Well, that was fun, wasn't it? A good series, well-played by both teams. Fun and entertaining. Props to the Thunder, their crowd and their fans for a great series, and a classic ending. But, now it is time to move on. Thanks to the Utah Jazz beating the Denver Nuggets today, the Los Angeles Lakers will be playing Utah at Staples in Game 1 of their Conference Semifinals series on Sunday at a 12:30 tip-off, I believe. Barely any rest, to be sure. The optimal situation would have been for Denver to push a Game 7, and then lose there, thus giving the Lakers an extra two days' rest. But that was unlikely, and this short turnover is simply punishment to the Lakers for not closing out this series faster.
Utah are VERY shallow right now, courtesy of injuries to Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur rendering them incapable of playing. Also, Deron Williams injured himself towards the end of yesterday's Denver-Utah game, hurting his 'left arm' with no specific knowledge appertaining to the seriousness of the injury. Somehow, I doubt Utah will be in a rush to release details, but until confirmed otherwise it's a safe assumption he'll still be playing, as that's the current forecast. His capacity on the court is yet unknown, but this seems a legitimate injury, and there's no cause to suspect Deron of overplaying it in order to draw attention to himself, like some other people would do...
Anyways, Round 2 of the Playoffs is approaching, and as such it's time for Round 2 of our SSR Positional Previews, once again run by me. One's meant to improve with experience, yeah? We'll see about that...
Enough preamble, positional previews after The Jump:
CENTER: Andrew Bynum vs. Kyrylo Fesenko
Don't feel bad if you don't know who this guy is, I've got little idea myself (so this is kinda like a forensic examination of evidence). Understandable when one notes that he was only averaging 8 minutes a game in the season, and only garnered 5 in Game One; before Memo went down, upping his minutes to around 20 per game along with the starting job. While his name may cause some to stereotype him as 'Euro-Soft', he is a real big body. At 7'1" and 300lbs (according to ESPN), he is actually bigger than anyone on our roster. Considering his size, the only explanation for his lack of playtime is a raw skillset (likely, considering he's 23, and a sophomore) or lack of athleticism, likely both. He also has a propensity to foul, averaging 3.3 a game in 20 minutes throughout the playoffs, and over 6 per 36 through the season. Bynum should attack early and attack hard, drawing fouls, as if this guy fouls out, the Jazz are really hurting for depth on their frontline. I don't know if Bynum's rumoured knee hyperextension will affect him into the next round, but either way this matchup shouldn't be too difficult for him.
POWER FORWARD: Pau Gasol vs. Carlos Boozer
Pau Gasol, the tall, lanky, skilled, 'multifaceted' (as JVG would say), sometimes soft Spanish power forward; versus Carlos Boozer, the somewhat undersized yet tough bruiser of presumably Mexican descent. Two quite different players, yes? Carlos Boozer puts up mad numbers, averaging 19.5 and 11.2 on 56.3% from the field over the regular season. What he lacks in height, he makes up for in strength, and actually weighs more than Pau. However, in the four games against the Lakers this season, he's averaged a comparatively paltry 13.5 and 10 on approximately 43% from the field, so Pau has to be doing something right. I don't remember too much about previous Jazz-Laker games, so I don't know what it is, so I'll just take the ESPN route and automatically credit it to Pau's length. Pau's been owning the boards, and scoring at a bit under 20 a clip; both in regular season and in playoffs, and there's no reason for those stats to have any signficant decline. Plenty of blocks are also likely.
SMALL FORWARD: Ron Artest vs. CJ Miles
Seriously, how the fuck did the Jazz make it so far with such a lack of talent? No disrespect to CJ or any of the others, but asides from Deron and Carlos, there's no great players on this team. Millsap and Memo are pretty good, but not to the level I'm talking about, and everyone else is just a role player whose impact is maximised by the Utah system. Must respect must be given to Jerry Sloan for this. CJ Miles averaged a shade under 10ppg in the regular season, along with a handful of boards and assists, in about 24 mins per game. In the playoffs, both his minutes and production have increased, to about 14/3/2.5 a game in a shade under 2000 seconds a game (yes, I put it in seconds specifically to make you guys calculate that, just cos I like making y'all miserable). Like seemingly all of Sloan's ballers, he has a penchant for fouling, almost certainly a side-affect of Sloan's archaic-yet-intimidating 'no layups' style of defense.. Miles has got okay size on him and is adequately tough, considering he's a Jazz player, so this won't be a total cakewalk for Artest offensively, but simultaneously it's not going to be particularly difficult. Defensively, Ron-Ron's talents are wasted in this matchup, but the only true perimeter offensive threat Utah has is Deron Williams, and Miles isn't as atrocious of an offensive player as Sefolosha so as to allow a Fisher-Ron switch. It's a tough obstacle to navigate, but that's what Phil Jackson gets paid more than many celebrities earn to coach.
SHOOTING GUARD: Kobe Bryant vs. Wesley Matthews
A common occurrence at this position for Los Angeles, the positional preview is near redundant. Matthews is a decent player, but Kobe Freaking Bryant is Kobe Freaking Bryant. Matthews averaged about 10ppg and not much of anything else in the regular season in about 25 minutes per. In the playoffs, his minutes have been heavily extended to about 38, but his production has dropped off a cliff. He's gone from shooting 48% from the field in the regular season to 38% in the playoffs, and only scraps 4 points, a board and half an assist extra in the extra 13 minutes of play he's getting per game. Matthews is a good shooter, especially from three at 38.3% on the season (over a percentage point better than any Lakers), and it might be a good idea for Kobe to, ya know, close out on him instead of playing free safety. There's a slight possibility Fisher and Kobe switch matchups in this series, but I doubt Phil will do so, at least to start the series; particularly considering Deron isn't exactly 100%. Defensively, I have no idea how competent Matthers is, or if they'll switch Miles onto Kobe for the extra size. Either way, neither will slow him down much. The Jazz really miss Kirilenko in this situation.
POINT GUARD: Derek Fisher vs. Deron Williams
Did you hear that? It's the sound of 10,000 babies crying at the very prospect of this matchup even materialising. Fisher has been slowly but surely stepping it up in the playoffs, particularly on the offensive end (he drove and hit a right-hand layup last game, and made it look easy, seriously!); expecting his 35-year-old legs to be able to effectively defend one who is in the top tier of point guards in this League along with Steve Nash and Chris Paul (some would even argue he's the best) is simply unrealistic. Deron is on fire of late, jumping his production from 19/11 on 47% with 3.3 throwaways per game to 26/12 on 49% shooting with 3TOPG; not to mention 48% from three. Whether or not he is the best point guard in the League, right now he damn sure is playing like it. While he'll have a harder time against LA's disciplined team defense, specifically geared towards stopping dribble penetration; as he would have had against Denver, his still eviscerates his matchup 1-on-1. If Phil doesn't want to witness his team be vivisected on national television, it would be a good idea to try Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar and Kobe Bryant on Deron and see what works. Hell, even Ron Artest could take a turn in certain circumstances. He's shooting well over 10 free throws per game over the playoffs, so the Lakers need to ensure to slow down dribble penetration without reaching or blocking; and the LA bigs need to contest at the rim going straight up without jumping, instead of getting in the air and risking fouling or leaving their man wide open for the wraparound.
I've no idea as to the extent of Deron's injury, but it shouldn't seriously effect him throughout the series, it doesn't seem like that sort of injury from what I've heard. It may limit him somewhat in the first one or two games, but after that he'll be fine; and it would be highly dangerous to assume otherwise.
BENCH: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Utah Jazz
Lamar Odom's had his moments, but has been pretty average compared to what we can and do see from him rather often in the postseason, but at the same time he should still be able to at least neutralise Millsap. Get a body on him to prevent offensive boards, and either post up and shoot over him or take it out on the perimeter and drive around him on offense. The second option has the added benefit of taking him out of rebounding position, as well. As for the rest of the Utah bench, Ronnie Price is decently talented and can light it up like he did last game, scoring 12 points in 19 minutes, but being Deron Williams' backup, will only see significant minutes in a blowout. The only bench player left standing asides from Millsap who gets decent minutes is dodgeball pro Kyle Korver. He's a combo forward getting 24 minutes off the bench for seemingly 8 points and nothing else - until you note his obscene, record-book worthy 53.6% from deep on the season. Sure, during the playoffs he's cooled to 37.5% on 16 attempts, but he is still a very viable threat, and closing him out should be of paramount. Other than that, the Jazz essentially have no bench. And people complain about OUR depth problems....
Our bench has surprisingly been playing decently through the playoffs, and their play in Game Six was one of the primary factors in our victory, with 30 points, 11 boards, 8 assists and three blocks coming out of 70 total minutes. More important was the key shots they hit, whether it be Shannon lighting up in the second or making a tough three in the fourth, Jordan's tough three in the third, and Odom's blocks, drives and rebounds. There's no reason for them not to be able to keep this level of play of, the talent is definitely there, that's the amazing thing.
COACHING MATCHUP: Phil Jackson vs. Jerry Sloan
Most championship rings in history versus most years under a single team in NBA history. Two all-time great coaches. Phil is famed for his Triangle and ability to manage egos, Jerry is known for his ability to squeeze every last drop of effort out of his players, and Utah's physical, hard-nosed style of basketball. Phil's liable to make some weird decisions from time to time, but I'm still gonna have to go with the bling.
BONUS PREVIEW: Los Angeles Defense vs. Utah Offense
Watch from about 7:00 or so, I think. Keep careful track of the score. =]]