Friday, April 30, 2010

Playoff Stuf

Rick Carlisle made a typical coach’s error last night: in seeking to eradicate mistakes, he made one. I’m referring, of course, to not playing Rodrigue Beaubois after it became clear as a cloudless day that the Spurs had no one to check Beaubois. This in a game where the Mavs had trouble scoring without Beaubois’s presence. But Beaubois is a rookie, and rookies make mistakes, hence no Beaubois. In a way, Carlisle’s reticence was justified: after he reinserted Beaubois in a desperation situation, he turned the ball over.

Carlisle’s typical of the coaching profession: look at George Karl/Adrian Dantley mysteriously giving Anthony Carter 16 minutes/game over the course of the regular season when you have Ty Lawson (rookie), a more productive option instead. My favorite examples, Bulls-wise, is Tyrus Thomas, a player who never learned better than making mistakes because he was never taught. Skiles simply yanked Thomas arbitrarily. He didn’t trust Thomas because Thoams made a few too many mistakes; instead, he played thoroughly mediocre Malik Rose instead, who didn’t make any dumb mistakes…but never made any good plays either.

This isn’t an argument that if you’re to make good plays you must accept the bad—though that’s true too—it’s that players, especially young players, are enthusiastic to produce and in the process they make some bad plays. Coaches like to obsess about the bad plays and ignore the good ones; it’s human nature, I suppose, to have the bad stuff stick in your craw and forget the good stuff.

Anyway, it’s damaging to their career. Your typical low-mistake player that a coach clings to like his security blanket (why do you think Kevin Ollie still has a job?) doesn’t make mistakes, but doesn’t make plays either. That means you’re wasting a spot on the floor on someone who might as well not be playing. An obsession with mistakes blinds you to production.


If the Lakers decide to play well, there’s no doubt: they close out the series. If they don’t, the outcome of the game is in doubt. I wouldn’t be surprised either way: it’s clear they prefer to play below their capabilities.


Speaking of the Mavs series, let’s cut it out about Dirk. I’m defensive about Dirk (as I used to be, by the way, about Tracy McGrady), because he gets an unfair amount of crap. What’s the best player Dirk’s played with? Steve Nash, for a few years before Nash’s peak? Josh Howard was OK for a few years. But Dirk’s never been paired with a near-elite talent. And all he does is produce, even in the playoffs. Check out his basketball reference page—look under “Playoffs—Advanced.” Is that a profile in chokery? I think not. And yet people hound him.

It’s a weirdly similar bond Nowitzki and Pau Gasol share: when their teams lose, they have a disproportionate amount of the blame assigned to them, when frequently they play their hearts out. They’re players with weaknesses, sure, but all players have weaknesses, many as significant as these two. To take a critically acclaimed athlete, Steve Nash—he can’t guard anyone. He’s not at Derek Fisher level, but still. Their strengths and weaknesses are so unusual for players their size, and their European heritage means they have no natural defenders, just a slight almost xenophobic tinge to criticism, an assumption that no one plays basketball, a quintessentially American game, like Americans. Well, as it turns out, Europeans have their own way of going about things, and it can be pretty effective. So, again, let’s lay off Dirk.


If the Lakers win tonight, they’ll beat their second round opponent in five or six. The Jazz have always had trouble with the Lakers, and this year—even in the depths of the Laker’s doldrums—they’ve been unable to win. The Nuggets are less likely to emerge, but with Nene facing significant injury, they don’t have the bodies in the frontcourt to even think about it. To say nothing of the fact that between J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin, there’s a significant Insanity Quotient on the team that wasn’t quite exorcised by the removal of Dahntay Jones, America’s foulingest guard. They’ll have to move J.R. for a frontcourt body, I think.

On the other side of the Western bracket, I have Spurs over Suns in five or six. The Suns hide Nash on a nonfactor on offense. Sadly, the Spurs have no nonfactors for Steve to hide in: the game will be more “seek” that “hide.” The Spurs have to worry about Amare Stoudemire, who still has the athleticism to torch the Spurs—they have a weakness playing against athletic PFs—but I think it’s outweighed by the Spurs’ guard play, particularly Manu Ginobili, who oddly still remains misunderstood and underrated.

In the East, both series are 4 or 5 game affairs. I’m surprised by the critical consensus that the Celtics might push the Cavs: the Celtics have no good defender for LeBron (Pierce has lost a step since that epic Game 7 two years ago), and they lack the ability to exploit Shaq. They just don’t have the weapons, though the Mike Brown-Doc Rivers coaching matchup should be good for at least one comical error.

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