1. Homing In: After the Cavs win tonight in Cleveland, home teams have now one every game this round, with the exception of Orlando’s loss at home in Game 4 against the Pistons (even this was a one-point loss). This trend of home winning raises some interesting questions. The most obvious questions: Are the lower seeds ultimately doomed in round two? Is this home winning trend a historical anomaly? Let’s start look at each series and see if we can answer these questions and others that pop up:
–Detroit v. Orlando: The Magic played tough at home but just couldn’t quite hold serve. The Pistons have done a great job defending Orlando. Dwight Howard has been sub par in two games. More generally, Orlando has struggled to score points, outside of their blow out win in Game 3, the Magic haven’t broken 93 points and are averaging 91.4 ppg for the series, which is way down from their 104.5 ppg average in the regular season. I know that playing Detroit in the playoffs is a much more difficulty situation but Orlando needs to get closer to 100 ppg to win the next few games. It also does not bode that the Magic couldn’t beat Detroit with Chauncey Billups out. On the bright side, Jameer Nelson has guaranteed a Game 5 win in Detroit and they were 1-1 on the road against the Pistons this year. Still, I think this series ends with Game 5.
–Boston v. Cleveland: It’s been pretty weird that Boston has not been competitive on the road. They were an NBA 31-10 on the road in the regular season so why are the having problems now? Well, the Celts were a less impressive 12-9 against playoff teams, including 0-2 at Cleveland (making them 19-1 against lottery teams, which is actually very impressive).
Ultimately, the Celts look like the home court should carry them in this series, unless LeBron James puts forth an inhuman performance similar to his masterful Game 6 against the Pistons last year. Given how great LeBron is, this is not impossible. Still, the odds are against a 40-point game for James. Part of the reason is how tough Boston is defensively, I don’t know if people quite appreciate how tough the defense has been in this series from both teams. Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and even LeBron have had really poor shooting nights and this is not just a matter of teams going cold. The team defense of both these teams is a throwback to the old Knicks/Heat and Knicks/Pacers series from the 1990s (outside of the Cavs in Game 3, neither team has broken 90 points in this series).
–New Orleans v. San Antonio: The pattern here seems clear. The hometown blows out the visitor. After the Spurs held serve easilty, both coaches spoke of momentum and the fact that Spurs may have captured it. While some don’t believe in the concept of momentum, I’m a bit more agnostic on the subject. Certainly, a collective mood of hopefulness or despair likely can affect effort. Of course, not all teams/players have “collective moods” and even if they do, talent and circumstance can trump everything. I guess the question to ask is whether anything is different now that can enable the Spurs to play better in New Orleans than they did earlier in the series. If, indeed, Tim Duncan was hampered by the flu at the beginning of the series, there is a chance that things could be different in New Orleans in Game 5 or Game 7. Recent history, however, is in the Hornets’ favor. The Spurs have been thumped by the Hornets most of the rest of the season.
From the Hornets’ perspective, wins may come from the secondary players. Chris Paul has been brilliant in pretty much every game against the Spurs. David West and Peja Stojakovic, however, look like much different players in the wins. West has 25.3 ppg in the four wins and only 16 ppg in four losses to the Spurs. Peja has a similar pattern: 19.5 ppg in wins and 6.8 ppg in the losses. The Spurs shouldn’t cede a great game to Paul but Peja’s defender should be the last player to double team. As for West, the Spurs really don’t have anyone to handle him when besides Duncan, who they don’t want to risk picking up fouls anyway. Expect heavy doses of Kurt Thomas and Fabricio Oberto on West, who should be able to handle that defense.
-Los Angeles v. Utah: Of all the series, this one is shaping up as the most compelling. That’s not to say that Cleveland/Boston and San Antonio/New Orleans aren’t fun but this, to me, is the must watch series. The series really comes down to two issues: (1) can the Jazz win a road game? and (2) is Kobe Bryant healthy? Not surprisingly, the two questions are interrelated. No matter how tough the Jazz are at home, and they are tough (37-4 this year), they are a poor road team (17-24). They did snag a big road win against Houston last round but I don’t see that happening unless Kobe’s back issues persist.
2. Euro Stuff: Across the sea, the Euroleague has concluded with CSKA Moscow knocking off Maccabi Tel Aviv in the finals. In the losers bracket, Montepaschi (Siena) beat Tau Ceramica to take third place. As usual, we’ll provide you the recognizable names:
CSKA: CSKA was once again led by scorer Trajan Langdon (still shooting well after all those years), as well as Theodoros Paploukas (Greek star), and David Andersen (Hawks draft pick). Viktor Khryapa, the former Bull, didn’t play much in the finals. Less well recognized are Marcus Goree and J.R. Holden but both have been Euro mainstays for a while.
Maccabi: Maccabi’s core has changed a bit from the Tony Parker/Maceo Baston days but they are still tough. They are still chock full of ex-NBAers. Most notably, former Warrior Will Bynum is the team’s star player. Besides Cummings, Maccabi has picked up Esteban Batista (Hawks), Vonteego Cummings (Warriors), Alex Garcia (Hornets), and Terrence Morris (Rockets). Former mainstay, Nicola Vujcic, has aged and is no longer a primary scorer.
Montepaschi: Despite the good season, Montepaschi has no big names. David Deiner (Depaul), Shaun Stonerook (Ohio State), Terrell McIntyre (Clemson), and Bootsy Thorton (St. John’s),and Romain Sato (Xavier) all played big minutes. No NBA pros here but plenty of capable international players.
Tau Ceramica: Tau has a fun team. They are led by former Cincinatti Bearcat dunker Pete Mickeal (drafted by the Knicks), as well as a few former NBA players, Zoran Planinic (Nets), Igor Rakocevic (Wolves), and James Singelton (Clipps). Tau also has Spurs draftee Tiago Splitter, who was a hot prospect a few years ago.