Thursday, April 21, 2011

Playoff Odds And/Or Ends

Watching the Hornets attempt to upset the Lakers once again last night—they are like those old boiler-driven ships, and they’re going about as fast as they can go and are bursting at the seams—it’s hard to remember that the Hornets were, at one point, the second seed in the West and up 2-0 against the Spurs in the second round of the playoffs. The subsequent fall of the Hornets has been little-noted, really, but if it were, say, LeBron in New Orleans you’d know it’d be the subject of national obsession and derision.

We overrated the talent on hand for the Hornets then, just as we overrated the talent of the Cavaliers for the past few years, and I’m convinced we’re overrating the talent of the Bulls. Bill Simmons, for example, scoffed at the notion that the Cavaliers and Bulls were in any way comparable when to my mind they are very natural comparisons: both teams are defense-driven and on offense rely on the brilliance of one singular talent. You can make adjustments here or there—Joakim Noah is better than Anderson Varejao, for example, and Tom Thibodeau is better than Mike Brown, but then again Derrick Rose is well below LeBron. (LeBron is better on offense and a very good defender; Rose is, at best, a nonfactor at defense. One of the unfortunate subplots of the Bulls-Pacers series so far, if you’re a Bulls fan, has been the surprisingly high production of Pacer point guards.)

The defense + one star formula is an excellent way to produce regular season results but I’m less than convinced of its applicability to the postseason. Title-winning teams are elite teams on both ends of the floor, and you can’t be elite on the offensive end with just one player.


The one thing you can rely on with Phil Jackson is an excellent diagnosis of the state of his team. If you’d just listened what Jackson had to say about each team before each series last year, you’d pretty much know what was going to happen: he began the lead-up to the Thunder series by working the referees (whom he accused of being preferential to Kevin Durant); began the lead-up to the Jazz series by saying nothing in particular; evinced slightly more concern before the Suns conference final; went back to full intensity for the Celtics series. He knows.

So it’s been interesting to read between the lines of his comments about the Lakers this year. Before the series, he took a “boys will be boys” type of line towards the Lakers’, ah, motivationally-related struggles. Now he’s got this going on:
So the Lakers are tied 1-1 in this first-round series even though they haven't regained their stride, haven't dictated how these games will be played, haven't even given their coach a clue about what to expect from them.

"Who knows?" Jackson said.

"Who knows how we're going to react to the next game?"

Hmm….maybe the Hornets will make this interesting after all.


  1. Reading the tea leaves of the Zen master is interesting. Doc Rivers is also good as he seems to have an uncanny sense of when his team will over/under-perform.

    How desperate are the Lakers? Kobe sacrificed his offensive game to stop Paul? Now suppose the Lakers meet a team that has a good (and health) point guard, a real second scoring option, length to defend Gasol and Bynum, and the ability to run.

    Can't wait for the third round and a shootout at the OKC corral. In the end, I don't think the Laker era will end like the Bulls did in 97-98.

  2. The Lakers actually seem to have given a decent amount of effort the first two games. It's not the effort that's the problem--it's probably Pau, for once,* and if he doesn't play the way he's capable they'll have trouble.

    * Gasol gets blamed whenever anything goes wrong as a convenient method for the media to explain when something goes wrong for the Lakers why it went wrong (without blaming Kobe, Derek Fisher, or Phil Jackson).

    I do think the Thunder are a good matchup, but they've got a bit of a conundrum: if they go Westbrook/Sefolosha/Durant the Lakers can hide Fisher on Thabo; if the Thunder go Westbrook/Harden/Durant then there's no place to hide Fisher but also no one to guard Kobe. Also Artest seems to guard Durant very well. Westbrook's decision making on offense is still the weakest aspect of his game.