Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Lakers and Spurs to fight for Western Crown

The San Antonio Spurs don’t believe in fairy tales. On Sunday night, the New Orleans Hornets had their Cinderella ride through the 2007-08 season end at the hands of the leagues leaders in no-nonsense basketball.
By winning game 7 on the road 91-82, San Antonio ignored the trend that had previously seen the home team win each game. Down 0-2 at one point, the Spurs came back to win this series, 4 games to 3.
Led by Manu Ginobili (26 points, 5 rebounds & 5 assists), Tony Parker (17 points) & Tim Duncan (16 points, 14 rebounds), the Spurs had to draw on all their experience to overcome an opponent who failed to even make the playoffs last season.
Chris Paul was New Orleans best player and he almost had a triple double, finishing with 18 points, 14 assists, 8 rebounds and 5 steals. Paul fouled out late in the fourth quarter but by then, the game was effectively over.
Having been beaten soundly in the 3 previous games played in New Orleans, San Antonio knew they needed to establish a lead early in this one – make the Hornets chase them for a change. And that’s what they did. At one stage in the third quarter, the Spurs led by as many as 17 before the Hornets mounted a comeback and cut the margin to 5 with just over 3 minutes left in the fourth quarter. New Orleans would get no closer.
It seemed as though the basketball gods were trying to send the Hornets a subtle message. From not making the playoffs at all in three seasons prior to this one, New Orleans sudden ascendancy to second seed in the West was a little premature. They hadn’t served their apprenticeship for long enough and weren’t supposed to be ready, not yet anyway. “You don’t go from not making the playoffs to winning a championship. It just doesn’t work that way” Hornets coach Byron Scott opined after the game.
The evidence was clear; Chris Paul’s tear-drop floaters in the lane had fooled defenders all season long & they normally swish sweetly through the net. Instead, with the game 7 glare they caught the front of the rim and fell short. David West’s 17 foot ‘layups’ that he’s made with his eyes closed during the regular season rattled around a few times before popping out.
Furthermore, San Antonio handled the pressure like clichéd professionals. They still made errors and turned the ball over, but by half time, their first half nerves had vanished and they had seized control. But, when the spotlight is at its brightest, the big stars shine the most. Tim Duncan, a career 68% free throw shooter and an even worse 61% for this series, calmly made all 6 of his free throws when it mattered most.
With the exception of Jannero Pargo, Byron Scott didn’t show much faith in his bench players either, preferring to use his starters for most of the game. Gregg Popovich on the other hand, called on playoff veterans Robert Horry and Michael Finley and both made big shots at critical times.
In a city well equipped for a party, Bourbon St would have been the place to be on Monday night if New Orleans won. In contrast, with San Antonio there were no wild celebrations. A few congratulatory handshakes and an acknowledgement of a job well done and it was back to work.
Gregg Popovich had only a look of satisfaction on his face. No great jubilation or sighs of relief, just a longer day at the office than normal. The Spurs had been close to elimination, but it didn’t matter now.

The Spurs and the Lakers now reacquaint themselves in the Western Conference Finals. The Lakers dispatched the Utah Jazz in 6 games in the conference semi-finals. The Jazz find themselves once again better than most teams in the West, but never the best.
With the MVP award safely tucked away, Kobe Bryant now wants desperately to add a fourth NBA championship to his resume.
He is the undisputed leader of the Lakers but it’s no longer a one man show in LA. Pau Gasol & Lamar Odom lead an impressive supporting cast which combined with home court advantage, gives the Lakers the edge. LA is unbeaten in 5 post season games at the Staples Center.
These teams split the regular season series 2-2.
This is Kobe’s year, LA in 6.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Celtics V Pistons to decide East's best

By winning 66 games during the regular season, the Boston Celtics secured home court advantage throughout the playoffs. It’s a good thing they did, because based on the evidence we’ve seen so far, they are going to need it if they are going to be crowned NBA champions for 2008.
Last night, the Celtics overpowered Lebron James & the Cleveland Cavaliers 97-92 and won their best of seven series 4 games to 3. Paul Pierce led Boston with 41 points and Kevin Garnett added 13 points and 13 rebounds. Boston also got solid contributions from rarely used bench players, Eddie House and PJ Brown. House provided lots of hustle and energy while Brown's critical jumpshot with 1.22 remaining pushed Boston’s lead to 3, 92-89 and effectively sealed the match.
Cleveland was of course carried by Lebron James who finished with 45 points but he had little support, Delonte West’s 15 points the only other Cav to score in double figures.
Cleveland's season is now over while the Celtics advances to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2002.
It’s hard to gauge exactly how good this Boston team is. Throughout the playoffs, they’ve been fine when playing at home. For most of the time, they’ve dominanted their opponent, rarely looked in trouble and have won all 8 games. On the road though, it’s been a different story where the Celtics have been hesitant and tentative and has failed to register a win in the 6 games played away from the TD Banknorth garden. It’s been a Jekyll and Hyde act of utmost proportions.
The Celtics now face the Detroit Pistons. Detroit needed only 5 games to defeat the Orlando Magic in the conference semi finals and makes its sixth consecutive appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Pistons playoff campaign started off slowly this year as they dropped two of their first three games to the Philadelphia 76ers and trailed 2-1 in the series. For Detroit, coach Flip Saunders’ frantic neck twitching began in earnest as it appeared as though an upset might be on the cards. But one of the Pistons many strengths is their experience and they quickly rattled off 7 wins from the next 8 games to get their post season back on track.
Boston and Detroit are evenly matched and both teams boast a handful of All-Stars brought together under vastly different circumstances.
In Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, two-thirds of Boston’s ‘big 3’ came about in an off season which featured lots of noise and fanfare. Detroit on the other hand is a team with a ‘big four’ at its core and has a group which has played together for nearly 5 seasons.
Led by Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince, Piston’s GM Joe Dumars built his team by using a group of very talented players who were considered misfits at other teams. Tayshaun Prince aside, for whatever reasons Billups, Hamilton and Wallace didn’t quite fit at their previous teams, they have flourished playing together in Detroit. They are unselfish and epitomize what team work is all about. It’s no coincidence that the style the Piston’s play mimics Dumars’ style as a player.
It was 21 years ago when these two teams fought a titanic 7 game series in the eastern conference semi finals which was eventually won by Boston. The most memorable moment of that series was when Larry Bird stole Isiah Thomas inbounds pass late in game 5 and Boston won a game they looked certain to lose. Legendary Celtics announcer Johnny Most’s throaty calling of the play no doubt still rings loudly in Pistons’ fans ears.
Ever since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen signed with Boston, this is the match up that every basketball fan has wanted. Now, it's for real. It will be a tight, low scoring series.
Both teams start with a solid defence but also have strong offensive units with more than capable shooters and scorers.
If the Pistons are to win this series, they will need to find a way to break through and win in Boston. Boston's home form has meant that they've been able to survive their road deficiencies so far, but one slip up at home could spell disaster. The Hawks and Cavaliers were unable to steal that crucial victory in Boston but I think Detroit it was 21 years ago, get set for another classic.....Pistons in 7.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Hornets and Spurs shape up for the decider

This isn’t the way it normally goes in the playoffs for the San Antonio Spurs. Having survived one elimination game already, they immediately find themselves in the unfamiliar position of facing another, this time on Monday night and this time they won’t have the usual comfort of home town support either.
The New Orleans Hornets haven’t yet wavered in the face of pressure from the stage they’re on, nor the opponent they face. While they haven’t been able to breakthrough for a win on the road, they’ve been equally as impenetrable on their own home court, easily denying San Antonio a win in each of its 3 tries. If New Orleans is able to maintain their home form and eliminate San Antonio, they will only add to the mounting evidence that their regular season success was by no means a fluke.
Neither team has been in total control of this series. Of the six games played, the home team has won comfortably each time. The average margin of victory being 18 points.
After the first 2 games, it looked like New Orleans had the defending champion on the ropes. Two convincing wins and the early suggestion was that maybe the Spurs were on the decline and this was one fight too many. Like any good fighter though, San Antonio’s counter attack was strong and they evened the series with home wins in games 3 and 4. Game 5 was back at New Orleans and again the Hornets landed a heavy blow as they thumped San Antonio by 22 points, only for the Spurs to retaliate in game 6 and hand the Hornets a 19 point loss of their own and even the series at 3 wins apiece.
San Antonio is showing that it can play the role of challenger equally as well as it plays the role of champion. If game 7 does prove to be their de-throning, it seems only fitting that it takes the full allocation of games for them to bow out. They’ve been well respected champions of the league for a long time and won’t concede without a fierce fight.
As expected, the intensity of this series has lifted with each game. This year, as with last, there have been fewer opportunities for Robert Horry to add to his impressive list of game winning shots & he’s had to resort to more sinister ways to become involved in the action. His double armed cross check from behind on New Orleans forward David West in game 6 sent the Hornets All-Star to the floor, clutching his back. It didn’t quite have the same venom as the chest-bump Horry delivered on Phoenix's Steve Nash in last year’s Western Conference Finals, but the message was the same; Getting past San Antonio is no easy task.
The duel between the point guards Chris Paul & Tony Parker has been nothing short of outstanding, with honors even to this point. It's likely that whoever wins this match up in the final game, will lead their team to the series victory.
Whatever happens in game 7 though, New Orleans has shown that they intend on having a large say in the playoffs for many years to come. It would be foolish to think that this is San Antonio’s last roll of the dice as their roster is a still relatively young. Old man Tim Duncan is only 32, Manu Ginobili 30 and Parker still a pup at 25.
In sport, it’s said that you need to ‘lose big’ before you get to ‘win big’. New Orleans don’t appear to be in any rush to conform to traditions though and like to play by their own rules. Look for this trend to continue in game 7 and for New Orleans to advance to the Western Conference Finals.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

D'Antoni brings running game to the City

New York Knicks GM Donnie Walsh has long been a fan of Mike D’Antoni. When Walsh was GM of the Indiana Pacers, he wanted to add D’Antoni to the team as an assistant coach only for then Pacers’ head coach Isiah Thomas to block the move. It took 8 years and a move to New York City, but Walsh finally got his man on Sunday when he hired D’Antoni to become head coach of the Knicks.
D’Antoni comes to New York after just over 4 seasons with the Phoenix Suns where he went 253 - 136. He was coach of the year in 2005 and twice took the Suns to the Western Conference finals.
Despite what sounds like an impressive resume, this hiring is still a surprise move by Walsh because of the style D’Antoni plays. After years of chaos and turmoil, the Knicks need defense and discipline, someone with a firm hand. They need a coach who knows the importance of solid defense, someone who demands respect. That’s not to say that D’Antoni isn’t respected, but he is an offense first coach who pays about as much attention to defense as he does the 24 second clock.
D’Antoni’s Suns breezed through the regular season while he was in charge. Come playoff time though, it was a different story & when Phoenix was forced to play defense, D’Antoni either refused to, or didn’t know how. A quick glance at the Suns playoff results during D’Antoni’s tenure sees that they were eliminated by the NBA’s benchmark for defensive standards, the San Antonio Spurs, 3 times in 4 trips to the post season. The only time San Antonio didn’t knock Phoenix out was in 2006 when the two teams didn’t face each other. As if it’s needed to emphasize the point any further, San Antonio then went on to win the NBA title in 2 of those years and could make it a perfect 3 for 3 if they win it again this year. D’Antoni just didn’t get it; sure, his offense was fun to watch, but defense always won out in the end.
With Steve Nash at the point in Phoenix, it was easier for D’Antoni to implement his so called ‘Euro-style’ game. Like two greyhounds chasing a hare, Nash didn’t even need to look up to know that he had either Shawn Marion(for most of the time) or Amare Stoudemire racing down the court to finish the fast break. Phoenix often had high scoring games full of highlight reel dunks & alley oops. They played offense without a conscience. It was real life playstation.
D’Antoni will find it difficult to play the same way he did in Phoenix with this New York Knicks roster. Instead of Nash, Marion & Stoudemire, he now has Stephon Marbury or Jamal Crawford looking for Zach Randolph or er, Eddy Curry. Eddy isn’t the most agile big man in the league & has difficulty handling the ball at the best of times. His lofty 285lb frame makes it hard for him just to make it from one end of the court to the other, let alone trying to finish a fast break. For Curry, playing D’Antoni’s high speed offense will feel like he’s being sent to the NBA’s version of a training school for fat kids.
D’Antoni might be able to employ his fast paced game if he can bring in some players more suited to his style and he’ll be hoping Donnie Walsh can unload some of the ugly contracts left over from the Isiah Thomas shipwreck era.
This figures to be the toughest job of all though for Walsh. It’s hard to see him being able to convince anyone to take on the $22m owed to Stephon Marbuy for next season, so barring a buy out, he’s probably stuck with him. Zach Randolph has shown that he can score & rebound well enough, but his attitude alone makes the almost $50m owed to him over the next 3 seasons a tough sell. The most attractive asset the Knicks have on their roster is probably the one guy that both Walsh and D’Antoni want to keep most in Jamal Crawford. He was one of the few positives to come from the Knicks last season.
So D’Antoni now brings his fast, firework brand to basketball’s biggest stage at Madison Square Garden. The fans there have endured a lot of losing lately and are desperate to see a winning team again. If he can survive his first season, D’Antoni should at least bring excitement back to the Garden, but he won’t last long if the Knicks are scoring a lot, but ultimately still losing.
It’s said that Mike D’Antoni loves a challenge, so he’s certainly got his wish with this one in New York….but as the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for Mike !

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Kobe Comes of Age

Kobe Bryant deservedly won his first NBA MVP award this week. It has been a long time coming for Kobe & he won with 1,105 points, comfortably ahead of runner-up, New Orleans point guard, Chris Paul who finished with 894.
The more Kobe wins & maintains his current level of play, he undoubtedly moves closer to being included in those 'greatest ever' conversations when he retires. Some say he's already there. Others want to see a few more championships & MVP's first.
He's only 29 years old & has at least 3 or 4 years left of still of being a superstar, and a further 2 or 3 years of being a player better than most others in the NBA. And even this is a bit of an undersell, because barring any career threatening injuries, he could conceivably still be playing 10 years from now.
Also, it's unfair to fully judge his career until he's retired at least once so, whilst he isn't there just yet, there is still plenty of time for him to ensure he gets an invite to the NBA's version of L'Ultima Cena.
His 12 seasons have already yielded 3 NBA championships, 10 All-Star game appearances, 2 scoring titles and countless other awards & this latest individual accolade will sit high in Kobe's trophy cabinet, hopefully, just below his championship rings. He hasn't always been a 'team first' guy, but lately things have changed and the reason is simple. He's matured.
Kobe's early years had a lot of success and he's always been a highlight-reel editors' dream, but some of that success was marked with an asterisk because of who he bunked with, especially during those championship years. Added to that, he was brash and cocky, a loud mouth in the NBA schoolyard who had a big brother that nobody could mess with.
The game must have seemed pretty easy when he was being piggy-backed by Shaq to those 3 championships. Certainly Kobe did his part in the winning, but Shaq was always going to win the title at least a couple of times, be it with Kobe or some other young stud. Some part of Kobe's success had to be about being in the right place at the right time.
Then, after a tumultuous 8 year marriage, the Lakers finally divorced Shaq & Kobe. Their union had more success & lasted longer than most do in Hollywood, but in the end, the divorce papers read the same; irreconcilable differences. Everyone had their say on who was going to come out of the settlement better. And 'most' thought that would be Kobe. Shaq's old legs went to Miami while the Lakers picked up a couple of promising role players. More importantly, Kobe was still young, not even in his prime yet and above all, determined to prove that he could do just fine without the big Aristotle.
In the first 2 years after the breakup though, things hadn't gone quite as planned for Kobe. Shaq had won another title with his new, younger bride in Miami while Kobe was knocked out of the playoffs in the first round one year and missed them altogether in another.
Kobe was now well & truly on his own and he had to grow up & fast. He found that with all the opponents defense focused on him, his supporting cast wasn't so great after all and winning got a whole lot harder. He had nobody decent enough he could defer to and it seemed that if the Lakers were to have any chance of winning, he would almost have to score every basket. He was missing Shaq but there was no way he was going to admit it. He could still score whenever he liked, but after all the years of winning, he suddenly found out what losing was like. And he didn't like it. Dumping 50 or 60 points regularly on opponents didn't mean too much when he wasn't competing for the big prize at the end of the season.
He realized what he needed to do was what all the truly great players do, make those around them better.
This season more than any other, Kobe has been all about the TEAM. He still scored at a 28ppg clip, good enough for 2nd in the league, but it was how he brought the rest of the team to the party that was most impressive. Lamar Odom has always been a solid veteran & of course the addition of Pau Gasol helped take the Lakers back to the top of the pile in the ultra competitive Western Conference, but it's the way guys like Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton and Andrew Bynum have grown in confidence. Much of this can be attributed to Kobe. Previously, he didn't trust anyone on his team. Now, not only does he trust his teammates, he looks for them, encourages them, relies on them and revels their success, like a proud father.
'The Next Jordan' tag gets bandied around loosely & often. Any rookie who throws down a monster jam seems to meet the initial criteria required of a Jordan apprentice. Inevitably though, it's a weight too heavy for most to carry. Penny Hardaway, Vince Carter, Grant Hill & even Jerry Stackhouse among others have all been dubbed as MJ's second coming. All have produced their share of highlights and acrobatics at some point during their careers, but none has seriously been able to get anywhere close to tying Jordan's shoelaces, let alone be considered on a par with basketball's most famous name.
Kobe, so far at least, brings the pyrotechnics on a game by game basis, now he needs to show that he is truly great and lead the Lakers to more championships. He's in his prime and he now also has the support, now we'll see if he can put all the pieces together.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Celtics finally see off Hawks, Cleveland and Lebron up next

The Atlanta Hawks won a lot of fans and hearts with their performance against the Boston Celtics in this first round playoff series. Unfortunately for the Hawks, the fairytale finish that they would have hoped for didn't eventuate as they were crushed in game 7, 99-65 and eliminated from the playoffs, 4 games to 3.
It's hard to figure out exactly why it took the Celtics seven games to close out the Hawks. In the four games in Boston, they thumped Atlanta by 23, 19, 25 and then a massive 34 points in game 7. The average margin of victory at home being a tick over 25 points. But the Hawks fought just as hard on their home court and won all 3 games & by doing so, forced this series to go the distance.
According to the script, Atlanta were lucky to have even made the playoffs. Sure, they won 7 more games this season (37) than last (30), but they still entered the playoffs 8 games below .500 and a staggering 29 wins worse off than their first round opponent. As we know though, come playoff time, teams don't always read the same scripts.
Just ask the Dallas Mavericks. Somewhere between the end of the regular season and game 7 today, Atlanta borrowed a page from the Golden State Warriors playbook of last year and nearly caused as big an upset as the Warriors did to the Mavericks last season.
So what was it ? Were Boston looking ahead a little bit ? Were Atlanta actually a better team than their regular season record of 37-45 suggested, or was it simply a matter of being that this is the playoffs & nothing comes easy ? Probably, maybe and probably again.
Atlanta will hope that this was the start of something new for this franchise. After a lot of years of mediocrity, they finally have a young and talented roster that might be just starting to realise its potential.
So, while it took the Celtics longer than they would have liked, they now move on to the Eastern Conference semi finals where they meet Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs needed 6 games (as predicted here at The Daily Hurt) to get past the Wizards, who, for the 3rd straight season were eliminated by Cleveland.
Before the playoffs began, Wizards guard Deshawn Stevenson said that Lebron James is overrated. After seeing Lebron average 29 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists for the series, I wonder what Stevenson thinks of Lebron now. Of course, making a fool of himself is nothing new to Deshawn. He was also involved in a season-long beard growing contest with Chicago Bulls forward Drew Gooden. I hope Deshawn had more success against Drew than he did against Lebron.
This second round match up between Boston & Cleveland resembles something out of the movie, Superman II. In it, Superman (Lebron) has to fight off the three evil forces of General Zod (KG) & his co-conspirators, Ursa (Paul Pierce) & Non (Ray Allen). The villians then team up with another baddie in Lex Luther (Sam Cassell) and plot to take over the world. All the while Superman decides to become a normal man and relinquishes all his superpowers before realising how important he is to the world & he transforms back into Superman just in time to save the day.
Well, it's unlikely that Lebron James is going to turn off his superpowers anytime soon, but if the Cavaliers are going to beat the Celtics in this series, he is going to need more help from his supporting cast than Clark Kent got. Cleveland has a reasonable point guard in Delonte West, an ok big man in Zydrunas Illgauskas and an aging, playoff veteran with a championship ring in Ben Wallace. They also possess two sharp shooters in Wally Szczerbiak and Daniel Gibson. These players have shown that they can perform at different times, but they will need to bring it more consistently during this series.
We'll see if Boston are a better team than their first round against Atlanta showed us. They are desparate and being taken to seven games already should give them the wake up call that they need.
In the Superman II movie, Superman manages to save the day, but this series will have a different ending as the evil doers of Boston will prevail in 6 games.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Jazz tune out Rockets, Lakers await

Tracy McGrady's record in the NBA playoffs now reads a tear inducing 0-7. Last night the Utah Jazz added yet another page of hurt to McGrady's playoff chapter as they thumped Houston, 113-91 at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City and closed this series out, 4 games to 2.
If it's any consolation, at least this years McGrady led team didn't blow a two game lead in the series. In fact it was a surprise that it even took Utah six games to knock Houston out as they led 2-0 before the Jazz had even played a home game after winning the first two games in Houston. Yes, the Rockets were without Yao Ming & Yes, they also missed Rafer Alston for 2 and a half games of this series, but with Tracy McGrady's track record in the playoffs, Utah probably would have still won anyway.
At one stage this year, Houston won 22 consecutive games, an amazing achievement in itself, but really, it meant absolutely nothing if Houston weren't going to get out of this first round & they didn't.
There is no hidden secrets to Utah's success. They have an absolute stud of a point guard in Deron Williams, a solid big man who can use his 'other' hand better than anyone in the league in Carlos Boozer & a rotation of solid players who know their exactly what their role is.....Mehmet Okut, Ronnie Brewer & Kyle Korver to name a few. But it is Williams who runs the show. This year he matured into one of the league's best point guards and was unlucky to miss out on selection for the All-Star game. He has shown that he can score when he needs to, shoot the 3-ball or defer to his teammates if the situation calls for it. How the Lakers control him could decide this match up.
The Lakers biggest problem they face at the moment is that they haven't played a competitive match in a long time and might be a bit rusty. LA breezed through their first round series against Denver in four games, the average margin of victory being just over 13 points.
It's hard to argue with talent the Nuggets have on their roster. They have two All-Stars in Allen Iverson & Carmelo Anthony, one of the league's best defenders & rebounders in Marcus Camby and now also, a mature & effective JR Smith coming off the bench.
It isn't however, hard to argue with Denver's chemistry problems. There always seems to be someone saying or doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, Carmelo Anthony's DUI on the eve of the playoffs another prime example of why this team still has a long way to go to be considered a serious threat in the West. Like T-Mac, Carmelo has never been out of the first round of the playoffs, despite having made it in each of his 5 seasons.
Things have certainly changed a lot for the Lakers this year. At the start of the season, Kobe wanted out. He said he felt betrayed by the management & that they had broken promises of surrounding him with legitimate talent and therefore a legitimate shot at winning another championship. Kobe had said similar stuff in the past but this time, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak took him seriously.
Kupchak swiped Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies somehow without having to give the Grizzlies anything more than loose change in return. Gregg Popovich might not have liked the deal, but Kobe sure did. Gasol too probably thinks it is turning out pretty well. Having never won a playoff game before in 12 tries, he had almost a triple double (36 points, 16 rebounds & 8 assists) in his winning debut for the Lakers and averaged 22 points and 9 rebounds for the series against Denver.
This series will be as much about defensive as it will be about offense. Both teams can score but who faces who and who shuts down who could be the key. The Jazz will probably start Ronnie Brewer on Kobe Bryant but he could just as quickly be taken off him should Kobe get off to a good start. Pau Gasol & Lamar Odom will probably rotate on Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur as of course LA will be without big man Andrew Bynum for this series at least, & most likely the remainder of the season.
Utah never go quietly, but this is Kobe's year, LA in 6.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Pistons motor past 76ers, now face Magic

As predicted here at The Daily Hurt, the Detroit Pistons did indeed require six games to eliminate the Philadelphia 76ers from the playoffs. Philadelphia got the jump on Detroit in this series and led 2 games to 1, & even by 10 points in game 4, before Detroit put the clamps down and won the last 3 games.
The end was swift and was brutal though as the Pistons hammered the 76ers 100-77 last night in Philadelphia. Chauncey Billups led the way for Detroit with 20 points and 7 assists and along with 24 points and 5 assists from Richard Hamilton, the Pistons were as good as home after the first period when they led by a margin of 30-12. Detroit won games five & six of this series by a combined 40 points.
Andre Iguodola had a disappointing series and averaged only 12 points per game. He finished with 16 points last night which led the 76ers, but he was largely a non factor.
Detroit now move onto the Eastern Conference semi-finals where they meet the well-rested Orlando Magic, who wrapped up their first round series against the Toronto Raptors on Monday night. Orlando will have had four full day's rest before this series begins, which is in Detroit, on Saturday.
The Magic will be out to avenge last years ousting from the playoffs by Detroit, which they were swept 4-0 in the first round. Things have changed a lot since then and Orlando will be hoping Dwight Howard can carry his dominating performance from the first round of this years playoffs where he averaged, 22.6 points, a massive 18.2 rebounds & 3.8 blocked shots per game into this series. He will need to continue those type of super efforts if the Magic is to stand any chance of beating Detroit. The Pistons have much more experience & much more depth & strength inside with Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess & Jason Maxiell, so Howard can expect a tougher, more physical challenge than he faced against Toronto.
The Magic will need Rashard Lewis (19ppg, 8rpg) & the league's Most Improved Player, Hedo Turkoglu (17ppg, 8rpg, 5apg) to give Howard a lot of support against the always hard to beat Pistons. The teams split the season series 2-2.
This will be a tight series. Detroit will rely on the usual suspects of Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince & Rasheed Wallace to do what they always do at this time of year and brush off another challenge from an up & coming team that thinks it's ready....Orlando will try not to become another one of those teams......this one will go the distance, but Detroit will be too strong, Pistons in 7.