For the true NBA junkie, the only real way to enjoy a regular season is through NBA League Pass. You get every game that’s not on national TV or in your market (although, for some odd reason, we’re blacked out of Memphis Grizzlies and Atlanta Hawks games in Nashville, TN). Aside from watching the top match-ups and following my fantasy team, there’s always a few teams I find myself watching more often than others. This upcoming season, I’m excited for the Portland Trailblazers to be one of those squads.
Portland quietly had one of the best starting lineups in the NBA last year. Damian Lillard, reigning Rookie of the Year, was a delightful surprise, averaging 19.0 PPG, 6.5 APG and 3.1 RPG. Furthermore, Lillard led the entire NBA in minutes played. Just chew on that for a second. Portland’s bench was so bad that their rookie point guard played more minutes than LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Luol Deng, Kevin Durant, AND EVERYONE ELSE. CJ McCollum, this year’s tenth pick, figures to slot in as the third guard and get plenty of looks. Portland likes the idea of two ball-handling combo guards in one backcourt. Wes Matthews has become a deadly shooter and a solid rim rattler. While no one questions Matthews’ toughness, he’s become pretty injury prone and needs to stay on the court. The same goes for Nic Batum, the lanky, über-talented French wing with fists of fury. LaMarcus Aldridge (important cog in the death machine that was my fantasy team) has proven to at least be a consistent 20-9 guy, even if he might have tried to skip town before this off-season’s restocking of the bench.
Last season, JJ Hickson started at center and was captain of the Great Stats Shitty Player All-Stars, averaging a double-double. Portland recognized this, let Hickson walk, and flipped a couple second round picks into Robin Lopez, a legitimate starting center that will improve their back line of defense. The dirty little secret about last year’s Blazers was their horrendous bench. While their starters would keep them in games and often win them, the bench would give leads back all too easily. This summer, building the bench was a focus of GM Neil Olshey and it’s shown. Aside from first round pick CJ McCollum, Portland added former top five pick Thomas Robinson, sharpshooter Dorell Wright and the perpetually overlooked Mo Williams. Now, with a rotation that goes eight or nine deep, Portland looks like a playoff competitor out West. With such talented young players, I can’t wait to watch these guys play. Also, who doesn’t love Rip City? (Besides Zach Randolph).
Welcome back to Four Point Play, our new feature where the four of us each tackle an interesting question or topic dealing with tonight’s game! First Point, by Jacob Bikshorn
As I covered here in my game two recap, the biggest contributing factor to the Heat’s romp of the Spurs Sunday night was the absence of the star players on San Antonio. The best player on the Spurs is without a doubt Tony Parker. Parker, who would have drawn significant MVP buzz (and by “buzz” I mean people would have argued he deserved to finish third) had he not missed time due to an ankle injury, has been struggling in big possessions as the Heat deploy mutant robot superhuman manbearpig Lebron James onto him. So some of Parker’s lack of production can be explained by this unfavorable matchup on the offensive end.
The more interesting question is what the hell is wrong with Duncan and Ginobili? The question surrounding Manu may be easier to explain, although is kind of a bummer. The Argentinian mastermind has certainly seen better days, as he is 35 years old and playing in his tenth NBA season. The man who was once notorious for his silky shooting, creative passing, and daring drives to the hoop, Manu has been a below average player for much of this post season. His 38%/32.5%/71% shooting numbers in the postseason are very troubling, and not the kind of numbers you want to see from a guy who has been known to carry the offensive load for long stretches of games throughout his career. Injuries to his legs have certainly slowed down my favorite balding star, robbing him of the ability to launch those beautiful rainbow threes and elevate at the rim. Manu, who’s career postseason FTA is 5.3 per game, has seen that number dip all the way down to 3.5 in 2013.
But what about Duncan? Coming off arguably his best season in the last four years, its easy to say “Tim’s 37 and looks like he ran out of gas.” This is not a hypothesis I am comfortable with. While his 20-14 performance in game 1 was not the most efficient, as Duncan went only 8-19 from the field, it looks leaps and bounds better than his line from game 2, where the Big Fundamental shot a woeful 3-13 in 30 minutes of action. When the DRaT crew made our predictions, I believed the Spurs would win the title and Duncan would be the series MVP. My thought process behind the MVP pick has manifested itself 2/3 correct so far. I thought Parker would have too much trouble with Lebron, and I thought Manu would have too much trouble realizing he’s past his prime. In going with Duncan, I believed he would dominate whoever the Heat threw at him on defense, as he has a considerable size and strength advantage on Bosh and Anderson. I’m standing by that prediction, as I believe Duncan’s game 2 was a fluke, and game 1 was just Timmy scratching the surface of his potential over these next (hopefully) 5 games.
Second Point, by Jake Weiner
If the story of Game 1 was that Greg Popovich and the Spurs pushed LeBron and the Heat out of their comfort zone by closing off the paint, Game 2 was undoubtedly all about the return of Miami’s hot shooting. Continuing with their Game 1 strategy, the Spurs gave very little space inside to Miami. In general, the ploy worked, coercing James to a 2/12 start and forcing Miami to rely on three point attempts. Erik Spoelstra, confident in the players that brought him this far, stuck with his gameplan of allowing his shooter to…shoot. While Miami only shot 8/25 from behind the arc in Game 1, they notched a scorching 10/19 mark in Game 2. Led by Mike Miller (3/3) and Ray Allen (3/5), Miami beat San Antonio by making the shots they wanted to take. Even with James (17 points) struggling mightily (although he did make his last five shots as part of Miami’s clinching 33-5 run), the Heat didn’t miss a beat. Wade and Bosh only contributed 22 points combined, but Bosh (0-4 from beyond the arc in Game 1) did not attempt a three and looked more aggressive and explosive in the paint with 10 rebounds. While Spoelstra stuck with his original plan of trusting his shooters to knock down open looks, he undoubtedly implored Bosh to give up the tempting open threes that San Antonio was goading him into taking.
In Game 3, I’m curious to see how the Spurs adjust. In both Games 1 and 2, they made a concerted effort not to let LeBron beat them (probably not a bad idea considering the reigning Finals MVP has won four of the last five regular season MVPs*) by packing the paint and forcing James into taking long jumpers and making difficult (easy for him) passes. In Game 1, Miami’s shooters went cold and the Spurs stole a victory, while in Game 2, even one of LeBron’s worst career postseason games couldn’t derail a Heat blowout. So which game is the outlier? Depends if you think Miami’s shooters can be trusted. With the all time leading three point shooter of all-time (Allen), Mike “the Walking Dead” Miller and the annoyingly decent Mario Chalmers on the wings, I think you’d be a fool to discount Miami’s shooting. I expect the Heat to win tonight and close out in 6.
*Unpopular opinion alert: I, Jake Weiner, enormous Bulls fan and holder of man crush on Derrick Rose, think it is insane that he has won an MVP. LeBron was no worse in 2010-11 (26.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 7.0 APG) as he was the four other years surrounding it. The national media hated the way James handled The Decision and his MVP candidacy suffered because of it. Don’t believe me? Then why did Howard finish second that year?
Third Point, by Steven Kerstein
While I don’t necessarily believe in fortune tellers, the guys in Vegas are just as prophetic as they come. Heck, I don’t think Elijah could have been within a point of the O/U for Game 2. And that’s before he drinks the wine.
You get the gist. Those guys are remarkably good at their jobs. Or maybe the market is really good at establishing an equilibrium, where there is a buyer for every seller.
While my assessment of the O/U was barely off, it’s still in the L column for those playing at home. Going into the 3rdquarter, over 188.5 was looking like the money bet. Ultimately, the 33-5 Miami run did me no favors.
Nevertheless, the world is filled with moments of uncertainty that are just asking to be bet on. Will I get caught writing this piece at work? Will NOK or AMD pop today? While I don’t know the answers to these questions just yet, we do know the lines for tonight’s Game 3 of the NBA Finals:
San Antonio -2
San Antonio -130 Miami +110
Last game, I talked about the importance of seeing which way the money goes. For Game 2, the market foreshadowed that Miami would win and cover. For the most part, the market knows best and proved so on Sunday. For Game 3, the initial spread was set at San Antonio -1. After the drubbing the Spurs took on Sunday, this low figure is not shocking. Nonetheless, the market saw this initial number as a “buy” and moved the line to SA -2.5 and down to -2 where it currently sits.
Keep in mind 2 points is nothing when it comes to hoops. For a team that went 35-6 at home, it’s hard not to take that bet.
On the other hand, Jake pointed out on Twitter (@jakezner) that the Spurs’ four turnover performance in Game 1 only yielded them a 4 point victory. Game 2’s 16 turnover affair resulted in a 19 point shellacking. Too much variation for my liking. Toss up, or stay away in other words.
In terms of the O/U, Vegas is really giving me a slim chance to redeem myself. The O/U is nearly identical to Game 2. If the Spurs win, I believe that they’ll limit Miami’s perimeter game and limit fast break points. If Miami wins, San Antonio will struggle from three and Miami will wreak havoc up and down the court. The market agrees with this perspective as the line has drifted from 188.5 to 187.5. I’ll take the under.
Fourth Point, by Tyler Geocaris
For about three and half quarters of game two, the score was extremely close. Much of this was because Lebron was missing a few contested shots and couldn’t get anything to fall. The Spurs played very solid defense on him, forcing him a little out of his comfort zone and not letting him get any easy jump shots or layups.
Although it appeared on the stat sheet that James was having a poor performance, he actually had a very solid game. He acted as the floor general for Miami, getting many of his teammates involved allowing them to get very easy scoring opportunities. This is why James is such a good player. Even if it seems like he’s not playing well, he is still able to affect the game in a positive way. Lebron’s playmaking ability is incredible, and we haven’t really seen anyone with this skill since the great Magic Johnson. James was able to get Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers, and Mike Miller many uncontested shots around the perimeter. Thankfully for the Heat, all three of these players were connecting on each one. The overall play by Miami’s role players was exceptional, and they will be a very difficult team to beat if they continue to play like this.
San Antonio was up by 1 about half way through the third until the Heat flipped the switch. They proceeded to go on a 33-5 run in the blink of an eye. Miami was playing their style of basketball, forcing multiple turnovers, pushing the ball in transition, and hitting open threes. When the Heat are playing like this, they are basically unbeatable. San Antonio is going to have a very difficult time winning if they are going to commit 16 turnovers. Also, if the Miami role players continue to play at this level, I really don’t see them losing this series.