Thursday, May 21, 2009

NBA Eastern Conference Ramblings

(Editor’s Note: This column was written before Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals…Honestly.)

We got it a week ago and now we get it again. That's right, another edition of Guy #2 NBA playoff ramblings. This iteration of the ramblings column is going to focus mainly on the Eastern Conference with a little Kobe bashing thrown in for good measure (I just can't help myself).

To breakdown the match-up between Orlando and Cleveland, we first have to mention one of the most interesting subplots. On one bench is Stan Van Gundy who many thought should have won Coach of the Year and on the other end is Mike “Caretaker of the Year” Brown.

This series is all going to revolve around two main questions. First, how will Mike Brown answer to Stan Van Gundy's small front court of Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, and Dwight Howard? Second, how much help-defense will Orlando use to stop Lebron, and how much help will Cleveland use to stop Dwight Howard? This second question could end being the difference maker but we'll start with the small ball debate. We know from playoff history, especially with the Mavericks-Golden State round one series in 2007, that if you are the favorite you really shouldn't play into your opponent’s hands. But would going small if you’re Cleveland in this scenario really be playing into your opponents hands? I think Mike Brown needs to realize a couple of things: A) I have Lebron James on my team. So rather than thinking of how I can win this series, I need to NOT be thinking of ways I can lose this series. B) I have Lebron James on my team. Who on Orlando is going to stop him...HEDO TURKOGLU...RASHARD LEWIS...JJ REDICK? Yea, I can see that happening. C) Mike Brown, you can't out coach yourself, so don't even think about it.

I know I didn't answer the question but let me elaborate.

If you’re Cleveland, go with what got you here, but at the same time don't be afraid to go small. Coach based on feel and what's working. Lebron at the four might be your best line up, so don't be afraid to go with it. There are two main examples of how not to combat sneaky lineups that go small. One would be how the Boston Celtics played Orlando last round. They didn't really adapt to the small lineup and were left with Glen “Big Baby” Davis guarding Rashard Lewis in crunch time. Anderson Varejao might be more up to the challenge, but if he isn't you need to adjust, especially if you just won coach of the year and even more so if you look like Mr. Potato Head.

Another futile attempt at combating small ball was what Avery Johnson and the Mavericks did in 2007 against the Warriors. From the start of the series, they went small instead of playing the way they had all year. By the same token, if you’re Mike Brown, you're sending the wrong message to your team if you come out with Sasha Pavlovic, Wally Szczerbiak, or Daniel Gibson in the starting lineup in place of Ilgauskus or Varejao. Your best lineup to combat them going small might end up being small, but I think you may give Orlando the mental edge by saying: We can’t stop you with our normal lineup.

Of course this all comes down to my second question: How much help will Cleveland give to stop Howard, and how much help will Orlando give to stop Lebron, as both teams have virtually no answers for each player. This will be key because although both Lebron and Howard have immense skills, their true worth will be in creating offense for their teammates. Cleveland has the advantage here because as mentioned before, Orlando has no one who can guard Lebron so Orlando will need to help. This will free up Cleveland shooters, who will need to perform for the Cavs to advance. On the other hand, Cleveland should want Dwight Howard as Orlando's main option, because their three point shooters are deadly and as good as he is, Howard's offensive skills are underdeveloped.

Another thing before these ramblings end. Orlando won the season series 2-1 and in their last game on April 3rd, Orlando won by 29. They did shoot 48% from behind the line and Cleveland only shot 37% from the field, but you have to think that Orlando is comfortable with this match-up. They can play without fear and they know if they play to their ability they are capable of winning any game.

The big question in the end is who do I pick to win this series. The more I look at it the better Orlando looks on paper. But I think therein lies the problem... PARALYSIS BY ANALYSIS. I could probably talk myself into Orlando and make an interesting article about it, but why do that when Lebron is on the other team. As much as I think this is a tough match up for the Cavs dealing with the small lineup on paper, with Lebron, the Cavs are just better than they look on paper

Also in unrelated news, Kobe is not doing work, the refs are doing work for him. That's right I said it. Way to get an undeserved documentary about you and then have the refs give the game to you.

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