Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Moving on...

So we’re halfway through the NBA Playoffs now. What have we learned?

- I grossly underestimated the Washington Wizards. Their series with Cleveland was one of the most entertaining I’ve seen in years (more fun to watch than pretty much all of the 7-game series’ in this year’s playoffs). And the Wizards definitely came ready to play. Arenas is an amazing talent who was two free throws away from a seventh game and his scoring duel with Lebron was one of the best shootouts that I can remember. People reflect back to 1988 Bird/Wilkins duel but I don’t recall the games, personally.

- I grossly overestimated the Los Angeles Lakers. Or did I? I pegged them for a team that had one extremely dangerous player and a team that could play at a high level for a short time but certainly didn’t have enough in them to defeat the powerhouse Mavs/Spurs. I would not have wanted to draw the Lakers in the first round this year if I had any reservations about my team performing at a consistently high level. I figured they could be coached up well enough to take them past the Suns to face the inexperienced Clippers, who they could potentially still defeat. The Lakers’ carriage turned back into a pumpkin around game 5 of the Suns series and Kobe a pumpkin in the second half of game seven. After seeing more of the Clippers this past month than I have in my entire life combined, I don’t think that experience/coaching could’ve moved LAL past the Clips even if they had gotten the upset over PHX.

- Spurs/Mavs – what a tight series!….if they played 82 games, they’d probably split it 41 each.

- Did I underestimate Cleveland or overestimate Detroit? Or did Detroit take half the series off and play down to their opponent as they have done all year? I can’t tell. Maybe a little of all three. A few weeks ago I read a comment online from a source I can’t remember that said that Detroit has been able to rely on their offense so much this year since Flip has taken off the shackles that they sometimes forget that their biggest strength and true identity is as a defensive team. They still PLAY defense, and play it at a high level but it isn’t always their focus or their calling card as it has been the past few seasons. Problem is – they’re not a GREAT offensive team. They’re good – good enough. Better than they’ve been the past two championship-caliber years – but that’s not their identity. It’s like they flipped a switch at halftime of game seven.

- I can’t take away from what Lebron has done, however. At the risk of sounding cliché and plugging Nike – we are all witnesses. Incredible all around game, making his teammates better, stepping up for playoff performances indicative of the current and future greatness we’ve come to expect, maturity to handle it all. I think we’re all going to enjoy watching him for years. Scoop Jackson says that a playoff exit courtesy of a strong Pistons team will end up being what makes Lebron a champion. I usually don’t like Scoop (dating back to his Slam days) but he’s probably right. Scottie Pippen even says he’d rather have Lebron now than Jordan at this point in their respective careers. That’s saying something – even moreso coming from Pip.

o Sub-blog: GOAT?

o I was going to do this as a completely separate post but I haven’t found time this past week and I can’t keep from commenting on this so I’m embedding it in my mid-playoffs blog. I think that my generation is completely blessed to have been able to grow up watching Michael Jordan play basketball. I’ve seen him play live twice – one of which was an all star game triple double. I’ve seen him on TV countless times. Now, in adulthood, I get to watch James’ career unfold. We’ve been waiting for years as various players (first Vince, then Kobe) have been tabbed “The Next…”….and really, James’ game mirrors Magic’s or Oscar’s more than Jordan’s. But could he become the Greatest Of All Time? It’s obviously wayyyy too early to go that far with comparisons, but what about Pippen’s comments? Mike and Mike got into a fight on the subject last week with Greenburg saying that it wasn’t even worth discussion and Golic maintaining that it’s a valid discussion but MJ’s still better. Is Lebron better by age 21? Yeah, maybe….considering that Jordan was a 21-year old rookie. But is Lebron better by year 3? I’m in the Golic camp on this one – maybe worth the discussion – but no way. He’s a better rebounder and passer and physically bigger - but better?.

§ Numbers (Jordan, James) - James has more RPG and APG but less SPG and BPG….and fewer PPG if you exclude Jordan’s mostly injured year 2. Jordan’s 37.1ppg year 3 does stand out, however.

§ Observations/memories – No one I’ve ever seen exploded to the basket like young-Jordan with the potential exception of Dominique Wilkins. No one – NO ONE - could elevate like him, either. Lebron is more powerful, but Jordan was a better athlete and a better pure scorer – able to get his shot at will. Jordan made the playoffs his first three years but never won a series until his fourth try. And for all of LBJ being known for “making his teammates better”, until Chicago added Ho/Pip in his fourth year, Jordan did more (3 playoffs appearances) with less NBA talent than Lebron. Jordan, even early on, was a far better defender – he earned the DPOY in his fourth year (keeping in mind that he only played 17 games in his second year). I don’t think LeBron is on pace to match that next year.

o In summary - Maybe my memory is colored because I remember his championship-level greatness or maybe I’m biased because I finally got to sit down and watch my “Come Fly With Me” and “NBA Superstars” videos this past weekend so the highlights (where everything is amazing and no shots are missed) are fresh in my mind. But I cannot agree with Scottie Pippen. That being said – between Lebron’s early entry, Jordan’s injured second year and his 1.5-year and 3-year hiatuses, Lebron has an opportunity to amass more than Jordan did (including championships) – but will he BECOME more than Jordan was? There’s always that potential but I’d lean towards “not quite” at this point.

- Lebron James needs help. Z’s not going to do it for you. Hughes was supposed to….Jones was supposed to….Flip Murray was supposed to…but none really are. He needs a Ho Grant/Charles Oakley type (good defending, stout, rebounding big) and a legit and consistent three point threat. The Cavs need to address these needs in the offseason.

- Elton Brand is an absolute stud. If you’ve been watching the NBA playoffs, I don’t need to explain any more.

- For the record, I’m only 9-12 on my picks. Kudos to Scott!

Looking Ahead

- DET / MIA – I think a week off will do more to rest Shaq than bring rust. Miami came close to upsetting Detroit last year, but Shaq is a shadow of even his last-year form and Miami completely reshuffled the deck with its supporting cast. They’re fighting amongst themselves even in the playoffs. Good teams don’t do that. I can’t count on these guys. Shaq can’t dominate a series anymore. But does he have to with DWade? In Wade, the Pistons face even a better penetrator than James – with a potentially dominant second option in Shaq. This series will depend largely on him, his health, his motivation and his ability to selectively dominate at the right moments.

- DAL / PHX – This should be a fun, fast-paced series. What may end up being a factor is the fact that the Suns are the only team thus far to have played 14 games in the post-season. We’ve seen how worn down Nash got at times during the Clippers series and the Suns can’t win without him running and gunning.

- Finals – I think we’ll see DET/DAL but I’d love to see DET/PHX for the yin/yang effect of all offense vs. all defense.


At 1:16 PM, Blogger Scott said...

Connecting two points in your column. Let's remember the wonderful Jordan experience in Washington as GM. Holding the #1 pick in a questionable draft, MJ was offered Elton Brand straight up for the pick. Instead he insisted Jamal Crawford be added, and there was no deal. But he got Kwame to kick around for a few years. How would a Arenas/Jamison/Brand combo look about now?

At 3:52 PM, Blogger Dan said...

Wow...I didn't remember that! Butler's not a bad consolation, but I think anyone would rather have Brand. I'm definitely not saying that LBJ couldn't be a better GM than MJ, tho. :-) At least he's no Isiah. That's the kind of stuff that makes me wish I had several hundred million dollars to throw around on a sports franchise. Even back then, I don't think I'dve taken Kwame over even an undeveloped Brand.

At 9:12 PM, Blogger Boyer said...

If I remember correctly though, Brand was already a pretty proven commodity, right? Great move MJ, great move.

At 12:19 AM, Blogger Dan said...

Good point...he was pretty much a 20/10 guy from day 1. So there was never such a thing as "an undeveloped Brand".


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