Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Wednesday Night Delight

I think I am going to start giving the blog entries the kind of titles they use on ESPN. A pun probably would have been better, but "Wednesday Night Delight" sounds pretty Worldwide Leader-esque. Also, it perfectly describes the opener of the Mavs-Suns series. I mean honestly, does it get any better than this for basketball fans? Two teams running and gunning, playing like its the 1960's again, employing small ball lineups, and featuring skilled players at nearly every position. I can't believe that this is the Western Conference Finals. I am in heaven.

Here are my thoughts on Game One:

- Steve Nash might have had his best game of the season on the offensive end. He tallied 16 assists in a very quiet manner while keeping his team in the game. Normally, his passes are long dimes to three point shooters, so you notice every single assist he racks up. Tonight, a lot of his dimes came via post entry passes to Boris Diaw, so the passing clinic was more subtle. However, it was no less effective. Nash is so smart at picking defenses apart that he would just patiently wait (ala 50 Cent - gotta get my obligatory 50 reference in) for the Mavs to switch, then he would feed Diaw and put Boris in a perfect position to abuse the Dallas point guard underneath. Nash might not have been throwing lefthanded bounce passes through traffic, but he played point guard about as well as you can tonight. And when you factor in his two huge scoring runs (the second quarter and the last three minutes), he had a pretty much flawless offensive night. As for defense, that is another story. In fact, I am going to post an entirely separate entry on this.

- It goes without saying, but Diaw is a terrific player. It became obvious early in the season that he was much better than anyone realized and that his passing skills were going to make Phoenix really good, but in the postseason he has really expanded his ability to finish around the rim. He really impressed me against the Lakers and then of course had the huge game tonight. He's also quietly become a much better free throw shooter, which is enabling him to take the ball hard to the basket without fear. He shot 66% during the first month of the season, 71% before the All-Star break, 76% after the break, and now is dropping freebies at a 78% rate in the playoffs.

- I really hope injuries don't ruin this series. Josh Howard is arguably the fourth best player on the floor and he just missed pretty much the whole game with a sprained ankle. Raja Bell looked like he got shot by a sniper when he went down clutching his calf and I have the feeling that he might be down for a few games. Even Shawn Marion was limping around for the fourth quarter after rolling his ankle. These teams have the chance to throw up 125-120 type games every night, and if that gets negated because of injuries, we are all getting ripped off. It is ironic though that such a free-flowing game was also a war of attrition right out of the gates.

- As a fan who hopes to see this go seven games with about 1,500 total points scored in the series, I was glad to see the Suns win the first game. Had Dallas won, I think they would have taken the series with relative ease. Now I think we are in for a great battle.

- I plan on writing an entire column about this, but Dirk has taken his game up to that supreme level that I like to call "the crazy next level" (thanks to Dax Shepard for that one). In the NBA there are tons of stars and it is always tricky to pinpoint exactly what takes a player to the "superstar" level. It could just be as simple as winning, but I think there are more layers than that. I mean, how do we know that Dwayne Wade is better than Gilbert Arenas? The numbers are very similar and they are both sick, yet I think everyone would agree that Wade is in another class. The NBA is probably the only sport like this, where the difference between being great and one of the three or four best players in the world is almost impossible to measure. You just know when you see it happening. Anyway, Dirk is now at that level. Between the offensive rebounding, the automatic free throw shooting, the leadership, and the devastating mid-post game that he's developed to go with his transition jump shot, he's just killing people. I think Dallas needs to be more intentional about running the offense through Dirk in Game Two, so that when they need him to make shots to close out the game, he is in a good rhythm.

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