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.

No comments: