NBA Playoffs 2011

By: Shawn Davis

Randolph and the Grizz asked for…and slayed the Spurs.

These playoffs have turned the regular season on its head and rendered it sort of pointless. Case in point, the Spurs, top seed in the Western Conference was ousted by the 8th seeded Memphis Grizzles; mind you the boys in Memphis wanted to get them once the postseason began. After six games, the Grizzlies moved on to the second round and questions about the end of the Duncan-era become common.

The Bulls came out of left field to grab the top spot in the Eastern Conference bracket when the consensus was they would be a 4th or 5th seed, at best. Rose felt he could be the league MVP in the preseason and he walked away with the award based on how he brought legitimacy back to the franchise for the first time since the 90’s.

Dallas was hot at the season’s opening, tailed off a bit due to injuries, played themselves back into the third seed and was picked my most to be upset by Portland . Not only did Dallas get past the Blazers, they went on to sweep the two-time defending champion Lakers – with a shooting display reminiscent of a video game in the series clincher.

Boston toggled their off/on switch all year-long, dispatching the Knicks in first round but then falling to the Heat in a highly anticipated showdown. Boston’s lack of athleticism, depth and youth caught up to them while the team that everyone wants to root against is in the conference finals.

Atlanta got revenge on Orlando (after being wiped out by them last year) and officially kicked off the “Dwight Howard Watch,” Chris Paul returned to form against the Lakers, while the Pacers and 76ers showed their toughness, although their lack of experience proved to be their downfall. The resurgent Nuggets – galvanized in spite of the “Melo” drama – finally were stopped by the now-expected-to-win Thunder.

Roy had the fans (and the Mavs) going crazy!

My favorite story – yes, I am beginning to editorialize but it’s my column so deal with it – was seeing Brandon Roy rehabilitate his team, down 18 points entering the fourth quarter of their game 4 showdown. He scored 18 points in the last frame to bring his home crowd an 84-82 victory that showed the world that even though his (multiple) injuries to both knees have slowed him, he is still someone to diagram against in the league. With every shot he put up, the crowd became more unglued and I was caught up in the moment watching from my laptop. There were a few times I almost dropped it because of what he was doing. It was one of the most memorable sights these playoffs had to offer.

Also, Dirk Nowitzki is putting together a dominant postseason where doubters feel what he does in the next month will define his legacy….I don’t. He’s a 7-foot mismatch, no matter who guards him and is already one of the greatest players this league has ever seen. He terrorizes defenses in a way that opposing coaches give up trying to stop him and key their attack towards the rest of his teammates.

We’ve seen a changing of the guard in that this will be the first NBA Finals since 98 that didn’t feature Duncan, Shaq or Kobe playing for the Larry O’ Brien trophy. Weird? It seems like a new era is dawning although I’m not one of the many that are writing the Lakers off for good. You cannot tell me that Kobe isn’t somewhere working out and listening to the experts contributing to his obituary. He’s wired in a way to make sure people will eat their words concerning his demise.

Is the Zen Master gone for good?

What about that shooting display Dallas put on in Phil Jackson’s last (likely) game? If this is really the end for him, it saddens me, but he’s got 11 rings….he’s ok. One of the greatest coaches (if not THE greatest) walks off the court to begin his post-NBA life and honestly, I hope he stays away. He has nothing to prove but if he did resurface I would be all for it because he brings a unique perspective to the game.

Our Conference Finals pairings are now ready to dance with the Bulls vs. Heat in the east and the Mavericks vs. Thunder out west. Note: At time of this posting, the Bulls lead the Heat 1-0 and the west series begins this evening. Go Chicago!

Since my content volume has been terrible, I decided to devote some time to this postseason for all basketball fans. My focus will touch on the present and future of a few teams and share my thoughts on Phil Jackson.

Being that I live here….without further ado (drum roll)… the New York Knicks!

Is this the start of competitive ball here? Maybe.

Present:

Well we already were held hostage by the trade that took waaaaaaaay too long, you know the one with that Anthony fella? Check. Stoudemire being one of the very few elite players to sign with NY while still in their prime set the table for fans to really pay attention to basketball in this city.

What do we make of the season? Well, that’s tough and it depends whether you’re in the glass-half-empty or the glass-half-full camp. There’s no debate that the season was a success, especially considering the product placed on the Garden hardwood over the last few seasons have led to Mets-like apathy from locals. Stoudemire played himself into the MVP conversation for the first half of the season and the city took note, Felton – although dealt for Carmelo – played so well that he was a borderline all-star candidate and the combo of Fields, Gallinari and Chandler gave the team an athletic core to surround Amare.

After the trade though? They swung for the fences to get a top 10 player in the league, a battle-tested Billups and Corey Brewer from Minnesota (only to release him….I’ll get to that later) while surrendering draft picks, Chandler, Felton, Mozgov and their best shooter, Gallinari. This story has been done to death and they had to pull the trigger but it would have been great if they kept Gallinari on the roster.

The team took a hit when they began losing games by the boatload while the Nuggets were taking opponents apart with their balanced offensive attack. As the season ended, the Knickerbockers righted the ship and played better going into their first round series against the Celtics. They played the Celtics tough but they were ultimately swept out.

Future:

They don’t play ANY defense! It’s crucial in this league to get stops and their only good defenders are Landry Fields and Ronny Turiaf. Good, right? Negative. Turiaf is a good player but he’s a second-unit glue guy who happens to be undersized to start at center. His energy (key to his effectiveness) is wasted when he plays for long stretches because he’s a better player in short bursts. Fields was selected for the NBA all-rookie first team but he’s still finding his role. He does all the little things: takes charges, defends, rebounds like a forward and hits open shots but after the Anthony trade he went into a funk.

How should they remedy this? Let’s release Corey Brewer! Ok, great because we’ll outscore everyone. I’m sure the Knicks coach thought of the last one. Listen, when you release a young, wing defender and then all the intelligent teams (Boston,San Antonio, Dallas, etc) consider claiming him off waivers shouldn’t you think about getting him in your rotation? Brewer could have been used on Pierce while letting Anthony focus in offense (which is his only focus anyway…and I like him), right?

They need size and shooting. Also, hiring a defensive coach would help. I’m not someone who will beat the drum for a guy to be fired because it doesn’t affect me personally but maybe it’s time for the coach to alter his philosophy to involve getting stops as well as trying to lead the league in scoring.

Offensively, they became stagnant once Carmelo got there. Why? He STOPS THE BALL. D’Antoni’s system is predicated on BALL MOVEMENT, quick cuts and a surgical pick and roll combo. Once the ball gets to number 7, all tenets of his system evaporate because he’s a dribbling machine and he needs to clear one side of the court to get his points. How to remedy this? He’s too ingrained playing his way so maybe he and D’Antoni can find some common ground whereas they run the system when the starters are on the floor together, and then when Melo is paired with the second unit he can use his complete arsenal of offensive moves.

I don’t doubt that Billups can run this system with a full training camp – provided they don’t have a lockout – but the Knicks should look for a younger backup. (I’m not going to speculate on Chris Paul because who knows what’s going to happen there.) Since they have a first round pick this year (17th overall), they should look at pg or get a true power forward or center so Stoudemire can stay at his natural 4-spot.

Douglas is a good player but he’s a 2 stuck with a 1 frame and he’s a streaky scorer. He’ll win you a game or two but if he’s asked to carry a substantial load, he can hurt the progress of the team.

If they can get some size, a successor for Billups to groom, the coach to focus on defense and some outside shooters they can be better that the 6-seed they were this year. Getting good value with that draft pick this year – it would be luck they haven’t experienced in a while – would definitely help the future.New Yorkis ready so are the Knicks prepared to keep the momentum. For the future…this city will be watching.

Photos: Randolph, sbnation.com; Roy, Oregonlive.com; Phil, bleacherreport.com; Knicks, tagsandflags.com

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