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NBA Playoff Notes

   by Bryan Leonard - 04/26/2006

During the regular season handicappers carefully look at spots where teams are playing long road stretches and back to back spots. For instance, playing a game on Monday, then playing again Wednesday and Friday is far different from playing Sunday and Monday, then Wednesday and Thursday. The latter is a four-games-in-five-nights stretch, one of the most difficult scheduling spots in the NBA. And if all four of those games were on the road, which also happens, the spot has even greater difficulty.

Handicappers take into account scheduling dynamics like that. However, the playoffs are different, as teams rarely play back-to-back games in the playoffs anymore. This gives an advantage to veteran teams or ones that have important players where age or injuries are a factor.

Look at the Spurs. This season, star Tim Duncan has battled varies foot ailments. Notice that San Antonio went 60-9 with at least one day of rest before a game, yet 3-10 in the second of back-to-back games. In those back-to-back spots, Duncan averaged just 14 points per game. It was interesting in the Game 1 blowout of Sacramento that Duncan played just 25 minutes. No sense getting the star hurt in a one-sided game! That means Duncan has played a total of 67 minutes over the last four games.

The same has been true of Shaquille O'Neal the last few years. When Shaq puts his mind and body to playing hard, he can be a dominant player, as he was in Game 1 against the Bulls, with 27 points, 16 boards, 5 blocks in 37 minutes. However, you may recall in the playoffs two years ago that Shaq performed significantly better on two days of rest than one. Granted, there will be no back-to-back spots in the playoffs, but with aging players like Shaq, or ones that have nagging injuries like Duncan, the difference in one, two or three days rest can be very important.

Speaking of injuries, here's what Indiana coach Rick Carlisle had to say about guard Fred Jones: "I wasn't really sure he was going to play or not." And what did Jones contribute? The Pacers shooting guard has been in and out of the lineup the past month with a left thumb injury, but came off the bench to score 15 points on 4-of-7 shooting, including 3-of-4 on 3-pointers, to go with five rebounds and four assists in almost 27 minutes Sunday! Jones went into the game shooting 31 percent in 13 games since injuring his thumb against the New York Knicks on March 7.

"Having Fred Jones available and stepping up his game to a high level after he's been out for eight to 10 days was huge for us," Carlisle added. "He gave us 26 great minutes and he gives us another athletic guy that can defend and attack the basket." It just goes to show you that tracking injuries and predicting their influence on the game are important, but it's also an inexact science. The trend said that Jones wouldn't be able to contribute much from the outside, but he looked fine.

If you like to look at potential motivational spots, let's look in at the Sacramento Kings practice following their embarrassing 122-88 loss in Game 1 to the Spurs. Ron Artest and rookie Francisco García worked tirelessly on both ends of the court in practice Sunday in preparation for Game 2. The ever-talkative Artest didn't say much after getting whipped. "We've got a game to win," Artest said. "I ain't worried about that."

Strategically, a big thing that happened was that the San Antonio guards would penetrate, the Kings would collapse down low, then the guard would dish the ball out to someone open from three-point land. The Spurs nailed 11-of-17 treys! The Kings practiced stopping the penetration early to prevent that from happening again. We shall see if they are able to perform what they're preaching and practicing.

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