Saturday, May 7, 2011

NBA Playoffs Update

I am literally shocked at what has happened so far in the NBA playoffs.  Taking a look back at my predictions before the playoffs started, I saw Memphis playing San Antonio tough and even winning the series.  Now the Grizzlies are looking like a legitimate contender, after taking a 2-1 series lead on the Thunder. My champion is on the verge of elimination and at this point it seems inevitable with the Dallas Mavericks playing outstanding basketball.  In the East, the Bulls limped into the second round and struggled in their first game against the Hawks.  Since then, the Bulls have put together two quality wins and seem back to their dominant form, with Derrick Rose dropping 44 points in the face of the Atlanta Hawks.  Finally, the Heat looked amazing in Miami, but the Celtics prevailed when they came back to Boston.  This series seems destined to go to seven games with each team feeding off the energy of their home crowds. 

Here is a look at a few players that are need to either maintain or improve their performance in order for their teams to advance to the Conference Finals. 

- Pau Gasol : The Laker big man is playing terrible and his team is in desperation mode after losing the first three games to the Mavs.  Gasol has averaged 19 points a game this season, but just 13 points in the playoffs along with an awful 42% from the floor.  His stats don't even show how poorly he has played, as he has given up easy jumpers to Dirk Nowitzki and has had mental miscues all series long.  In order for LA to move this series back to Los Angeles, Gasol needs to play tough, smart, and get back to what he does best.  

- Zach Randolph: The heart and soul of the Memphis Grizzlies, ZeBo is playing out of his mind. This afternoon he had 21 points and 21 rebounds in the Grizzlies' comeback victory.  Randolph has found his home in Memphis and he must be effective in order for Memphis to win.  All season long, Randolph has averaged 25 points a game in Grizzlies' wins, while only scoring 17 in losses.  If Memphis is to continue their improbable run in the playoffs, Randolph must play well.  The Grizzlies have the ability to finish this series off at home, with Game 4 and 6 being played in Memphis.  Those are must-wins for the Grizzlies, as Oklahoma City is a tough place to pick up a win.

- Russell Westbrook: The Thunder are Kevin Durant's team, but Westbrook is an unbelievable 1A option. Westbrook has averaged just over 25 points per game, but he has made just 25 of his 65 field goal attempts. The Thunder are best when Westbrook drives to the hoop and plays with a slashing Kevin Durant.  Westbrook has had trouble finishing around the rim, so he has started shooting perimeter jumpshots, which is not his game.  Despite his 12 assists today, Westbrook has not taken care of the ball.  He has 18 turnovers in the three games against the Grizzlies, which is way too high for a point guard.  Westbrook needs to slow down the game and put the ball on the floor, which will leave Kevin Durant in more one-on-one opportunities.  

- Kevin Garnett: He followed up his 22 points and 14 rebounds in the first two games (total), with 28 points and 18 rebounds tonight in Game 3.  Garnett kept the ball alive on many occasions and did what he did best: play at the rim.  KG scored 28 points on 20 shots, while staying out of foul trouble.  Doc Rivers can't ask for a better game from the wily veteran.  Garnett's intensity fires this team up like no other and if he can keep the fire lit under the Celtics, Boston can win this series.  Game 4 is an absolute MUST-WIN for Boston, because Miami still has potentially two home games left in the series.  

- Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson: The Atlanta Hawks are just a weird team.  They are a combination of highly talented players, but they lack that gel player necessary to contend for a championship; however, they do have the ability to score with the best of them.  When Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson are hot, this team can score at will.  Crawford, the notorious ball hog, takes crazy shots and they always seem to go in.  Joe Johnson is a more traditional shooting guard and is both a great shooter and defender.  If the two of them can score this team has a chance to win.  If they don't? They're done.  Simple as that.  There is no other person on the team that is capable of carrying an offense, because Al Horford is being mobbed in the paint by Noah and Gibson.  

- Joakim Noah: There is not a crazier person on the planet.  He screams in excitement on the simplest of rebounds, but he is the fire that the Bulls need to win.  Noah is one of the best defenders and rebounders in the game and also has a knack for getting his hand on the ball on the offensive boards.  Along with Taj Gibson, the two Bulls' big men are dominating the paint.  With Boozer struggling, the rest of the team has picked up his scoring and rebounding. As long as Boozer is limited due to injury, Noah will have to continue to pick up those double-doubles.  

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