Mavericks-Thunder Series Preview.

Many thought they were too young, too inexperienced. Many thought they weren’t ready, weren’t prepared. All the haters were silenced tonight when the Thunder inked their status in the elite group in the NBA when beating the 8th seeded Grizzlies in the conference semifinals, and advancing to the conference finals. The only problem is that now they have to face one of the mayors of the elite group. The Dallas Mavericks.  Many thought Dallas wouldn’t be able to hold off the defending champs, but they did. In championship like fashion. Both of these teams have silenced the nay-sayers and are sitting promptly in the conference finals, awaiting their tough competition.

Just like the Heat-Bulls series, this should series should be a serious offensive struggle. The Mavericks held the TrailBlazers to 88 points in 6 games, and the Lakers to 92 points in 4 games. The Thunder held the Nuggets to 97 points in 5 games, and the Grizzlies to 114 points, but game 4 went into triple overtime.

For the Thunder to win this series, there are a lot of things that come into play. Not all of them are basketball related. They are going up against one of the oldest teams in the NBA, that means they’re going to get tired quicker, and aren’t going to be as fast but that also means they are very strong mentally, and have a high basketball IQ. Playoff games can get heated, and players can get mad, but the Mavericks don’t usually lose their grip on the game. If the Thunder’s young and inexperienced players can’t handle the very heated playoff games against a contained Maverick team, then they won’t be able to play a whole 7 game series and advance to the finals.

Now onto the basketball related factors. Russell Westbrook, a superstar, and a quick, athletic point guard will be matching up against a 38 year old veteran in Jason Kidd. You probably know what I am going to say. Westbrook is going to run all over Kidd that he’ll have to come out every 5 minutes to catch his breath. Russell can jump higher so J-Kidd will have trouble getting a hand in his face when shooting, he is slower so Russell will beat him off the dribble much easier, causing the big men to come out and guard him and leaving a corner 3-pointer open. He has to take advantage of this mismatch, if he does then this will be a much easier series for him and the Thunder. Another factor for winning is that they have to keep Dirk Nowitzki under control. That, of course is easier said than done. Pau Gasol couldn’t guard him so what makes anyone think Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, or Kendrick Perkins will be able to. He is taller and much too quick for Collison and Perkins. Ibaka will have to guard him. He played very good defense on Zach Randolph in the post, but now he will have to be running more around curls for Nowitzki, or trying to prevent his nearly unstoppable jump shot. They don’t want to double on Nowitzki because then Jason Terry and Peja Stojakovic will be left open, and we know what happens when they’re left wide open. Ibaka has to be up for the challenge, if he can’t contain Nowitzki then this series is pretty much over before it began. Another thing they have to do to win is take advantage of the mismatch at the small forward position. Unlike Memphis, and Denver, the Mavericks have no gritty, tough, good perimeter defenders to handle the Durantula. Shawn Marion will most likely guard him, but Durant is quicker, more athletic, and just too talented for Marion to cover. This means Durant has to be very aggressive on offense, trying to drive to the hoop as much as possible, and taking quick dribbles and pull up jumpers. If he and Westbrook can take care of their mismatches then they’ll be in great shape.

For the Mavericks, it’s a different story. They’re going to need J.J Barea to be on his top game in this series. Jason Kidd most likely won’t be able to guard Westbrook, so that means Barea will see much more playing time in this series. He has to be able to play confidently, he has to guard Westbrook toughly and drive by him when he has the chance to. Then we have to look at the big men. Tyson Chandler will be key in this series. He will be guarded by Perkins, and Collison. He is taller then both of them, and quicker then both of them. He has to take advantage of his speed, and size down low for the Mavs to be able to win. He has to box out effectively, and jump on the glass whenever he can. Dallas should try to run some pick and rolls for Chandler, because with Kidd’s passing ability, and the center’s not being able to catch up with Chandler when he rolls, Chandler should have some easy dunks this series. Handling Durant will be the toughest mission for the Mavericks in this series. Shawn Marion, or Peja Stojakovic will have to guard him. Neither are talented enough defensively to handle the best scorer in the league. They may have to double Durant, the Thunder won’t have that many options to pass out of the double team to, there is always Westbrook but Sefolosha isn’t a dangerous shooter, nor is Harden consistently, that is.

This series will come down to guarding the star players. If the Thunder can contain Nowitzki, they’ll be in better shape. If the Mavs can contain Durant then they’ll be in better shape. We’ll see when the series starts. If I had to make a prediction right now. I’d give this series to the Mavericks in 6 games.

The Lakers Need to Improve.

As the NBA conference finals begin, we have to still wonder about the leagues former champions. What does their future hold, is it a retiring Bryant, a traded Gasol, a completely different team? When a defending champion loses it’s a big deal around the league, and a big deal within the organization. When the defending champions are swept, well, that’s a huge problem and begs the question,what went wrong?

What went wrong? It’s really simple, people are over analyzing this too much. Pau Gasol just didn’t play. It’s almost as if he wasn’t there. Dirk Nowitzki ran all over him, he barely put up a fight. He missed easy shots every game, wasn’t aggresive enough on the boards or on defense and that dragged the Lakers down. When the man supposed to be giving the other team’s player a hard time doesn’t defend then there is going to be havoc. Their biggest strength is their duo of 7-footers on the front line, but in this series there was just one 7-footer in Andrew Bynum and one 7-footer playing like a scared child in Pau Gasol. Pau’s low production forced the other players on the team to carry his load, but trying to make up for 18 points and 10 rebounds is hard, and it was too hard for the Lakers. It wasn’t just Pau though, let’s not blame the whole Laker meltdown on one player. It was the effort. It was the hustle. The attitude. The defense, or lack there of. In game 4 of the series the Mavericks made 20, three pointers. How did they reach this milestone against such a tough defensive team? The perimeter defenders were lethargic, they didn’t rotate to the shooters, they didn’t even try to get a hand in the shooters face. Jason Terry did not have a hand in his face on any of his three pointers, the same with Peja.

This series is over though, the Lakers get to go on vacation early, and the Mavericks get to move on to the conference finals feeling proud and accomplished. Something has to change though. We already know Phil Jackson won’t be returning next season. Brian Shaw or Rick Adelman are the favorites to take over his position. Magic Johnson rumored that roster changes may have to be made if the Lakers want to be contenders next season. I agree, but what changes do they have to make? First off, they need a young, quick, athletic point guard. Derek Fisher is a veteran with lots of invaluable experience but he can’t keep up with the faster guards in the league like Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, and Deron Williams. Steve Blake didn’t play up to expectations this season and although he has less years on his legs he still can’t compete with the faster guards. They won’t be getting any good draft picks any time soon so they better try to find a quick young point guard this summer. Then they have to wonder about Pau Gasol. He has proven to be a great competitor, an all-star, a top 10 power forward and most of all a champion, but he really let them down this postseason. Kobe only has 3-4 good years left in him and the Lakers may want to think about trading Gasol for an athletic, talented scorer to take the stage once Kobe is gone. Or maybe trade Gasol for another power forward, someone who is tougher and more dependable in big playoff series. As I mentioned before, Kobe only has 3-4 great years left in him so the Lakers may want to put a lot of their time into their younger players like Shannon Brown. He proved himself to be very productive off the bench, he is extremely athletic and he can definitely score the basketball. His game is still developing but I see a player who could do a solid job of filling in Kobe’s shoes. The last thing is that they need some gritty perimeter defenders. The Lakers, although they may play tough, are a pretty soft team. They need some tough perimeter defenders, players like Thabo Sefolosha or Tony Allen to keep the scorers under control.

After the Lakers disgraceful showing in the semi-finals, ways to improve are a must, if the Lakers want another ring.

Heat-Bulls Series Preview.

Exciting match-ups have filled the playoffs this year, but this series could be like nothing we’ve ever seen before. We have the MVP from this season in Derrick Rose playing against the MVP of last season in Lebron James. We have two all-star caliber power forwards matching up, in Carlos Boozer and Chris Bosh. We have the two best finishers in the game in Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose. We have the coach of the year, in Tom Thibodeau against the co-executive of the year in Pat Riley. We have the best defensive team in the NBA in the Bulls against the 3rd best defensive team in the NBA in the Heat. We have the number 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, in the Bulls against the number 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, in the Heat. Most of all, we have two very hungry, talented teams hoping to reach the finals, and hopefully win an NBA championship.

It’s not going to be an easy series to win for either team. The Heat have played like the team to beat in this postseason, they’ve beat the 76ers in 5 games as well as the defending Eastern Conference Champs in 5 games. The Bulls have played lockdown defense this postseason, but haven’t played like the number 1 seed in the NBA at all.They struggled in the 1st round against Indiana, they beat them 4-1 but in their first 3 wins they won by a total of 15 points. In the second round they struggled at times against the Hawks, but seemed to re-gather their swag, in game 6. This matchup is very interesting because these teams have two completely different specialties. The Bulls pride themselves in their defense, they have the best defensive mastermind in the NBA as their head coach, which is why they are the number 1 defensive team in the NBA. Their offense has been weak at some times in this postseason but it’s their rock solid defense that keeps them winning.The Heat on the other hand, although are a very strong defensive team, they’re speciality lies on the offensive end. The athleticism of Lebron, Wade and Bosh are perfect for fast breaking, and fast tempo offense, of which the Heat are the best at.

For the Heat to win this series they’re going to need Wade to take over his mismatch at shooting guard. He’ll either be guarded by, Keith Bogans or Ronnie Brewer. Neither of which are quick or athletic enough to keep on Wade. If D-Wade can take advantage of the mismatches then the Heat will be in very good shape going forward. Also, Bosh is going to need to be very aggressive inside if the Heat want to win. The Bulls have a top 5 interior defense, with Omer Asik, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. Bosh has been criticized for being too soft during the season, if he plays soft against the Bulls tough interior D then the Heat can kiss goodbye to the finals. Another thing that the Heat will need to do is get some bench production. They’re going up against the most productive bench in the league, the Bulls bench plays tough defense, and smart, efficient offense. This series could easily go to the Bulls if the Heat’s bench can’t provide numbers when the Big 3 are on the bench. The last thing the Heat have to do to win this series is to keep D-Rose under control. The MVP has been averaging about 29 points and 8 assists this post-season. He needs to be stopped, if the Heat can keep him out of the paint then that’s the best way to limit Roses production. He has improved his midrange jumper and 3 point jumper but most of his points come from the line and from lay-ups.

It’s a different story for the Bulls.They’re going up against the best offensive duo in the league. They’re going to need Luol Deng to step up on defense. He is a top class defender but to take on Lebron James for a 7 game playoff series, it’s going to take a lot of energy out of him. He has to come out every night and think less about his offense and much more about his defensive game to hold of LBJ. Which will put a lot more pressure on D-Rose to play offense. I think they’ll be up for the challenge though. Derrick Rose has to take advantage of the mismatch at point-guard. He didn’t really take advantage against Jeff Teague enough, but here he has another chance. He will be guarded by a veteran in Mike Bibby or a turnover prone Mario Chalmers. Neither of them can keep up with his electrifying penetration or fancy dribbling. I am looking for D-Rose to average 30 points a game in this series, he will be guarded by lesser players and he’s going to show everyone that he deserved the MVP against the former MVP. For the Bulls to win then they also need their young core of big men to take advantage of the slow, and veteran Miami big men. The Bulls have 4 core big men in Omer Asik, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, and Taj Gibson all of which are under 30. The Heat big men are Zydranus Ilgauskas, Udonis Haslem, Chris Bosh, Erick Dampier and Joel Anthony. The Bulls big men are quicker and more athletic and should try to beat the Heat in the low post. They’re bench is going to have to play like they’ve never played before. They’re younger, more athletic, and just better players all around. They have to play as a unit. That’s the Bulls biggest advantage in this series, it’s their depth. They’re depth is their bench and their bench will win them this game along with their defense and hustle plays. The most important things for the Bulls is to continue to do the things they’re known for, like tapping back offensive rebounds, playing lockdown defense, and passing with lots of ball movement. They can shut down any team, they need to do the same with the heat.

I’m very excited for this matchup, there is so much talent between these two teams. I just think that the Bulls’ defense and bench production will be too much for the Heat squad and their big 3.  If I had to make a prediction right now, I’d have to say the Heat’s star power will be just too much for the Bulls. Heat in 7.

– Max