1. Harm But No Foul?: Perhaps the only thing we will ever remember the Dallas-Denver series for is Carmelo Anthony’s shot at the end of Game 3, where Antoine Wright attempted to intentionally foul only to have the refs ignore him and allow Melo to his a ridiculous three to knock the Mavs down to 0-3 in the series. The NBA immediately came out and acknowledged that the refs blew the call but let’s go a little deeper with a quick little FAQ:
How bad a call was this?
Pretty bad. It was clear that Wright was attempting to hack Anthony. Why the refs let it go makes no sense.
Did this call cost the Mavs the series?
Well it did put them down 0-3 and that means the series is over. The Mavs have a beef on this one but…Well, the but here is that I don’t think the Mavs would win the series regardless of the outcome of Game 3. The Nuggets destroyed the Mavs in Denver (winning Games 1 and 2 by an aggregate 35 points) and there isn’t much indication that the Mavs will win again in Denver. Indeed, the script for this series has been very close to the first round where Denver killed New Orleans in Games 1 and 2 (by 44 points) and the Hornets squeaked a 2-point in Game 3 before the getting destroyed in Games 4 and 5 (by 79 points!). This does not mean that it was fair or right that the Mavs got screwed the other night but I don’t think it would have ultimately changed the outcome of the series.
Why didn’t Wright wrap him up?
While granting that the refs screwed up, I have no idea why Wright wouldn’t have made completely sure that Anthony couldn’t shoot. Doc Rivers couldn’t resist making the same point today to ESPN.com: “The wrap-up also takes longer than raking a guy across the arms, and it reduces the chance that he can get off an attempt and get three foul shots.” You can’t argue that Wright’s lax fouling earned the non-call but Rivers has a point here. The irony here is you’d think that Wright knew how to foul. He’s been a hacking machine so far in the playoffs, with 25 fouls in 131 minutes going into Game 4 last night for an prodigious 6.9 fouls per 36 minutes. That number was gone up after Wright racked up five fouls in 21 minutes in Game 4.
Where do we go from here?
The Mavs won a hard fought Game 4 last night behind Dirk Nowitzki’s 44 points and could’ve theoretically been tied 2-2 right now. In either case, they’ve had to nail biters at home and have been smoked in Denver. No matter how well Dirk has played, this trend line is not good for Dallas and Game 5 will probably been another comfortable Denver win.
2. Magic/Celtics: One of the problems with this medium is that it doesn’t always lend itself to game analysis. Yes, we know generally that the Magic seem deeper than Orlando and that Orlando will win if its best players all play well, but what can you say when Orlando contains Ray Allen and Glen Davis goes off for 21 pts and 6 rebs? On the game winning shot, Orlando correctly contained Pierce and Allen only to have Davis hit a big big shot. Now, Orlando is in a tough series again. Where did it go wrong? Boston did a great job defensively. They didn’t force many turnovers but they shut down the perimeter players without letting Dwight Howard go crazy. While Howard was good (23 pts, 17 rebs) the guards really sucked. Rafer Alston, J.J. Redick, Courtney Lee, and Anthony Johnson combined to shoot 8-30 from the field and 2-13 from three.
On the other side, we continue to marvel at Boston’s resiliency. The one question is how long they can continue to play so well (particularly on defense) when the reserves give them nothing. The bench had 2 points and shot 1-8 from the field with 3 rebounds and 3 assists in 45 minutes. By contrast, the Magic gave their bench 75 minutes of playing time. Even with home court advantage, you have to think that Boston will feel worn down at some point if they can’t ask their bench to play more than a few minutes.
3. Lakers/Rockets: Yes, there is evidence that the Rockets can survive without Yao Ming. The Rockets tore off wins last year after Yao went out but he’s their best player and that Yao’s lack of speed doesn’t play too well with a fast player like Pau Gasol and the team appeared just as effective against Portland with Ming off the floor last round. But Yao is their clear best player and their bedrock offensive weapon on a team with no other such a player. Indeed, 82games.com shows Yao to be the Rockets most vital player by far in terms of net points and plus/minus (Yao has been the best plus/minus guy for the Rockets every year since 2005-06). The Rockets’ advantage in wining Game 4 without Yao was the little point guard, Aaron Brooks, who the Lakers could not stay with. At the same time, Kobe Bryant was outscored by Shane Battier and that is your recipe for a comfortable Houston win.
Going forward, the Lakers should be fine. Battier didn’t break 20 points at all in the entire regular season, so I don’t expect a follow up. Similarly, Brooks broke 30 points once all season. So, it’s unlikely that we’ll see Houston’s main too scorers do so well again in Los Angeles. Moreover, we should see Kobe back to regular form, as well as a return from Lamar Odom (who played poorly in Game 4 with a back injury). I expect a relatively smooth Laker win in Game 5.
4. Cavs/Hawks: What is there to say? LeBron has been incredible and the team is 8-0 with all double figure wins. It does throw a bit of a wet blanket on the Magic-Celtics series, as neither team is in Cleveland’s league. Still, we’ll all sit back and enjoy the remaining second rounders and worry about the coronation later.