I kind of figured last night's NBA Playoffs action would be our best yet. Milwaukee-Atlanta was probably going to be a snoozer, but I had high hopes for Heat-Celtics and Suns-Blazers after two very compelling Game 1s. And, of course, I was legitimately excited for Thunder-Lakers, as usual.
Instead, we got three snoozers and one great game that many East Coasters missed because it started at 10:30. Myself included, which makes me sad. I guess I got tired from three late nights watching the NBA Playoffs and fell asleep even as the Thunder-Lakers game got really good. My bad, everyone.
A couple quick thoughts on what I did watch last night, before we get into tonight.
Anyway, let's go on to tonight.
Problem the Bobcats must solve to win: The Bobcats have to do a better job of keeping Nelson in check. Their defense on Howard was fantastic, with effective double teams and great ball pressure. Predictably, the combination of Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace held Vince Carter down, as Carter shot 4-19. But all of that means nothing if Raymond Felton doesn't do a better job of dealing with Nelson. As has been the case all season, Nelson is Orlando's barometer. When he's playing well, Orlando goes from good to unstoppable. As SB Nation's Bobcats blog Rufus on Fire writes:
It's tough enough having to defend those two choices when the offense walks it up and dumps it to the low post, but it's even tougher to defend three choices, which happens when the ballhandler gets by his man and into the lane. When that happens, the defense has to choose whether to help on the dribbler, help on the big man, stay home and take their chances with the dribbler getting to the rim -- it's just a nightmare when four guys can shoot threes, the lone big can't be defended by one man on the block, and the dribbler can get into the lane.
Raymond Felton, you should consider doing more of this.
Problem the Magic must solve to win again: Obviously, Howard's got to do more tonight. The downside to Nelson shooting so well is that he and the other Magic players become too perimeter-oriented, ignoring Howard down low. SB Nation's Magic blog Orlando Pinstriped Post spells this out.
With that said, Orlando's offense is at its best when the ball works inside-out. Nelson's drive-and-kick game is one way to accomplish that task; Howard's post-up game is another, and one that didn't work at all in Game 1. I anticipated that Charlotte would play Howard one-on-one, given that it has two above-average post defenders in Theo Ratliff and Tyson Chandler, and another who's been effective against him despite not having a solid defensive reputation in Nazr Mohammed. Instead, the Bobcats ran an extra man at Howard, almost exclusively from the weak side. The aggressive pressure from the likes of Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace disrupted Howard's rhythm down low, and he relies on his rhythm.
Van Gundy refused to place all the blame for Orlando's ineffectiveness down low on Howard, though. "I think our other guys have got to be a little better with their spacing," he said.
Now, maybe this issue wouldn't loom so large if Howard had managed to stay on the court; he picked up 5 fouls in 28 minutes, and clearly he can't do anything if he's on the bench. But it's become clear that Orlando has to find some way to generate offense inside, and Howard's the likeliest candidate. Looking for Marcin Gortat, his backup, in pick-and-roll situations is also an option, as is going to Rashard Lewis on the low block.
OPP spells two other adjustments the Magic must make tonight. Go read them here.
Totally inconsequential thing I want to see happen: Okay, this isn't so inconsequential, but somehow, Larry Hughes played 20 minutes and Tyrus Thomas got only eight in Game 1. Larry Brown, if you could kindly reverse those numbers, I'd appreciate it.
Prediction: Charlotte will win games in this series, but they'll be at home. I'm guessing we'll get a similar game to Game 1 tonight. Magic 99, Bobcats 92.
Game 1 in one sentence: The Spurs tried their "hang around and steal a road game" routine, but Dirk Nowitzki was too good to let it happen.
Problem the Spurs must solve to win: Earth to anyone not named Tim, Tony or Manu: where you guys been? The Spurs' Big 3 combined for 71 points; the rest of the team had just 23 (and 10 of those were from Antonio McDyess). Richard Jefferson, I know you've taken an extended vacation this year, but you're needed now. The Mavericks are just too solid to be beaten by a three-man team.
Problem the Mavericks must solve to keep winning: Better defense on Manu Ginobili would be nice, but to be honest, I don't see anyone on the Mavericks' roster capable of making that happen. So in lieu of that, I'm going to ask for two coaching adjustments from Rick Carlisle. One: give Brendan Haywood more minutes, because he is exponentially better than Erick Dampier. Two: free Roddy Buckets! Hell, nobody else on the team can stay in front of Ginobili. Why not give Beaubois a chance?
Totally inconsequential thing I want to see happen: Ginobili going off so thoroughly that Carlisle has no choice but to put in DeShawn Stevenson to mess with Ginobili's head. Then, we'll get five minutes of Stevenson trying to be a goon and Ginobili shrugging it off like it's nothing.
Prediction: Just a gut feeling, but I got the Spurs to even this thing up. Dirk probably won't shoot that well again, and Caron Butler and Jason Kidd are also due for bad shooting performances. Spurs 102, Mavericks 97.