Preview & Chat: The NBA Finals

Kurt —  June 6, 2007

Hey, we did these for 87 Laker games, why not one for the Finals…

Note to Laker management/fans/players/anyone who will listen. The two teams in the NBA Finals are two of the top four defensive teams in the league. This is not a coincidence.

One-Sided? Without looking at a statistic or a match up, my initial gut reaction was the Spurs would destroy the Cavs. I felt pretty strongly about it. The last time my initial gut reaction was that strong was 2004 — those starless Pistons were no match for the Lakers and their four Hall of Famers. For some reason, I can’t remember how that turned out.

Defense counts. The question I found hardest to answer when trying to break down this series: How much better was the West than the East?

I wondered because so far in the playoffs, Cleveland has put up the best defensive numbers of any team — giving up 95.5 points per 100 possessions, even holding the Pistons to 99.9 (for comparison the Spurs are at 101.6 for the playoffs, but remember they played the Suns). Cleveland playing good defense shouldn’t be a shock — in the regular season they were fourth best in the NBA.

The question I had is: Did Cleveland step it up or is it the level of competition? In the first round Cleveland played an injury-riddled Washington team that even Gatinho could have gotten playing time on. The next round was the good Nets, followed by the good but erratic Pistons.

Maybe the competition has helped the playoff numbers but anyway you slice it Cleveland is a good defensive squad. And teams that play good defense keep games close and always have a chance at the end (especially when you have a guy like LeBron).

But will they score enough? Here’s one thing I thought while watching the Cleveland/Detroit series — the Spurs will do a better job defending the Cavs than Detroit did.

It’s not just Bowen on LeBron, although that would be fun to watch. It’s the overall package. Henry Abbott at True Hoop tried to rain on this parade a little, but I don’t two games (the most recent Jan. 2) carry a ton of weight. That said he did give us some clues — the Cavs posted up LeBron on Bowen a lot during those two meetings and they should do that again, LeBron is far too strong for him in the post and will demand a quick double team, getting teammates open.

And that was a big key for Cleveland against Detroit — the other guys started to hit shots around LeBron. Gibson got the gold star but others started to step up as well. Granted, there was the amazing game five run where LeBron took over, but what made game six a blowout is that the Cavs role players hit their shots.

The challenge for Cleveland will be doing the same thing with a hand in their face — the Spurs defensive rotations in the playoffs have been spectacular. Those Cavs supporting members will not get clean looks. They are going to have to hit shots under pressure.

A typical play. If you have watched much of Cleveland in the playoffs, you know play #1 is to get LeBron the ball and run him off a screen from Ilgauskas (or another big). That is also play #2 and #3. Cavs coach Mike Brown has taken a lot of heat for this, but the basic premise is solid — get the ball in the hands of your best playmaker and scorer, let him make the decisions.

Bowen will be on LeBron, obviously, but I expect the Spurs will put Oberto on Ilgauskas, that leaves Duncan left to freelance a little off Gooden and rotate on to James if he drives the lane. Oberto is a physical, tough player, he will hedge out on James and not just give him a lane to the basket. Duncan’s long arms (along with the fact the rest of the Spurs like to collapse on penetraters) will make LeBron less efficient — James will get a spectacular dunk or two, but he’s going to have a lot more contested shots. Good interior defense forces LeBron to go to his Achilles heal, the mid-range jumper.

As I said before, what will be key for the Cavs is when James makes his often-special passes when the defense collapses the Cavs are to win the role players must step up. With a hand in their face.

Bet the under.
Two teams that like to play at a slow pace and play good defense, they are not going to reach the number (180) for game one. By game two the casinos will have adjusted.

Other Good Previews. Kevin Pelton is a hero of mine. David Thorpe is a hero of mine. For those of you who think reading is too much work, there is a podcast from The Basketball Jones. The always brilliant Free Darko is talking about both teams. (More of these will go up as I see them in the next couple of days.)

Heck with the finals, give me draft/trade info. Friend of the site Nate Jones has done a great interview with Cal State Fullerton stud Bobby Brown, a likely early second round pick. I saw him a few times the last couple years in person and like his game.

Oh, and neither Kobe nor JO will be traded today, so feel free to relax.

One thing to watch. Two powerful teams on the boards here, going to be some great battles inside. If one team can get a decisive edge it will be a big boost.

Finals prediction. I think it comes down to this — the Spurs have more and better offensive weapons. They are going to get their points — not a ton, but enough. And more consistently. I think the Cavs can stretch this out six games for two reasons: 1) LeBron James at the end of close games; 2) the rather stupid 2-3-2 format.

So give me the Spurs in six.

Kurt

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37 responses to Preview & Chat: The NBA Finals

  1. Kurt – great analysis, as always, but you (intentionally, I assume) didn’t address one important factor – the refs. Lebron averaged 16 or so FTs per game in games 5 and 6 against Detroit. That’s about the same # that D. Whistle averaged against Dallas last year in the finals. With Bowen being a step slow these days, I’d be shocked if Lebron doesn’t average at least 14 FTs per game against SA.

    Since SA is a much better team than CLE and won’t fold in the face of adversity (unlike Dallas), my guess is Spurs in 7.

  2. Kurt is there a reason the Lakers have raised there tix prices? this has to be a joke right? they have no clue rather Kobe is coming back and no big trades are set in stone.

    i hope people are not stupid enough to fall for this…

  3. 1. I think if I’m the Cavs I’m looking for a way to get Duncan in foul trouble early every game. The refs could play a factor there, depending on how tight they call things.

    2. They raise them every year (the only year they didn’t was the summer Shaq was traded). They do it because people pay it, to be simple — people and corporations are paying for those seats and boxes every year. Last year 97% of season ticket holders came back. This year that may fall off a little (95%ish, I’d guess) but there is a list of people waiting to fill in the seats. So long as the demand is there, they can charge what they can get.

  4. LG Gold – you bring up a very good point about FT attempts. As we all know, David Stern and the NBA would MUCH rather have Lebron and the Cavs win the title than to have the boring Spurs win it again. And since Mr.Stern cannot actually go play for the Cavs, the best thing he can do to make sure Cleveland has a chance is to make sure Lebron goes to the line a huge # of times like D-Wade did last year.

  5. They raised it EVERY YEAR because Kobe was still a Laker and people just wanted to see him score 70 points. now that he will likely not return if big trades are not made whats the point? are people gonna pay money to watch Ben Gordon or David Lee and Jamal Crawford?

    What a joke.

  6. How big of an upset would it be if the Cavs win? David and Goliath? Slightly surprising? Very surprising?

    I’m pretty sure the lakers won the 2004 finals vs. the pistons. Four all-stars don’t lose to… oh right. i guess they had four (future) all-stars as well.

    I wonder if this group has any love for the Ducks. they could close out the Stanley Cup tonight. Snoop has even seen fit to show up at a few Ducks’ games recently. Maybe he got tired of seeing Vlad Rad in street clothes.

  7. Maybe the raise in ticket prices is the Lakers’ way of letting the ticket holders know that Kobe is not going anywhere?

  8. Or it could just mean that they want people to pay for cheap product?

    Let’s watch Ben Gordon jack up 3’s all day BABY!

  9. I hope these finals are not super low-scoring. I appreciate the art of defense, but it would not benefit the leauge if every game was 82-76.

    For what its worth I see SA winning, just because of their coach is the best in the game right now at in-game adjustments. Hope PJ is paying attention, in-game adjustments can truly impact the outcome of games. When PJ was still abreast to the winning styles of the NBA, a trademark of his teams was 3rd quarter dominance, based primarily on in-game adjustments.

  10. Spurs in 4

  11. If you want David Thorpe’s final’s preview listen to Chad Ford’s podcast.

  12. warren (philippines) June 6, 2007 at 9:25 pm

    Theres a new rule:

    SPURS in 3. They will invoke the MERCY rule and Cleveland will likely take it.

  13. I agree with Kurt that talk of a sweep are way premature. Tayshaun was sposta be a great match-up defensively (which was sorta true for games 1 and 2) but once LeBron got aggressive there wasn’t much anyone could do. I expect him to abuse Bowen even worse. In these kind of lock-down first-to-90-wins type games, his individual brilliance should be enough to snag two at home.

  14. Lebron…lebron…lebron….blah blah blah.

    If he beats the Sprus….then I will recant…but….he has not done anything yet. They were handed games by the playoff teams. Detroit fell apart internally (that is something to look at too…maybe Chauncey will leave…to bad the Lakes havent got the money). Lebron had a montser game…..1 game….so what? You see the look on Teyshaun’s face everytime Lebron would scoot past him….Prince was looking at the “help” defender like “what the heck are you doing man” every single time…somethign is a amiss in Detroit.

    But that isnt going to happen in San Antonio. Spurs in 5.

  15. Kurt,
    I have been reading today that Stan Van Gundy has been hired in Orlando to “replace” Billy Donovan… Does this mean that Kurt Rambis is now the frontrunner for the Sac Kings job? As much as I would hate to lose Rambis from the bench, I would be really happy for him and hope he takes the job.

  16. And for the Finals…. I say Spurs in 6. I think Lebron will steal 2 out of the 3 home games by himself but the Spurs will be too much for the rest of the Cavs to handle.

    And it’s funny how I keep hearing on tv and radio about everyone thinks Kobe and the Lakers are a better team than this Cavs team… yet we think we stink!

  17. 15. According to what I read, it is down to Rambis and Terry Porter, although Sacramento is (rightfully) being very patient in making a decision. Other names may come into the mix. But like you, I hope for his sake Rambis gets the gig.

    16. I think the end-of-the-season Lakers were not as good as these Cavs, but at full health I think they are close. Maybe the Lakers could have gotten out of the first round in the East and the peaking Lakers would have been a threat in the EAst. If roles were reversed, there is no way that the Cavs would have beaten the Suns in the first round, they would have gone down just like the Lakers.

  18. What do people think about Belinelli from Italy for our draft pick?

  19. Not so sure about the Cavs easily going down to the Suns. The Lakers were a terrible defensive team and (outside of Odom) a mediocre rebounding team. The Cavs are great at both rebounding and defense. Plus LeBron’s three point shooters actually aren’t afraid to step up and knock one down. Suns might have still won, but it definitely would have been a tight series. And the Suns would have been very beat up after a series with the Cavs….

    By the way, I just threw up a related post at the Fanhouse. It starts off talking about how Duncan has continued the Shaq-Duncan era, but then goes into how small ball (PHX in particular) is such a joke…

    http://sports.aol.com/fanhouse/2007/06/07/tim-duncan-keeps-the-shaq-duncan-era-alive/

  20. The reason that it will be extremely tough for the Cavs to win is that I don’t expect the Spurs to let those other guys (Pavlovic, Daniels, Marshall) get wide open looks all series. They mix up their defenses, and do a good job of staying with their gameplan (remember how they chased the suns off the 3 pt line all series).

  21. Really enjoyed your Duncan-Shaq piece Jones. Also thought the Debriefing’s Kobe piece from yesterday was great:
    http://sports.aol.com/fanhouse/2007/06/06/the-debriefing-kobe-vs-lebron/

    Between you, MJD, and Shoals, FanHouse has been bumping these days.

  22. CSKA Moscow’s Euroleague MVP Theo Papaloukas is seriously considering a switch to the NBA.

    Papaloukas, who spearheaded Greece’s upset of Team USA’s star-laden team in last year’s FIBA World Championship semifinals, spoke to the Sport-Express newspaper in Moscow about his dilemma.

    “I have some offers from the NBA but I must decide whether I should go or whether it’s better to stay,” he said. “I will decide in about a week

    Papaloukas was named FIBA Europe’s Player of the Year in 2006 and, this year, he led CSKA to a successful defense of their Russian Cup and Superleague titles.

    Could he be in the Lakers radar?

  23. from realgm.com:

    “Knicks Let Go Longtime Director Of College Scouting, Jeff Nix…”

    wtf? this guy was born to work for the nix, err, knicks. maybe he can work for new jersey, but only if he changes his name to jeff knetts.

  24. I find it funny that very few of the media hacks are willing to point out James’ low scoring. Only, oh, a great Spurs defense. It seems that the media hyped James so much that they’re doing everything to protect him from criticisms.

  25. Man… soooo spot on on the whole piece. Always impressed with your work Kurt.

    The under was very profitable. Now I”m really thinking the call for the next game could be the over. I have a feeling the refs are going to be making it a free-throw parade next game. Between that and Vegas’ adjustment it seems like a good move.

  26. 25…..Like I said in 14….Lebron lebron lebron…blah blah blah. Bowen knows that he has help defenders behind him. Not to say that 14 and 4 is not bad for finals performance. And I am sure that he will do better in other games….but…MJ he is not.

    And some one said that the CAVs have one of the best defenses right? What is their defense rating against West teams? That would be a truer measure would it not. I honestly dont know what that is….maybe it is just as high??? Is there some where I can find that sort of info?

  27. speaking of finals debut..yesterday afternoon sportscenter ran a piece of “NBA Superstars Finals Debut”..the players they talked about?
    Jordan
    Shaq
    Duncan
    Iverson
    Wade

  28. Chicago’s thinking about packaging Duhon. Maybe that means we can finally get our hands on him. I’m telling you, if we had him and jordan splitting time at the 1, we’d be fine for next season. He’s an ideal triangle pg:

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/basketball/bulls/cs-070607bulls,1,7163225.story?coll=chi-sportstop-hed&ctrack=1&cset=true

    Via Henry Abbott at True Hoop…

  29. Shammond Williams has reportedly signed with an overseas team (Spain) and will not be back next season.

    The Lakers do not have their Bi-Annual Exception this year since they used it on Williams last summer.

  30. From Lakers: Odds and Ends By Eric Pincus

    http://www.hoopsworld.com/article_22247.shtml
    .
    .
    it’s nothing more than speculation even if O’Neal has recently purchased a home in Los Angeles . . . and his young daughter allegedly told classmates that they were moving to California.

  31. from ESPN

    the Rockets have been quietly putting out feelers about Artest, and the price might be right. I hear it would cost the Rockets Bob Sura (he has only $1 million in salary protection next year), Kirk Snyder, Vasilis Spanoulis and this year’s first-round draft pick.

    With Artest entering a player option year on his contract in the summer of 2008, it may be time to take the risk.

  32. “Well, ABC is premiering a reality show in which Shaq tries to get six kids with weight problems to get in shape. And you know what? That’s too easy. Any joke is too easy for that one. I’m abstaining. There’s a 0.0 degree of difficulty.”

    -bill simmons

    I’m mean seriously, who does he think he’s kidding? Not Me! C’mon Shaq, this is worse than “STEEL”, and by a lot!

  33. I’ve tried posting this a couple times but the comments seem to be evaporating into the ether, so I hope this doesn’t result in a flurry of me repeating myself.

    With the news that TrueHoop relayed that Randolph and Jack appear to be on the chopping block, and with Portland working about Crittenton (solidly in the 19 range according to most), does anyone sense something brewing there? Those two would fill two of our biggest needs. Lamar would probably be the kind of versatile distributing 3 that team needs and Kwame’s contract would probably be very useful for a team that’s going to need to start shelling out big bucks for its youngsters in a couple years. Obviously this is purely my own speculation, but I’m curious how you guys feel. Given the choice between JO or Randolph/Jack, what would you do?

  34. Glad it worked that time; and that should says “working out Crittenton.” And I should have added that realistically a deal with Portland would mean hanging on to Bynum (who they would have zero interest in) and probably eating the atrocious LaFrentz contract.

  35. Chopperdave, sorry that didn’t work, for whatever reason.

    The only thing about a Portland trade is this — would they do it within the conference? Would they risk making the Lakers stronger even if it gets them stronger too? Some GMs will do that, some won’t.

    Also, everyone, I had planned a new post today but got swamped with work and it didn’t happen. It will tomorrow or Sunday morning. Sorry.

  36. Personally I’ve always thought concerns about trading in-conference are pretty overrated. Unless it’s a trade demand from a superstar where you know you can’t get back equal value, I feel like your focus should be on what helps you the most. Basically refusing to deal in-conference feels to me like GMs are conceding that they’re likely to be swindled. I guess if you’re trading someone with a very high but unknown ceiling it might make sense to not want to trade him to a team where he can come back to haunt you, but then you probably shouldn’t be dealing him in the first place.

    That said, some GMs clearly are reluctant to do it. To tell the truth I’m not sure why Portland would consider trading Jack, but if he is available, I certainly hope the Lakers look into it.