Scouting The Finals

Kurt —  May 30, 2009

Olympics Day 16 - Basketball
Great chance tonight to get a good look at who we will see in the Finals (and we may get one more chance). It’s a chance to look at matchups, discuss what we want to see.

My ultra-fast breakdown is that Orlando creates more matchup problems but the Lakers get home court; while the Lakers frustrate Cleveland more but would likely have to win two on the road, plus LeBron James should strike fear in our hearts of anyone facing him.

The detailed breakdowns are coming. But tonight we get to watch a game as fans.

232 responses to Scouting The Finals

  1. Meh. I don’t really dislike Howard, but I wasn’t a huge fan of sticking the Bible verse sticker on the backboard. In any case, you don’t have to dislike a team or its players. They’re in the way of our winning a championship, and that’s enough motivation for me. If the Magic win I won’t have any “Well, at least they’re nice guys” moments.

  2. 189. I was thinking the same thing. It’s a relief not to have to despise the other team for a change, although I doubt Magic fans feel the same way about us. I really think this should be a great, tight, entertaining series with (fingers crossed) minimal distractions from refereeing and irksome media cliches.

    Incidentally, I’m really curious to see how the media (and Bill Simmons in particular) will emerge from their current shell-shocked state, now that their favored memes of The Lakers Are Soft(TM) and The Magic Will Die By the Jumpshot(TM) and Lebron is the Greatest Half Man Half God since Jesus, and pretty much their entire storyline for these playoffs, have been shot to pieces.

  3. I hope Pau’s foul-line J is sharp this series – if he’s taking and hitting that shot with regularity when he’s matched up against Howard it’ll force him away from the hoop.

  4. 130., “Imagine if Kobe refused to talk to the media.”

    I just did, and one of my eyes bugged halfway out of my skull. Really, imagine! LA loses in Game Seven to the Nuggets, and Kobe turns and stalks off without a word. You’d have dead people rushing into libraries with splinters of coffin still in their matted hair to get online and comment. Imagine; the long, sad faces of pundits, the shaking heads, the tsks, the sighs, the I told yous. “I’ve always been a great admirer of Bryant’s, and God knows he has talent; but this confirms why I’ve always loathed the overrated bastard.” It’d overshadow the Finals; nothing else would matter. Of course, Kobe’s kind of strained relationship with the universe would fuel much of this, but there’s something more to it, that I think has to do with Swift’s “When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.” I really believe this. It’d take a lot of work to demonstrate why it’s feasible, but just throw a rock and hit a member of the confederacy. Or rather, stand still for a moment and you’re sure to be hit indirectly or no by a member.

  5. 194 – Great breakdown, but I have two issues with it:

    1) The point guard matchup is not “even.” Derek Fisher makes an All Stars out of just about everyone…considering Alston torched the Cavs, what do you think he’s going to do with Fish starts going under all those screens? A lot is going to hinge on how much time Kobe or Ariza spends covering Alston. Also, will Farmar have a good series against a smaller point guard? Will Shannon Brown continue his stellar play?

    2) It’s more than individual matchups – it’s a “team” concept matchup. The reason Orlando is a bad matchup for the Lakers is the Lakers defensive concept is to pack the paint and give up the three pointer – against Orlando, that absolutely WON’T WORK. The Lakers will have to adjust their defensive concept to win this series.

    All that being said, Boston gave the blue-print for how to beat Orlando (Boston just didn’t have the horses to pull it off) – and by the way, Zephid touched on a lot of these:

    1) Single cover Howard – just force him as far away from the deep post as possible. Let him catch it 10-12 feet away, and let him take the awkward hook-shot. Lakers can live with that ALL DAY.

    2) Force the 4 Perimeter guys off the three point line. All of them “can” finish, but none of them are especially good finishers in the paint. The comfort zone for the Magic’s peremiter players is shooting from 20 Feet out, so move them in closer, then have help come over to contest. Hedu especially isn’t very adept at making decisions on the move. If you force him off the 3 point line, and contest the shot near the basket, he’ll either miss, or throw the ball away.

    3) Go after Rashard Lewis in the post. If Big Baby Davis can destroy Lewis, what’s Pau going to do? If you beat him up in the post, he won’t be as effective on offense.

    4) GO INSIDE, PERIOD on offense. Jacking up outside jumpers (unless your name is Kobe Bryant) is playing right into the Magic’s hands. Pound, Pound, Pound…then Pound some more. Howard will get in foul trouble, and then the game changes.

    The truth of the matter is, the Game Plan for beating Orlando, is really similar to going after the old Phoenix Suns…and Phil almost pulled it off with Kobe, Smush, Luke, Odom, and Kwame Brown starting.

    1) Pound the ball inside on offense.

    2) Run guys off the three point line on defense.

    Sounds simple, but can the team execute that game plan?

  6. Dex,
    How dare that selfish ingrate deign to ignore us.

  7. Count on Dex, the one-man lexicon, to bring it.

    Anyone catch Lebron sporting the Yankees cap at the Cav’s press conference this afternoon?

    Is he being purposefully cruel to the good people of Cleveland?

  8. Joel R

    How much you bet James’s persona undergoes transformation by next season. After Sat. I felt confirmed in suspicion that he’s a perfect sweetheart till the moment you say, No, James. Then watch out. He’s said more than once, two main goals: be the richest, be the most famous. That is a sign of the skull beneath the skin. I’m probably wrong. But I’d put up week’s lunch money at least that we see more and more of that glare, that how dare you. You don’t walk out of Conference Finals without a word, show that kind of disrespect for opponent, without there being seed of vanity potentially monstrous.

  9. Dex, get that eye back in before the Finals start, lol.

  10. Great breakdown, Zephid.

    The only thing that wasn’t really mentioned is that what makes Hedo dangerous isn’t the 1-on-1 moves mentioned, but his use of the screen roll. How we defend that will be absolutely key. I’ll go against the grain and recommend going over the screen, because Ariza is quick enough to stay with him (Walton should go under the screen), and because tough contests at the rim often forces Hedo into out of control shots. We could have Pau or Bynum show hard on every play, but I’d rather avoid it as much as possible. It’ll allow Dwight a clear path to the rim, meaning Odom or Drew will have to rotate over to help, and our defense will end in scramble mode as a result, most likely giving them an open jumper. Our bigs have the most responsibility. They’ll have to slow Hedo, but at the same time stay within arm’s reach of the roller and cut off the passing angle.

    Phil Jackson in practice today said something like “It’s most advantageous to not double Howard.” Which is comforting to hear. Overreact to Howard, and their perimeter game is lethal.

    Right now, it seems like our entire defensive scheme is predicated on Drew being able to push D12 out of his comfort zone. Drew knows what’s at stake, and it’s time to show why we missed him so much last Finals.

  11. The Dude Abides May 31, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    Yeah, the media has actually made a bigger deal about Lebron skipping the postgame press conference than his refusal to shake hands with the Magic players. Idiots. It’s much worse to walk off without shaking hands with your opponent. That shows terrible sportsmanship. Even Kenyon friggin’ Martin exchanged post-series handshakes with the Lakers.

  12. Dex, I have been ranting about this all day…can you imagine the wailing and gnashing of teeth in the media if this was Kobe? 4:30 Pacific and still nothing on ESPN except for a third-rate article by Broussard that actually includes the following sentence:

    “He felt so awful that he not only walked off the court without congratulating the Magic but also left Amway Arena without speaking with the media.”

    Get that? Poor LeBron felt awful…unbelievable…

  13. Yeah, that LeBron not talking to the media and offering “I’m a winner, I don’t congratulate after a loss” thing was just funny.

    Anyway, I shouldn’t feel so defensive for a guy making so much money and with so much talent, but this LeBron hype is making me become a Kobe fanboy.

  14. Dude – That’s exactly what amazes me. Who cares if he skipped the postgame podium session? Other players have done that before. What was classless was refusing to shake hands with the Magic players, and no one’s talking about that. Even if this were a team full of thugs, it’d be unsportsmanlike – and the Magic are pretty good guys overall.

    Absolutely amazing. Dex really nailed it with the “I’ve always been a great admirer of Bryant’s, and God knows he has talent; but this confirms why I’ve always loathed the overrated bastard.” Off the top of my head, I can picture a hundred basketball fans who would come at me with that line. “So talented, but this is why I dislike him.”

    Lebron is reaching that no-criticism zone that MJ had with the media. Jordan was a jerk compared to Lebron, but if Jordan had pulled the same act he wouldn’t have been criticized either.

  15. The Orlando-Cleveland series showed us, again, that individual games in the regular season do matter. Not every game carries the same weight, but there are certain critical games that affect playoff psyche (which we’ve seen so clearly affects on court play — execution, confidence, and unity).

    Orlando rolled into the eastern conference finals bruised and universally dismissed. They “barely” beat a Garnett-less Boston team, and struggled against Philadelphia. Cleveland was the toast of the league, having won the most games in the regular season and all 8 of its playoff games by double figures. They also had a supposedly bulletproof home court advantage, losing only one meaningful game there all year. On paper, and in the media’s eye, Orlando had no chance against Lebron’s anointed Team of Destiny. But, fresh off of beating Boston less than 48 hours before, Orlando was able to block all of that out and immediately begin dismantling Cleveland’s confidence. And Cleveland, despite such a sparkling record of dominance, was almost immediately mentally shaken to the core.

    Why? Because both teams remembered what happened in a few critical games during the regular season. The Magic beat the Cavs two out of three times, and outplayed them handily along the way. They also swept the season series with the Lakers. Cleveland, despite their 66 wins, felt the nagging doubt that comes from losing almost every “test” game against the league’s elite (going 2-6 against LA, Boston, and Orlando). Both teams knew this, and Orlando had no reason to fear Cleveland. The Emperor had no clothes and everyone suddenly knew it.

    Now, I don’t think Orlando possesses some meaningful psychological advantage because they swept the season series from us. But, despite the fact that we will be favored and have the home court, I don’t think that will mean anything to them. They, rightfully, don’t fear us. We won’t be able to shake this team like we could others — even if up 2-0 or by 25 in some critical game. We will have to keep our foot on their necks until the last buzzer of the last game, which is how it should be.

    I expect a furious battle with several desperate moments of panic and doubt along the way. When those moments come, let’s remember the lessons of Houston and Denver — Jekyll always shows up when the chips are down.

    Lakers in 6, winning games 1, 3, 5 and 6 (meaning we endlessly debate meaningless rotation possibilities after games 2 and 4; and bask in self love on the other nights).

    Unsung hero: Ariza. In a somewhat bittersweet break out for the Lakers, he contains Turkoglu, swings several close games with open 3s and steals, and earns himself the right to a contract that forces out Odom this offseason.

    Sung hero: Pau. Bynum spends the whole series in foul trouble, leaving Pau to battle Howard alone. He finally persuades the blind that he is indeed tough, battling Howard on every possession and bothering him on both ends with his length and quickness. Kobe awkwardly mauls him when they finally win it.

    Opponent we fear: Lewis. Our PFs (primarily Odom) prove incapable of not rotating off of him. Lakerdom swears in unison as he shoots at least 25 semi-open 3s.

    Opponent we hate: Pietrus. He battles Kobe relentlessly and selfishly makes a living with the corner 3.

    Kobe: rightfully enters the kingdom of Magic, Bird, and Duncan.

  16. Exactly: Lebron’s unapologetic “What you all have to understand is that I’m a winner” defense of his poor sportsmanship doesn’t hold a lot of water with me.

    Not to mention that self-identifying as a winner under these circumstances is a tad laughable.

    By the way, I actually like Lebron … at least his public persona … and I readily acknowledge that he’s probably the greatest talent in all of basketball. I’m just so relieved that these Finals aren’t going to be reduced to a tedious Kobe vs. Lebron storyline now!

  17. Why not. Some favorite Simmons quotes from right before the conference finals. I wish Minnesota had named him GM — it’s always nice to have someone with poor judgment and strong opinions on the other end of a trade negotiation. Resist the temptation to find my own empty prophesies…

    “The ’09 Cavs are the ’91 Bulls reincarnated… everyone keeps underestimating them and nobody realizes that they are about the blow thru these last 2 rounds.”

    “The Cavs have the best team – they can play D, they can shoot 3’s, they can post up Z, and they have LeBron. They have an answer for everything. Watch what they do to Orlando. They’re going to single-team Howard (which Boston should have done), stay home on the 3-point shooters, swarm high screens and drive the shooters away from the basket … and Orlando is going to flounder offensively. You watch. Dwight Howard couldn’t score 40 points in a game if he was going against Yi Jianlian’s chair.”

    “Don’t start thinking Orlando is good please.”

    “Let’s all settle down on the Magic. They will be lucky to win 1 game.”

    “What we’re watching this spring is basically the 2006 Lakers, only with Gasol replacing Chris Mihm, Kobe being 15% worse, Bynum being 20% better and Ariza being a slight improvement over Ariza. It’s a limited team that lacks toughness and can be beaten.”

    “Kobe had a fantastic career but cannot get it done EVERY night anymore and needs a ton of help from refs to get his points. He’s a jumpshooter at this stage of his career, and if he’s not scoring, he can’t really affect games.”

    The last sentence is the one that makes my blood boil with hot violent rage. Either he does not watch basketball or he is dishonest.

  18. Kurt, can you please make “Master of Panic” shirts for the finals? I’m thinking they’d have Van Gundy’s head in the middle of a hypnotist’s swirl with “Master of” curling around the top and “Panic” curling around the bottom. Seriously. The design’s all yours, I just want to buy one.

  19. One thing not mentioned in the Cavs’ revisionist post-mortem is that they failed to win even a SINGLE ROAD GAME against the other 3 elite teams – Boston, the Lakers, & the Magic – all season. That’s regular season, plus playoffs.

    The flipside of their incredible home record was that this was a team that couldn’t beat a contender on the road. Not even once. They even lost @ Bos in the preseason. Counting that preseason loss, we’re talking about a whopping 0-9 record on the road to these 3 teams.

    It’s why I was hoping we’d get Cleveland, and also why I was expecting that we wouldn’t.

  20. I don’t know, Kobe has refused to congratulate his opponents before (2006 suns I believe). what he didn’t do was not show up to the postgame press conference, because he’s a professional.

  21. Lebron is just too young and he will learn these lessons as he grows.

    Let’s see…at 24 Kobe was flying from Colorado to LA so that he could play in a game after being in court all day.

    Oh, and he already had 3 rings and had proved that he was entirely capable of 1) carrying a team all by himself (Pacers in playoffs) and keeping Shaq happy with expert assists (Portland – see current NBA adds).

  22. Wow, just watched the Lebron interview. I’m stunned that he ‘doesn’t understand’ why anyone would expect him to shake the hand of the team that beat him. We are all witnesses… to childishness nonpareil. Shameful.

  23. Great talents are now discovered in childhood and ‘channeled’ into professional leagues from that point on.

    These are the privileged few – sort of like the English aristocracy in Jane Austin novels.

    The result is people who are used to success and haven’t really had to face failure. Failure requires a discipline all its own. When failure does strike, mistakes are made and people change.

    We will see if Lebron can change. I hope so. He is too great a talent.

  24. I like Lebron’s honesty. You know, he has a point. As long as he congratulates them later on.

  25. After all this media hype, I truly, really, sincerely, honestly, desperately, must see Kobe win the championship.

    That will be the only way I can recover from the damage inflicted to my fragile psyche by the flood of LeBron hype.

    But… even then…

    If Kobe scores a lot to defeat the Magic, we’ll see how he still hasn’t learned to incorporate his teammates.

    If Kobe assists a lot to defeat the Magic, we’ll see how he has a superior supporting cast compared to LeBron.

    If Kobe strings together 30-10-5 type games, we’ll see how LeBron had triple doubles against the magic with an inferior cast.

    … and on and on…

    God forbid we lose. Yes, that God, the one Howard thanked.

  26. New post up from Bill Bridges — Why the Lakers will win.

  27. I’m sorry, but I don’t buy any of what Lebron says about his actions after losing. The entire Bad Boys (sans Dumars, I believe) team did this same thing to Jordan and his mates after the Bulls finally broke through in 1991. Zeke and Co. were skewered by everyone and to this day have not lived that moment down.

    After Magic Johnson hit his Baby Sky Hook in game 4 (not a clincher, but still…), Larry Bird faced the media and basically sung Magic’s praises as the best he’d ever seen.

    Lebron himself HAS LOST IN THE FINALS. He’s been swept in the most important series he’s every played in and gracefully faced the media after that defeat. Duncan (in a true touch of class) sought out Lebron in the hallway outside the media room and told Lebron that his time was coming and the the future was his. At that point, Lebron, full of grace and composure, faced the media and talked about his team and their triumphant opponent.

    So, please save it. I love Lebron as a player. But you don’t get to be anointed the best player, a guy mature beyond his years both physically and mentally, be called the most charismatic leader since Magic Johnson, and also be hailed as the face of the league and then skip out on saying anything to the team that just beat you and then also skip out on your media obligations. Just can’t do it. Not when you’re *that* guy. Mo Williams can do this. Big Z can do this. Andrew Bynum or Lamar Odom can do this. Kobe, Lebron, Duncan, KG, Wade, CP3, etc, etc, can’t do this. So, sorry Lebron. None of that crap flies. You are the one of the best in the league and a fixture for the present and future health of this entire enterprise.

  28. Usually a signifier for being ahead of the curve, the fact that James did come to the NBA straight from high school entered my mind when watching him “finally” speak to the media. He tried to maintain the blank-canvas stance all Jordan heir apparents must have, repeating the bullet points on what Madison Avenue could continue to expect from him as an image and icon, if not puppet. That was drivel enough, but then his inability to comprehend shaking hands? His statements came across as so infantile and deluded, it made me wonder if he might’ve forgone continuing his education even earlier than we thought. Lebrawn could use a little more lebrains to figure out the concept of sportsmanship…

  29. anyone have a link to the interview transcript or article?

  30. 199, Burgundy, The Magic left Alston wide-open in favor of covering Lewis, Turkoglu, Lee, and Pietrus. They were practically begging Alston, who shoots a career 35.4% three point percentage, including an anemic 31.7% since joining Orlando, to shoot threes. Alston just found the shooting touch and torched Cleveland, including going 8-16 from three in games 3 and 4 combined for 18 and 26 points in the two games. Excluding those two games, Alston shot 6/21 from three, or 28.6%, and 11/43 from the field, or 25.6%. Needless to say, his shooting was just not that good in most of the series. So long as he is not left wide-open, he will not go off for 15+ points.

    I agree that Alston is perhaps a slightly better point guard than Fisher, but Brown and Farmar should be able to take advantage of Johnson, so long as they don’t give up a ton of open threes. That’s why I said the PG match-up is pretty even.

  31. nevermind, found it – that’s the worst justification for failing to congratulate an opponent i’ve ever heard.

  32. j.d. hastings, why aren’t you working for Nike?!?!