Eight Things to Watch in the second round of the NBA Playoffs
LeBron’s Post Game –I think LeBron learned from the Finals last year against Dallas that he needs to find a way to get inside and not just settle. He likes to drive, but a lot of it has to do with him having a halfway post-up game now. He gets the ball on that right block, closer to the basket and he’s able to post up and make a decision to either find a shooter or make a play himself.
The three times we played Miami, that’s one thing I noticed about LeBron. He’s making a consistent effort now to get the ball in the post. He’s such a good ball handler, almost like a point guard, that it’s tough to have him in the post all the time, but he definitely added that to his game.
Small Basketball – When Miami features LeBron at the four, I think it can cause a lot of problems. It’s going to force Indiana to change the way they play defense and possibly take David West or Roy Hibbert out of the mix for long periods of time. It’s going to force David West into a huge role and we’ll see how big he can play.
On offense, Indiana likes to play inside-out with those two guys, but if Miami takes that away with a small lineup, forcing the Pacers to play on the perimeter, Indiana will play right into their hands. The way Miami rotates to shooters on defense is second to none. They trap the ball really hard on the pick and roll. LeBron, D-Wade and Chalmers are very athletic guys. You could see it against the Knicks, guys like Steve Novak really didn’t have chance to shoot the ball even when it was rotating. They always had someone closing out to him and making him drive or pass.
Philly’s Backcourt – The Sixers guard the ball really well and their on-ball defense makes a difference. They good job in the first round of switching between Jrue Holliday and Evan Turner and giving the Bulls different looks. They made Chicago run a lot of sets instead of individuals taking over the game. That will be useful against Rondo, because he sets everything up for the Celtics. But they’ll be able to impact his decision-making by playing tight on the ball.
Both players are solid offensively as well. Turner is coming around really well. He’s turned into the player that they expected when they drafted him. Jrue is a very capable scorer, but he’s still able to control the game and run the team. He can shoot from the perimeter, but he also has a game where he can drive and make plays. What I like most about him is he’s very under control in his decision-making. He’s still young, but I think he has an advanced ability to make the decisions a point guard needs to make, whether it’s shoot the ball, pass or attack the basket. Playing against Rondo will be a great matchup. They’re both good on-ball defenders. I think they’ll both find ways to impact the game.
KG’s Renaissance – Kevin Garnett has really turned his game up this postseason. Offensively, he’s been able to get down in the post and they can get him the ball in a spot where he can make his turnaround jump shot.
He’s also been great picking and popping off screens. He’s playing a full offensive game. Defensively, he just brings that intensity on every play. He took it to Josh Smith in the first round, took him out of his spots. He’s a smart defender so he knows where his man is going to get it and what he wants to do with it.
I think he can have the same impact against Philly. He has the size to impact Elton Brand in the post. Brand is a really a good player, but I don’t think he’s as athletic or versatile as Josh Smith, so I think it’s going to be easier for KG to have that defensive impact.
Offensively, his ability to move around the floor and hit shots will be important. He can go inside against the younger guys like Thaddeus Young and just shoot that turnaround jump shot. Or if it’s Brand he can pull him out and hit some in the mid-range.
Duncan and Griffin – The matchup of power forwards in the Spurs vs. Clippers series pits two very different players. Tim Duncan has always been a great offensive player. He has a patient game and as a defender it freezes you up. When he gets the ball, you really don’t know what he’s going to do with it. For one or two seconds he’s just looking at the basket and you don’t know what he’s thinking or what’s going to come. That’s why when he goes for that up-fake, guys go for it, because you have to guard against everything with him.
Tim has a great feel for the game around the basket and plays great with his back to the basket. He can turnaround and hit you with that bank shot, he can drive and he’s developed that jump shot to the point where it’s consistent. On the other end, he’s just a smart defender. He can guard guys in the post because he knows how to position himself and how to throw guys off their game.
Blake Griffin plays at a high level. On the offensive end, he finds his way in there. It’s not always pretty, but he’s finding opportunities to score. As soon as he gets the ball he’s trying to drive and he uses his quickness to drive past guys. He’s been doing well at that, but he’s still not a dominant power forward at this stage of his career. He can get out in transition or use the pick and roll and get to the basket, jump high and get the ball up. That’s what’s effective for him.
Going against Tim Duncan will be tough for Blake. Duncan is going to expose Blake’s weakness, which is jump shooting, whenever he can. Duncan will force him to take jump shots. And when Blake does get around him, San Antonio will use help defense to try and minimize his impact at the rim. Boris Diaw might spend a lot of time on Blake too because he’s laterally quicker than Tim at this point and can stay in front of Blake.
Pop’s Coverage on Paul – The Clippers go as far as Chris Paul can take them. Offensively they rely heavily on Paul coming off screens and making play. They have other guys who can score, but that’s their go-to. He can come off a screen and make a play for himself or for Caron Butler on the outside or DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin with a lob. Containing Chris will be the number on priority for San Antonio.
Defending the screen isn’t Parker’s strongest suit, but he’s a good enough defender that he’ll find a way to compete and do his best. San Antonio’s system won’t leave him on an island. Popovich and his assistants will work up a coverage from their defense to limit Paul, make him go left instead of right, trap the pick and roll, or whatever they have to do. It has to be team defense that stops Chris Paul.
Westbrook Breaking Out – Russell Westbrook has been more aggressive this season and the Thunder have played well with him controlling the game. In the past, the Russell I remember tended to be passive. But now I just see him being aggressive and trying to score for the whole game.
He’s developed into a better shooter, but I think his bread and butter is driving to the basket. He’s physical and explosive in his drive. He’s one of the best players in the league at getting to the rim. The only guys that are better in my opinion are Derrick Rose, LeBron James and D-Wade. Russell is on that level and he should use that ability whenever he has the opportunity. He has the physical advantage over any point guard. Sessions is a bigger point guard, but he’s nowhere near as athletic and explosive as Russell. He has a clear advantage there.
The Kobe Show – If there’s one team that can matchup well with the Lakers bigs this postseason it’s the Thunder. OKC also plays more of a team defense. They execute their coverages very well. It’s one thing to say “we’re going to trap the pick and roll” but it’s another to go out and do it. They have a mobile big like Serge Ibaka who can go out and do it. Kendrick Perkins has always been a good defender and Serge has been tremendous this year. I think they’ll be able to guard Bynum and Gasol.
Kobe sometimes makes those shots that you can’t explain, you just have to make it tough on him (Getty Images).
Once you take that away from the Lakers it’s all about Kobe. Kobe has been great this postseason. What he’s doing right now, at his age, it’s amazing. You look at the other guys in his class, most of them aren’t playing anymore and none of the guys that are playing are playing at his level. The hardest part about guarding Kobe is how hard he competes. He makes so many tough shots and he just keeps at it.
Even when you have him missing five or six shots, he’s coming back with another one. He’s not as explosive and athletic as he used to be, but he’s a smarter player and he knows how and when to take his shot. You can play the perfect defense and he’ll still make the shot more than any player that I’ve seen since I’ve been around basketball. That’s Kobe for you right there.