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NBA Playoff Notes

   by Al McMordie - 05/26/2005

With the NBA Conference Finals kicking into Games 3 and 4 this weekend, here
are some notes on the series. Can we make any judgments about how important
defense is in sports? The third, fourth, and fifth best defensive teams in the NBA this
season when it came to shooting percentages by opponents: the Spurs, Heat
and Pistons. They're all still playing (the Rockets and Bulls were ahead of
those three, and they made the playoffs, too). The worst five teams when it
came to shooting by opponents: Atlanta, Toronto, New York, Milwaukee and
Charlotte. You'll notice that none made the playoffs and two sit atop the NBA
draft. For the record, the Phoenix Suns were 14th in the NBA allowing 44%
shooting by opponents.

What's interesting is that the Suns have done what they wanted to do
offensively against the Spurs, shooting .488% and .557% in Games 1 and 2.
That's brilliant shooting, especially when you realize it's against these
Spurs. The other thing that stands out is that Phoenix still lost both
games. At home! All of which bodes poorly for their chances, and if the
Spurs advance to the Finals, it will be another in a long line of postseason
examples where the superior defensive teams tops the better offensive one.
Note that all five meetings between the Spurs and Suns have gone 'over' the
total, even though the Spurs are 31-16 'under' the total at home. Also, even
though this is the sixth meeting between these teams, they've only played
one time at San Antonio, and that was back on December 28. The Spurs won
115-94.

In Games 1 and 2, the Suns appeared to run out of gas, something that might
have coincided with the loss of Joe Johnson, which thinned their already
thinned bench. The Spurs outscored the Suns 43-32 and 31-23 in the fourth
quarter of Games 1 and 2. Former teammate David Robinson had this to say
about star Tim Duncan: "The thing about Tim is you're not going to stop him.
If you cut one thing off, he'll do another thing. He'll shoot jumpers all
night long, but if you get up on him, he'll make great passes." The
versatile Duncan has come up big at crunch time. The Admiral also added, "If
I had to coach against him, I would just do everything I can to get the ball
out of his hands." Early on in Tuesday's 111-108 game, the Suns were
effective at keeping the ball out of Duncan's hands, but they fell short in
the fourth quarter, and Duncan made them pay. In the first half, Duncan was
1 for 7 with five points. In the fourth quarter, he was 5 for 8 for 14
points and was a force in the final minutes.

The Suns were more aggressive inside than in Game 1. With 8:14 remaining in
the third quarter, Duncan had four fouls. The Suns outscored the Spurs in
the paint 58-52 on Tuesday after being outscored 62-40 in the paint in the
first game. But they are still in dire straights in this series, and a
desperate team needs to rely on defense to bail it out, not endless outside
shooting. Brent Barry was a big hero in Game 1, nailing some ridiculously
long three pointers late. It may be forgotten now, but a year ago the Lakers
double-teamed Duncan down low and left the Spurs wide open to take three
pointers -- but no one could hit any. The Lakers won the series 4-2, and the
Spurs went about acquiring guys who could nail three pointers to improve
that weakness. The Game 1 victory was the culmination of a year long, well
thought out plan by San Antonio management.

In the East, the Heat and Pistons are playing just what everyone expected: A
rugged defensive one. The 'under' is 4-1 in their five meetings this season.
The Pistons got what they wanted, a split in Miami, and now come home for
Games 3 and 4. It's clear that Shaq is not 100% and they badly need him in this
series against the deep Pistons frontcourt. The visiting team is 3-1 SU/ATS
the last four times they've met. The key appears to be young Miami sparkplug
guard Dwayne Wade. Wade admitted he had rushed too much in Game 1, missing
18 of 25 shots, but was calm in Game 2 scoring 40 points. Will young Mr.
Wade be nervous playing on the road at the defending champ's arena? Well, he played
twice in Detroit this season. His first game he was 6-of-17 for 17 points,
then in the next meeting at Detroit he was a sizzling 12-of-18 (31 points,
10 rebounds, 10 assists). We'll see which Mr. Wade shots up. Fortunately,
Miami only needs a split. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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