Thursday, April 16, 2009

Playoff Preview, Round I (Part I)

We at fruithoopz would like to wish Mr. Kevin Garnett a speedy recovery. He will be missed this postseason. And a get well soon to Mr. Danny Ainge, also. 

Ok, Let's get to it! I should note that Ball Don't Lie is doing a great job previewing all of the matchups, so check over there for more. 

I'll be travelling for the next couple of days for work, and back on Sunday, so there won't be much here during that time. But I'll try to have regular updates once I'm back on the playoff goings-on. 

1 Cavs vs. 8 Pistons
Obviously, the Pistons have been a disappointment this season. That said, Joe Dumars again has them in a great position for the future, with both Allen Iverson and Rasheed Wallace coming off the books this summer, and a lot of young talent on the roster. And it's been a great run -- as PhDribble put it eloquently: "maybe only Atlanta Braves fans can truly understand how lucky we are to be Detroit Pistons fans."

But enough about the past and the future -- let's look at the right now. We know the Cavs are huge favorites, so the question is, what does Detroit have to do to have a chance here?

While the Pistons' defense has been nowhere near the level it's been in past years, they've continued to do a solid job of defending the 3-point line, trailing only San Antonio, Orlando, and Houston in the percentage of shots they allow from the 3-point line. They are mostly able to stay at home on shooters, when they play well. As you've probably noticed, a huge part of the Cavaliers' offense is shooting open 3's generated by the attention that Lebron James draws. So, if the Pistons can continue to take away the three-point line without allowing Lebron to go crazy, they might be able to slow down Cleveland's attack. On the other end, the Pistons live on mid-range shots, but Cleveland might be the best team in the league at defending that part of the court. So where can Detroit get its offense? I honestly have no idea. I re-ran those rim-protection numbers for this season, and added an additional layer -- I used the percentages and the shot totals to calculate the "points saved" by a defender either discouraging or altering shots in the low paint. Of the Cavs' interior defenders, Ben Wallace was by far the best, "saving" 43.5 points over the course of the season, or 2.2 points per 100 shot attempts. Wallace, though, is out with an injury. Unfortunately for the Pistons, I don't think they really have any inside scorers who can take advantage of this, unless Rasheed Wallace is able to perform consistently at a level that he hasn't really been able to reach during this year. 

And let's end this with a note about Rasheed Wallace: this season for the Pistons has been disappointing for a number of reasons, but I feel like the Allen Iverson drama has detracted attention from how disappointing other Pistons' individual season have been, with Wallace chief among them. Rasheed Wallace has had one of the worst years of his career, and watching him play this year he just didn't seem to bring his A game more than once every several games. With him being 34 years old, I'm not necessarily willing to brush this off on attitude -- maybe he's just getting old? There has been the issue of a calf injury and other ongoing issues, so we shouldn't write him off completely. Still, it's something to keep an eye on, as he'll be a free agent this summer.

Matchup to watch: Tayshaun Prince guarding Lebron James.

2 Bulls vs 7 Celtics
Even without Kevin Garnett, it's hard to see how the Celtics can lose to this talented but flawed Bulls team. There are a couple of things to watch for, though. First off, the Celtics' biggest weakness, all season, has been their tendency to turn the ball over. The Bulls need to cause turnovers (which they haven't exactly done well during the season) to have a chance. 

The other thing to watch for? Kevin Garnett was more vital to the Celtics' ability to protect the low paint ("saving" 3.9 points per 100 shots) than center Kendrick Perkins (just 2.4). The Bulls could, theoretically, try to exploit his absence by forcing the ball into the low paint. None of their bigs can create for themselves, though, and John Salmons -- one of their better slashers -- has been hobbled by a groin injury lately. So, all of a sudden, rookie Derrick Rose becomes the key. He's probably one of the quickest players in the league with the ball, and can usually get to where he wants to go. Kendrick Perkins is a good defender but the paint looks a lot more welcoming without KG there. The only obstacle to getting there regularly is Rajon Rondo, one of the better defenders in the league from the point guard position. 

Which brings us to THE matchup of this series and the whole reason to watch: the Derrick Rose-Rajon Rondo matchup. These two are a treat to watch, and should be matching up for years to come. 

3 Magic vs 6 76ers
This is a really tough matchup for the 76ers. The Magic stumbled a bit to end the season, but the Sixers looked even worse, and the Magic are just a better team all around. The Magic are an elite defense, and the Sixers are basically an average offense, and even worse when you force them to work in the halfcourt. Look how precipitously their effective field goal percentage drops after the first 10 seconds of a possession (from 82games):

Unfortunately for the Sixers, the Magic (besides Dwight Howard) aren't a particularly turnover prone bunch, so it's going to be difficult for them to get into transition. Their only real hope in the halfcourt is to rely on Andre Miller posting up the smaller Rafer Alston. Probably not important, but interesting: Philly is the worst 3-point shooting team in the league, and Orlando is the second best in the league in terms of opponent 3-point percentage (they defend the line well, which I guess won't really be necessary in this series). I still believe, however, that Donyell Marshall will play an important role in at least one or two of these games.

At the other end: Philly is an average defense who does one thing well (cause turnovers) and everything else pretty poorly. That does not bode well. 

A fun matchup to watch might be the battle of the young backup bigs - Marcin Gortat for the Magic and Marreese Speights for the 76ers. Speights has had a really strong rookie campaign individually. And while Gortat isn't quite as prolific a shot-blocker as Dwight Howard, he does rate highly in terms of his overall ability to defend the low paint, rating in my numbers behind only Yao Ming, Kevin Garnett, and Kurt Thomas. 

Unfortunately, I can't finish this preview today because of my travel schedule. But stay tuned! Feel free to leave any other notes in the comments, and remember to check out more detailed previews from the team blogs linked on the right, and from Ball Don't Lie. 

Happy Playoffs!

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