Friday, May 27, 2005

When You Assume ...

Larry Brown could
cost the Pistons
a repeat title
We all know how the rest of the phrase goes. For some reason, the experts and pundits are all giving the next two games of the Eastern Conference Finals to the Pistons. Yes, assuming that Detroit will win their home games without even breaking a sweat. Am I missing something, or is this series far from over?

To read more on the Heat-Pistons series, click on the "When You Assume" link on the right side of the page.


Adam Hoff said...

I'll be the first to admit that the Pistons are shaping up to be a tough out. I didn't think they had their act together and I was way off. But I also don't think they are immune to bad games or home losses. In fact, they very nearly lost a clincher at home against the Sixers and they did lost a home game against the Pacers in the second round. So it's not out of the question. To hear the experts tell it though, this series is over. "The Pistons are too good," seems to be the refrain. It may be true, but it sure seems early to crown the Eastern Conference Champ.

When you factor in the constant distraction of Larry "Benedict Arnold" Brown's wanderlust, it seems likely that the Pistons will face some serious challenges winning this series. In fact, I'll go ahead and predict that Brown's egocentric, disloyal job shopping will be the very thing that keeps Detroit from winning it all.

Anonymous said...

Are we going to get any "keys to victory" for Miami? I saw your column on Phoenix's keys on Whatif and even though you are high if you think the Suns can still win, I'm curious how you think the Heat will need to go about things. I think the key is to play Mourning as much as possible even though he is possibly the most annoying player left in the playoffs. What have you got for us?

Adam Hoff said...

Okay, here are the keys to a Heat series win, as requested.

1. Play Mourning More. I agree with you on both counts: Mourning is extremely annoying with all of the flexing and out of control behavior, and he is the key to beating Detroit. For starters, he knows how to win and what it takes to play in big games. Beyond that, he shifts the "Bully Factor" over to Miami. Despite Shaq's great skill and size, this is the second year in a row in which the Pistons are sort of ganging up on him. Last year he was surrounded by Wallaces on the help side while contending with Campbell and Okur on the block. This year he is hurt and unable to be the "real" Shaq. Mourning changes all that by bringing another big body and tough-minded attitude to the lineup. He blocks shots, plays with emotion, hits the glass, and serves a protector for the other Miami players. All of a sudden Miami has the bigger, stronger frontline and are pushing around the Pistons. I think he needs to play 35 minutes a night for the rest of the series.

2. Entice the Pistons. The best thing about playing Mourning over Haslem is what it does to Rasheed Wallace. When Haslem is guarding him, he goes down to the block and starts to take over games. He may do it reluctantly, but he knows he has to. When Zo is in the game, Wallace gets the excuse he needs to go float around the perimeter, jacking up threes. Even though he is a capable long range shooter and can get hot like he did in Game One, the Heat are much better off when he's flinging 25-footers.

This concept extends to nearly all the Pistons' players. You can't stop them from doing what they want to do as a team, but you can lure each player into going away from his strength. Hamilton can be induced to put the ball on the floor and try to create in the lane. He's decent at this, but not nearly as devastating as when he's coming off picks and firing. Ben Wallace can be tempted to shoot 10-footers and while he's improved his J over the years, you definitely want him away from the basket. Billups is at his best when he plays under wraps, gets people involved, and then starts hitting daggers down the stretch. If you can get him to speed up his game and shoot 15 times through three quarters, he's not nearly as effective. The only Pistons' starter that can't be lured away from his "A Game" is Prince, because he's such a jack-of-all-trades. Playing Mourning over Haslem is just one of the ways you can sort of trick the Pistons' stars into playing just a step below their optimal level.

3. Block out. This was one of the Suns' keys as well, but you can't just run after the ball on rebounds. The Heat players - particularly Haslem - must put a body on someone and then go get the ball.

4. Make Arroyo beat you. When this goofball is in the game, Miami can't crowd him. Playing him tight allows him to get just the step he needs to create passing angles. Make him shoot and beat you that way. After three or four shanked jumpers, he'll be out of the game and the crisp passing will go with him.

5. Pound it into Shaq. Wade is capable of carrying the team, but you can't rely on that. The only way Miami can assert control over this series and plant doubt in the minds of the Piston players is to beat them up with Shaq dunk after Shaq dunk. They need to be more intentional about this and get the big guy 20 shots in Game Three.

A few other random thoughts:

- Why in the world did The Denver Post's Mark Spears get to ask all of the questions in the postgame conference? TNT switched over to the live feed twice and he asked both questions. Bizarre.

- Larry Brown is a jerk and turncoat. Oh wait, I already mentioned that. (And by the way, why would the Cavs want him as their GM? Not only did he bench LeBron in Athens, he absolutely destroyed the future of the Sixers when he was in charge of personnel in Philly. He's a good coach but an awful choice to work in the front office.

- Why are the analysts acting like it’s impossible for Detroit to lose at home? Doesn't anyone remember that the Pacers (a team with a losing record away from home this year) beat them at The Palace? The Heat were the best road team in the East this year. Why exactly is this impossible?

- Finally, what in the world is Shaq doing calling D-Wade at 3:45 in the morning the night before a game? That was one of the strangest revelations in recent years.

Adam Hoff said...

Get 'Em Out!

Any beef Stan Van Gundy had with not getting coach of the year pub is going out the window. He's got Christian Laettner in the game throwing the ball away and Keyon Dooling jacking up wild shots. In the FOURTH QUARTER! Of a PLAYOFF GAME! Where is Haslem? Damon Jones? Mourning? The lineup of Wade-D Jones-E Jones- Haslem-Shaq was dynamite in the first half and it racked up 22 points in the first 5:30 of the third quarter. Yet it hasn't played together for a SINGLE SECOND since. Sorry about all the CAPS, but what is Van Gundy thinking? Did someone spike his drink at halftime? Is he shaving points? I need an explanation.

Jeff Dritz said...

The Pistons seem to have the occasional tendency to fall apart late in playoff games. Tonight, they had a very winnable game at home, in control in the 4th, with Dwayne Wade on the bench, and they just let it go. The same thing happened in Game 2 against the Pacers. The shot selection starts to go, and then so does the discipline. Rasheed Wallace and Chauncey Billups can't be getting T'ed upo late in close games. This is the sort of stuff that the Pistons were able to avoid last year in winning the championship, and they're going to have to focus and eliminate these mental lapses if they want to repeat this year.

Adam Hoff said...

When you assume ...

Yes, indeed. All of the experts have certainly lived up to the second half of the old adage. So much for the Pistons being too good on their home court. Detroit may very well win this series, but I'm pleased to see a lot of pundits currently working hard to extract their feet from their big mouths.

The amazing thing about the Heat victory is that they gave up a huge lead on the road, only to snatch it right back. When the Pistons went on a 23-11 run spanning the middle of the third to the middle of the fourth and took an 88-84 lead, it looked bleak for Miami. The Heat can thank:

- Shaq. With the game tied 89 all, the big man scored six straight points - on FREE THROWS - to change the course of the game. Who would have thought that it would be O'Neal's work from the line that would carry the day? More importantly, he was so tough down low that he got the entire Pistons team in foul trouble, threw off their rhythm, and got Sheed to blow his stack. (Always a risk when you hitch your wagon to the Crazy Train.)

- Larry Brown, for pulling Lindsay Hunter. Honestly, Hunter was controlling the entire game with his quick hands and tenacious effort. He makes just enough plays on offense that you've got to leave him out there when he's destroying the other team's entire game plan. Brown is the most overrated coach around when it comes to substitution patterns and using his bench, and it was never more evident than Game Three. The Heat better figure out a way to counter the pressure defense though, because you can expect Hunter's minutes to go way up in the next game. Oh wait, it's Larry Brown, the world's most stubborn coach. Never mind, Hunter will play his usual 10-15.

- Van Gundy for pulling his head out and getting his good players back in the game. In the time that Keyon "Because I’m mad at you for pressuring my dribble, I’m going to take really bad shots to prove how sweet I am" Dooling and Christian "The Worst Dream Team Player, Ever" Laettner shared the court (seven excruciating minutes), the Heat were outscored 18-5. When Ron Jeremy finally realized what was going on (or robotically went back to his starters at a designated time, whatever works) and got Damon Jones and the Mourning/Haslem platoon back in the game, the Heat went on to outscore the Pistons 34-20 the rest of the way. In less than nine minutes, I might add. In fact, the Jones/Jones/Wade/Haslem-or-Mourning/Shaq lineup outscored Detroit by a total of 74-49 tonight in a mere 22 minutes. This isn't realistic, but if you project out that lineup to 48 minutes, they would have won by a score of 161-107. Again, it is not realistic since Shaq can't really play much more than the 36 minutes he logged, but I would say that illustrates the point. The only guy beyond those six players to actually help the team was Rasual Butler with his clutch threes. Safe to say Van Gundy needs to shorten the bench or shorten the duration of some of the role players' time or something. Keep the core unit on the floor!

- Wade. He kind of got lost because of the foul trouble and the way Hunter shut him down. (Wade was scoreless during the 13 minutes Hunter was on the floor - in fact, the Heat as a team only scored 11 points when the feisty little guy was out there, although you have to consider that Miami's Dismal Duo was out there for part of that.) However, he was the key to Miami's 51-point first half; critical because of the way it put doubt in the Pistons' minds about being able to get stops. Miami was running a clinic at times offensively, and it was made possible by D-Wade's terrific play. And that turnaround to seal it was just fantastic (you have to say the word "fantastic" like Charles Barkley for the full effect).

- Eddie Jones. The guy that Bill Simmons claimed was the "worst starter on any of the 16 playoff teams" continues to avail himself quite well. The step-back three was a huge shot to close it to 86-84, and the slicing layup delivered between Ben Wallace and Prince was a huge basket. In addition, he brought steady play, good leadership, and played really nice D on Tayshaun.

Adam Hoff said...

Give the Pistons credit for overcoming their turncoat coach and playing fantastic (Barkely voices, everyone) ball in Game Four. Terrific effort.

I have to ask though, was that technical foul on Haslem the worst call in the history of sports? What could those guys have been looking at? Jones bumped Prince and Haslem blocked his shot. That's exactly what happened on the play. Prince takes a Manu-esque dive and we're automatically calling a tech? The whole flagrant foul thing has gotten ridiculous. Steve Kerr had it right when he said that the refs are looking at the offensive player's reaction instead of the actual play. Which, of course, favors the big floppers like Prince and Ginobili.

J said...

I agree that the Pistons are playing well, but there was no way the NBA was going to let the only decent series go 3-1. Those touch fouls on Shaq were awful. Detroit's lead is just as much about the officials coming out protecting them as it is about the quality of their play.

(By the way, because of the officiating, your vaunted 161-107 unit was only together for THREE minutes in the first half. I agree with you that when they play those five guys - considering Mourning and Haslem as one person - they are much better. Hard to do though when the refs won't let you play.)

Adam Hoff said...

Well, my instinct is to agree with you, because I hate giving credit to the team I'm rooting against. However, while there were some touch fouls early, the refs have been pretty bad both ways. The worst calls maybe of the whole series have all been in this game:

1. The absolutely mystifying tech on Haslem.
2. The terrible bail-out call on Shaq when Hamilton just drove recklessly across the key and drew absolutely no contact whatsoever.
3. The phantom foul on Prince when Wade hit that turn around early.

The Heat are on the short end of the count and losing Shaq was tough, but they did shoot 25 free throws in the first half, so it couldn't have been stacked against them that severely.

You are right though that the "key unit" wasn't even on the floor. The big call that nobody really mentioned was the touch foul on Damon Jones when Billups drove baseline. It forced Van Gundy to put the wild and terrible Dooling in the game. He just kills the Heat. Today his +/- is a mind-boggling -23 in his 17 minutes of action. That means that Miami is winning by 13 whenever Dooling is not on the floor. Safe to say he needs to be riding pine the rest of the way.

Adam Hoff said...

I have no idea why Van Gundy waits to bring Damon Jones and "The Power Forward" back into the game. Who runs Dooling and Laettner in crunch time? Who does this? I just consulted by Bicardi Silver manuel and it says: "Shorten your rotation in the playoffs." Someone needs to let SVG know the deal.

The fourth quarter should feature:

PG - D Jones
SG - Wade
SF - E Jones
PF - Haslem/Mourning
C - Shaq
*In case of foul trouble or emergency, play Butler.

That's it. Those are the only guys that should be playing. I hate Stan Van Gundy. A dog could coach Miami as well as he does.

Anonymous said...

You called Larry Brown screwing over his team. Wasn't much of a "distraction" though.

Jeff Dritz said...

I don't really buy the argument that all this discussion about Larry Brown's future bothers the Pistons right now. These are professionals, and they're going to go out and play hard and execute as they know how. Presuming that Brown is giving his all on the bench, I think these distractions melt away when players step on the court. The Pistons just need to keep their heads in the game for 48 minutes, instead of fading for 5 minutes here or there.

Adam Hoff said...

Quick observation here about the adverse powers of Dooling. Whenver the Heat have run into foul trouble in this series, they've tanked, because Dooling has come into the game. They've been forced not only from the 6-man rotation that went 74-49 in game three, but also have had to extend beyond Rasual Butler. Tonight, after Shaq and Wade picked up fouls and went out of the game, the wheels didn't fall off. To be more specific, when Wade got nabbed with a ticky-tac call, there was 5:08 to go and the Heat were up 18-14. But instead of going with Dooling as he had been, Van Gundy moved Eddie Jones down to the 2 and brought in Butler. The result? They only went -2 the rest of the way instead of -10 like normal.

Of course, I have no doubt that Dooling will be checking in any minute. Watch out below!

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