It's Day 4 of the NBA Playoffs tonight, which means we have a bunch of pivotal Game 2s on tap. Three underdogs are trying to get home-court advantage, and one favorite is looking to rebound from a surprising Game 1 loss. Tonight should be exciting, so to get you pumped up, I'm going to give some free advertising to the NBA.
Oh wait, that was last year's ad recreated to fit to a highlight from this year? Damn. I guess you're all stuck having to hear a bunch of cliches spliced together. Sorry guys.
Anyway, there are four games on tap for tonight, which means you'll be doing a lot of switching back and forth trying to capture all the magic of the NBA Playoffs. That is, of course, unless you are like many people with basic cable that don't have NBATV, which is carrying two of the games. Heaven forbid they put the two NBATV games on TBS and NBATV at the same time so that more people could watch them. Wasn't this the whole point of Turner Sports merging with the NBA? Signed, a bitter fan with basic cable.
Milwaukee Bucks at Atlanta Hawks, Game 2: 7:00 p.m., NBA TV
Problem the Bucks must solve to win: Can the Bucks really stop both Joe Johnson and Josh Smith? Johnson killed the Bucks in the regular season, averaging over 27 points per game in the three games these teams played. In response, Scott Skiles decided to put the athletic Luc Richard Mbah a Moute on Johnson, and Johnson was held to just 22 points on 21 shots in Game 1. The problem is that this forced shooting guard Carlos Delfino onto Josh Smith, and Smith responded by taking Delfino into the post, forcing constant double teams that eventually led to open shots for the Hawks.
SB Nation's Bucks blog Brew Hoop wonders whether it would make more sense to match up to the Hawks more traditionally.
But watching Smith bully Delfino down low raises a follow-up question: is Johnson really the guy the Bucks should be most worrying about? Though he averages fewer points than Johnson, Smith is probably the Hawks' most dynamic threat: too big for SFs and too quick for most PFs, he's developed into an extremely tough post cover who also grabbed offensive rebounds at the same rate as Ersan Ilyasova (9.0% of available boards, slightly above average for PFs). Putting a smaller player on him opens a Pandora's box of problems, as it improves his ability to score in the post and crash the boards, while if you double him he kicks it out and lets Johnson and Bibby hurt you with open jumpers.
Like many teams, the Bucks don't have anyone who's a natural cover for him, though Mbah a Moute probably stands the best chance, Ilyasova probably coming in second. If you leave Ersan on the bench, then it becomes a matter of comparative advantage: Luc may be better than Delfino in absolute terms against both Johnson and Smith, but there's only one Luc on the court at any given time. So you have to think of it as a package: is Delfino guarding Smith and Mbah a Moute guarding Johnson better than the opposite matchup?
Problem the Hawks must solve to win again: The Hawks like to switch every screen, which they can do because all five of their starters are quick enough to stay with pretty much anyone. (If you're a college basketball fan, what the Hawks do is pretty similar to what West Virginia does). The Bucks, however, exploited this in the second half, running screen and rolls to allow Jennings to operate against a big man like Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia. Those bigs gave Jennings too much room, and Jennings burned them from the perimeter. If those bigs are going to switch on Jennings anyway, they should crowd him more and force him to drive, where he's much less successful.
Totally inconsequential thing I want to see happen: Zaza Pachulia getting into a fight. The guy has a history of being an instigator, and this series needs some flavor. I'll be watching Pachulia and Kurt Thomas very, very carefully.
Prediction: There's not much the Bucks can do to play better, so I'm guessing the Hawks win again. Hawks 101, Bucks 85.
Miami Heat at Boston Celtics: Game 2, 8:00 p.m., TNT
Game 1 in one sentence: Led by Glen Davis and Tony Allen, the Celtics' bench saved the team late in the third quarter, as the Celtics flipped the switch defensively to win in a game marred by Kevin Garnett's elbow.
Problem the Heat must solve to win: The Heat need more production from players not named Dwyane Wade. Jermaine O'Neal shot 3-14 in Game 1 on Saturday, and Michael Beasley largely disappeared with just six points. Quentin Richardson helped out with 15 points, but nobody else scored in double figures. Even against the old Celtics, Wade can't win this series by himself. The Celtics' defense becomes most effective when one person is dominating the ball.
Problem the Celtics must solve to win again: Without Kevin Garnett, who starts at power forward? If it's Rasheed Wallace, that probably means Doc Rivers wants Glen Davis off the bench so he can provide the same burst of energy he provided in Game 1. If it's Davis, then Davis needs to bring that energy right from the jump. The Celtics don't have the same margin for error in tonight's game, especially because Wade's teammates probably won't shoot that poorly again. They can't sleep around for two and a half quarters before playing tonight.
Totally inconsequential thing I want to see happen: Someone really needs to get to the bottom of the Paul Pierce-Quentin Richardson feud. Here's what Yahoo! Sports' Marc Spears wrote about it:
Richardson's issues with Pierce are no secret, even if their origins have never been truly explained. The two were ejected for trash-talking in front of a referee two years ago when Richardson was playing for the New York Knicks. Richardson then continued to shout at Pierce while walking down the tunnel to the locker room.
Pierce once hosted Richardson as a recruit at the University of Kansas. Neither player has fully explained what the problem is, but this much is clear: Richardson has always seemed to be more irritated about the situation - and, as a result, has done most of the talking.
A random grudge that goes back to when they were in college? Something that originated from when Pierce hosted Richardson? Clearly there's a girl involved. There always is.
Prediction: No KG means more minutes for Rasheed Wallace, which is bad. Davis and Allen won't bring it off the bench this time, and Miami's supporting players shoot better than they did in Game 1. Heat 95, Celtics 89.
Portland Trail Blazers at Phoenix Suns: Game 2, 10:00 p.m., NBATV
Problem the Suns must solve to win: The Suns must get Amare Stoudemire going. Stoudemire had just 18 points on 19 shots, as he was stifled by Marcus Camby. SB Nation's Blazers blog Blazers Edge has a helpful tip to the Suns if they want to get Amare going.
The Suns have got to get more out of Amare Stoudemire. Part of that comes with utilizing the pick and roll better. Part of that might be just dumping it down low. But a huge part of it is taking care of Marcus Camby. In order to do that, Phoenix needs to penetrate more. Camby is the last-ditch defense when Portland gets beat on the drive. If you make him focus on helping out instead of guarding Stoudemire you've already affected his defense. Chances are he'll pick up fouls if he has to swing over. That's the best way to nullify him. Camby is a good defender but you can beat him by taking advantage of the Blazers who aren't.
Also, the Suns need to do a much better job guarding Portland's guards. We talked about Miller, but Jerryd Bayless also had a big game off the bench, with 18 points on just 10 shots. The Suns had Jason Richardson guard Miller most of the night, but maybe they should play more traditionally and have Nash guard him, because Nash couldn't guard Bayless on Sunday.
Problem the Blazers must solve to win again: The Blazers played pretty much the perfect game to beat Phoenix on Sunday, but they could get more out of LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge had 22 points, but needed 20 shots to get there. His perimeter jumper was off all game, and he was definitely pressing early in the game. Blazers Edge also had some thoughts on how to get Aldridge going.
Most of all the Blazers need to get something out of LaMarcus Aldridge outside of the halfcourt offense. He either has to get more rebounds or he has to leak out and get more fast break opportunities, putting pressure on his defender to get back and get in front of him. Pick one. Also LaMarcus needs to play stronger against Channing Frye when he does get the ball in the halfcourt offense. Not pulling the string on his jumper would help too.
Totally inconsequential thing I want to see happen: It'd be nice if Rudy Fernandez did something other than shoot threes. Wasn't he supposed to be the Spanish Michael Jordan? Or was that Ricky Rubio? I can't keep those Spanish guys straight.
Prediction: Phoenix can play much better, and I'm not sure how much better Portland can play, so I got the Suns tonight. Suns 110, Blazers 98.
Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Lakers: Game 2, 10:30 p.m., TNT
Game 1 in one sentence: Andrew Bynum returned healthy and spry, allowing the Lakers to surge way ahead in the first quarter before holding on down the stretch.
Problem the Thunder must solve to win: Kevin Durant has to play better. He shot just 7-24 from the field, and while he scored 24 points, he was clearly bothered by Ron Artest, the playoff atmosphere, LA's help defense and Ron Artest's hairdo (in that order). OKC's only chance to upset the Lakers is for Durant to go off, and he didn't in Game 1. If he can tonight, that'll get all the other Thunder players going, because they play off Durant.
The Thunder can't really do anything about the Lakers' size, and Kobe will shoot better, so they really need Durant to be amazing to win. I know it's simple, but it's the truth.
Problem the Lakers must solve to win again: Derek Fisher either has to stop shooting or stop playing. Probably both. Fisher somehow played 35 minutes in Game 1, even though he bricked eight of his 12 shots and was powerless to stop Russell Westbrook. Meanwhile, Andrew Bynum, who was dominating, only got 10 shots. Honestly, Fisher's skirting by on reputation at this point. If the Lakers are going to have any chance at slowing Westbrook, they need better defenders in the game than Fisher. Better defenders like Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown, who only played nine and 12 minutes, respectively.
Totally inconsequential thing I want to see happen: You mean besides Serge Ibaka making his typical highlight block? I'd like to see Sasha Vujacic lobby to play on his massively sprained ankle. Come on Sasha, it's not that bad.
Prediction: The Lakers played only one great quarter last game, and it was the first quarter. Otherwise, they were pretty mediocre. Durant won't have that deer in headlights look again, and there's nothing the Lakers can do to slow Westbrook. OKC pulls the upset and makes this series interesting. Thunder 98, Lakers 95.