wade (26.3 ppg); Washington: Gilbert Arenas (23.0 ppg)

Rebounding--Miami: Udonis Haslem (11.8 rpg); Washington: Antawn Jamison (7.3 rpg)

Assists--Miami: Wade (8.8 apg); Washington: Arenas (6.5 apg)

Analysis/Prediction: Despite the fact that injuries reduced Shaquille O'Neal to pedestrian first round statistics (18.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg, .75 bpg), Miami dispatched New Jersey in four straight games. Three top perimeter players plus Nenad Krstic is clearly not a recipe to stop the Heat. Washington's high scoring trio of Gilbert Arenas, Larry Hughes and Antawn Jamison is younger and healthier than the Nets' Vince Carter, Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson but also less playoff tested and more erratic. Washington does not have a big man as good as Krstic but has more overall frontcourt depth than New Jersey, with Brendan Haywood, Etan Thomas and Jared Jeffries platooning effectively against Chicago. Of course, going against the Bulls, who were missing Eddy Curry, is a lot different than trying to put a roadblock in front of Shaq Diesel. Dwyane Wade performed at an amazingly high level against New Jersey, joining Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, Bob Cousy, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan as the only players in NBA history to average at least 25 ppg, 8 apg and 6 rpg in a playoff series while shooting at least 50 percent from the field. Read that list of names again and you will note that basketball fans are on a "one name" basis with each of those players: nobody asks "Who are you talking about"?" if you mention Oscar, Wilt, Cooz, Bird, Magic or Michael. Shaq still requires double-teaming even in his present condition and containing Wade may require supernatural assistance, which means that Damon Jones and Eddie Jones are shooting a lot of wide open three pointers--17-34 for Damon and 13-25 for Eddie. As ESPN football analyst Sean Salisbury likes to say, "That's like shooting fish in a barrel--I've never done it before, but it looks easy."Unless Shaq or Wade miss significant playing time, Washington has no chance to win this series. Shaq figures to be rejuvenated after having a week off between games and is sure to be out to make a statement in light of the preliminary reports that he lost a close MVP race to Phoenix point guard Steve Nash. However, as New Jersey showed, it is possible to compete against Miami, at least in short stretches, particularly if Shaq is still less than 100% healthy. Miami will win this series in five games.

Western Conference Semifinals

San Antonio (2) vs. Seattle (3)

Regular season records: San Antonio, 59-23; Seattle, 52-30

First Round Result: San Antonio def. Denver, 4-1; Seattle def. Sacramento, 4-1

Head to Head: Tied, 2-2

Team Playoff Leaders:

Scoring--San Antonio: Manu Ginobili (22.8 ppg); Seattle: Ray Allen (32.4 ppg)

Rebounding--San Antonio: Tim Duncan (11.2 rpg); Seattle: Jerome James (9.4 rpg)

Assists--San Antonio: Tony Parker (5.8 apg); Seattle: Allen (5.2 apg)

Analysis/Prediction: While Jerome James' first round performance was most impressive, it is highly unlikely that he will maintain that level of production against a Spurs' frontline anchored by Tim Duncan. Ray Allen was magnificent in the first round, but will not find the going so easy against either Bruce Bowen or Manu Ginobili. While both teams won 4-1 in the first round, San Antonio knocked off a hot Denver Nuggets team by a dominant 10.2 ppg differential while Seattle won by a much less convincing 4.4 ppg. Without James' surreal numbers Seattle would have been in big trouble against Sacramento. The Spurs seemed to lock in to what it takes to shut down Seattle as the season progressed; Seattle scored 113 points in its first game versus San Antonio and has put up fewer points in each successive contest, culminating in an 89-76 loss on March 30 (neither Duncan nor Seattle All-Star Rashard Lewis played in that game). The Spurs may have started the postseason one game late and Duncan may still not be at 100% but the Spurs will defeat Seattle in six games.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:43 AM

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2005 NBA First Round Western Conference Playoff Preview

This article was originally published at Suite101.com on April 21, 2005.

Phoenix (1) vs. Memphis (8)

Regular season records: Phoenix, 62-20; Memphis, 45-37

Team leaders:

Scoring--Phoenix: Amare Stoudemire (26.0 ppg); Memphis: Pau Gasol (17.8 ppg)

Rebounding--Phoenix: Shawn Marion (11.3 rpg); Memphis: Lorenzen Wright (7.7 rpg)

Assists--Phoenix: Steve Nash (11.5 apg); Memphis: Jason Williams (5.6 apg)

Last 10 games: Phoenix, 7-3; Memphis, 4-6

Head to Head: Tied, 2-2

Analysis/Prediction: Memphis slid to the eighth spot as the season drew to a close and made a run at ninth (i.e., missing the playoffs) before Minnesota finally gave up the ghost on its wasted season. Phoenix has been consistently strong all year, led by the playmaking of MVP candidate Steve Nash, the inside play of Amare Stoudemire and the three point shooting of Quentin Richardson, Joe Johnson, Shawn Marion and Nash. Although Memphis did play well against Phoenix earlier in the season, there is no reason to believe that Memphis is going to reverse its late season slide and knock off the number one seed. Memphis may take one game, but it is more likely that Phoenix wins in a sweep.

San Antonio (2) vs. Denver (7)

Regular season records: San Antonio, 59-23; Denver, 49-33

Team leaders:

Scoring--San Antonio: Tim Duncan (20.3 ppg); Denver: Carmelo Anthony (20.8 ppg)

Rebounding--San Antonio: Duncan (11.1 rpg); Denver: Marcus Camby (10.0 rpg)

Assists--San Antonio: Tony Parker (6.1 apg); Denver: Andre Miller (6.9 apg)

Last 10 games: San Antonio, 6-4; Denver, 8-2

Head to Head: Tied, 2-2

Analysis/Prediction: Denver is the proverbial "team that no one wants to face" but the Spurs counter with the man Shaquille O'Neal calls "The Big Fundamental"--Tim Duncan, a smooth and deceptively strong post player who combines impeccable footwork with a deadly bank shot form the wing and a very effective top of the key jump shot (which makes it all the more mystifying that he only shot 67% from the free throw line this year). He dueled Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin in the 1999 and 2003 NBA Finals respectively and produced Finals MVP performances on both occasions. Duncan also has a major impact on the defensive end of the court; he is not thought of as an explosive leaper but he annually ranks among the league's best shot blockers, enabling Bruce Bowen, Manu Ginobili and the rest of the Spurs' perimeter players to play very aggressively because they know that Duncan will take care of any guards or forwards who think that they have a clear path to the hoop. If Duncan is healthy, Denver's tremendous record down the stretch will not matter one bit. Watching Houston's Dikembe Mutombo dominate the Nuggets--albeit without Camby--a week before the playoffs start does not speak well of Denver's ability to deal with legitimate post players. However, if Duncan cannot play or if he performs significantly below par then Denver has an excellent chance. Ginobili is an "X" factor for the Spurs, a guy who can score 30 points on any given night and who always wreaks havoc with his hustle and savvy. Denver will fight valiantly, but the Spurs will win in six games.

Seattle (3) vs. Sacramento (6)

Regular season records: Seattle, 52-30; Sacramento, 50-32

Team leaders:

Scoring--Seattle: Ray Allen (23.9 ppg); Sacramento: Peja Stojakovic (20.1 ppg)

Rebounding--Seattle: Reggie Evans (9.4 rpg); Sacramento: Brad Miller (9.3 rpg)

Assists--Seattle: Luke Ridnour (5.9 apg); Sacramento: Mike Bibby (6.8 apg)

Last 10 games: Seattle, 2-8; Sacramento, 6-4

Head to Head: Seattle, 3-1

Analysis/Prediction: A lot depends on the status of Kings' sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic and center Brad Miller. Getting back sparkplug guard Bobby Jackson is a big plus for the Kings. Seattle burst out of the gates with a gaudy 27-9 record, but has been fading for most of the second half of the season. Injuries to Rashard Lewis and Vlad Radmanovic contributed to Seattle's problems, but do no entirely explain Seattle's drop off; you can only get so much mileage out of a frontcourt featuring Reggie Evans, Jerome James, Nick Collison and Danny Fortson, who averages 5.6 rpg and 4.3 fouls per game. Seattle has the home court advantage but has actually won nearly as much on the road as at home. Sacramento will win in six games.

Dallas (4) vs. Houston (5)

Regular season records: Dallas, 58-24; Houston, 51-31

Team leaders:

Scoring--Dallas: DirkNowitzki (26.2 ppg); Houston: Tracy McGrady (25.7 ppg)

Rebounding--Dallas: Nowitzki (9.7 rpg); Houston: Yao Ming (8.7 rpg)

Assists--Dallas: Jason Terry (5.4 apg); Houston: McGrady (5.7 apg)

Last 10 games: Dallas, 9-1; Houston, 7-3

Head to Head: Tied, 2-2

Analysis/Prediction: Dallas (nine game winning streak) and Houston (seven game winning streak) were the two hottest teams in the Western Conference at the end of the season. That makes this matchup intriguing and disappointing at the same time--intriguing because both teams are strong enough to make it to the Conference Finals, but disappointing because one of them will be bounced in the first round. The two teams tied in the regular season series, but both Dallas wins came before the Rockets really hit their stride. Each team won once on the other's court. Expect to see big scoring numbers from Nowitzki and McGrady--even though McGrady has not yet made it to the second round of the playoffs he has career playoff averages of 29.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg and 5.4 apg. McGrady's lowest scoring average in three playoff appearances with Orlando was 30.8 ppg. This series looks like a toss-up and normally in that case one would go with the team that has the seventh game at home, but I think that Houston will get a split in the first two games and close out the series in six games.

I predict that San Antonio will defeat Houston in the Western Conference Finals. Then, in a battle between the only teams other than the Lakers to win NBA titles since Michael Jordan's 1998 retirement, Detroit will match the achievement of the 1989-90 "Bad Boys" Pistons, repeating as champions.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:10 AM

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2005 NBA First Round Eastern Conference Playoff Preview

This article was originally published at Suite101.com on April 21, 2005.

Miami (1) vs. New Jersey (8)

Regular season records: Miami, 59-23; New Jersey, 42-40

Team leaders:

Scoring--Miami: Dwayne Wade (24.1 ppg); New Jersey: Vince Carter (27.4 ppg w/Nets in 56 g; 24.3 ppg overall).

Rebounding--Miami: Shaquille O'Neal (10.4 rpg); New Jersey: Jason Kidd (7.4 rpg).

Assists--Miami: Wade (6.8 apg); New Jersey: Kidd (8.3 apg).

Last 10 games: Miami, 5-5; New Jersey, 8-2

Head to Head: Miami, 3-0

Analysis/Prediction: Miami has been the class of the Eastern Conference all season, but did not finish the season on a strong note. Shaquille O'Nea has missed some games due to nagging injuries and if he misses extended time in the postseason then Miami would be in serious trouble. Before the O'Neal-Wade tandem takes it place in the pantheon of great duos, "Superman" and "Flash" need to win at least one title; O'Neal and Kobe Bryant won three championships, the same total claimed by the fabled Bird-McHale-Parish frontline, one more than the 1970s Knicks and two more than the Jabbar-Robertson Bucks. In order to get O'Neal, Miami gave up two young talents (Lamar Odom and Caron Butler) who played key roles in the Heat's 2004 playoff run, so if O'Neal and Wade do not lead the Heat to a championship within the next two or three years that deal is not successful; that does not mean that Miami was wrong to acquire O'Neal, but doing so raised the stakes for the Heat--equaling the 2004 team by reaching the second round or even advancing one round further (to the Conference Finals) does not justify jettisoning Odom and Butler and paying O'Neal's huge salary.

New Jersey has been one of the hottest teams in the league down the stretch and would receive a big boost if Richard Jefferson is able to return for the postseason. Jason Kidd and Vince Carter have played as well as any backcourt in the league, but the Nets are weak up front (point guard Kidd leads the team in rebounding) and fared very poorly against the Heat in the regular season. Unless O'Neal misses extensive playing time, Miami wins in a sweep.

Detroit (2) vs. Philadelphia (7)

Regular season records: Detroit, 54-28; Philadelphia, 43-39

Team leaders:

Scoring--Detroit: Rip Hamilton (18.7 ppg); Philadelphia: Allen Iverson (30.7 ppg).

Rebounding--Detroit: Ben Wallace (12.2 rpg); Philadelphia: Chris Webber (7.9 rpg w/Sixers in 21 g/9.1 rpg overall)

Assists--Detroit: Chauncey Billups (5.8 apg); Philadelphia: Iverson (7.9 apg)

Last 10 games: Detroit, 9-1; Philadelphia, 8-2

Head to Head: Detroit, 3-1

Analysis/Prediction: Detroit has dealt with many forms of adversity this year--the challenge of defending a championship, the aftermath of the ugly brawl in November, Coach Larry Brown's health problems--and recovered to play its best basketball down the stretch, finishing the season on a 9-1 tear. Allen Iverson has had a wondrous season--probably his best ever individually, even exceeding his 2000-01 MVP campaign--but there is no reason to think that Philadelphia can knock off the Pistons. Iverson will make sure that it is not a sweep--he did that even against the powerful Lakers in the 2001 NBA Finals--but Detroit will win in five.

Boston (3) vs. Indiana (6)

Regular season records: Boston, 45-37; Indiana, 44-38

Team leaders:

Scoring--Boston: Paul Pierce (21.6 ppg); Indiana: Jermaine O'Neal (24.3 ppg)

Rebounding--Boston: Antoine Walker (8.3 rpg w/Celtics in 24 g; 9.0 rpg overall); Indiana: Jeff Foster (9.0 rpg)

Assists--Boston: Gary Payton (6.1 apg); Indiana: Jamaal Tinsley (6.4 apg)

Last 10 games: Boston, 6-4; Indiana, 6-4

Head to Head: Indiana, 2-1

Analysis/Prediction: Both teams underwent major transformations during the season--Indiana lost Ron Artest to a season-ending suspension and saw several other key players miss significant time due to suspensions and/or injuries. Boston welcomed back Antoine Walker, who has had a love-hate relationship with the Boston fans and the Boston front office. Walker supporters--including Boston G.M. Danny Ainge, who traded Walker away and seemed for a time to be his biggest critic--say that he provides leadership and is a multi-dimensional player who can shoot, rebound, pass and defend; his critics say that he has poor shot selection and turns the ball over too frequently. His matchup with Jermaine O'Neal, one of the premier power forwards in the game, could very well decide the outcome of this series. Walker did not play in any of the Boston-Indiana games this season. Boston's scoring, rebounding, rebounding differential, turnovers per game, field goal percentage and three point field goal percentage have all improved since adding Walker to the roster; not surprisingly, Boston was 28-29 before Walker arrived and has gone 18-9 since then, including 16-8 in games in which Walker played. Indiana is a fashionable upset pick in this series but Boston has simply looked like the better team down the stretch, winning seven of its first nine games in April to secure the division title before resting Walker and Pierce in the fourth quarters of both of Boston's losses to close out the season. Indiana will not go down easily, but Boston will win in six hard fought games.

Chicago (4) vs. Washington (5)

Regular season records: Chicago, 47-35; Washington, 45-37

Team leaders:

Scoring--Chicago: Kirk Hinrich* (15.7 ppg); Washington: Gilbert Arenas (25.5 ppg)

Rebounding--Chicago: Tyson Chandler (9.7 rpg); Washington: Antawn Jamison (7.6 rpg)

Assists--Chicago: Hinrich (6.4 apg); Washington: Arenas (5.1 apg)

*--Eddy Curry averaged 16.1 ppg but will not be able to play due to an irregular heartbeat.

Last 10 games: Chicago, 6-4; Washington, 4-6

Head to Head: Washington, 2-1

Analysis/Prediction: Chicago's tough-minded defense will face a big challenge from Washington's high scoring trio of Gilbert Arenas, Larry Hughes and Antawn Jamison. The Bulls will be without leading scorer Eddy Curry and versatile rookie Luol Deng, but still have the services of Ben Gordon, who might win Rookie of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year. Gordon's fourth quarter scoring outbursts are reminiscent of the exploits of James "Captain Late" Silas, Vinnie "Microwave" Johnson and Andrew "Boston Strangler" Toney. The Wizards have a negative point differential despite posting a winning record. The youth and playoff inexperience of both teams make this a difficult series to handicap--how will players who have not faced postseason pressure respond under the big lights? Chicago is the better defensive team and has the home court advantage, so the Bulls will win in seven games.

I predict that Detroit will defeat Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:01 AM

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