Friday, April 16, 2010

The High Socks Legend's Second Annual Playoff Preview Extravaganza!!


Matt Bonner's 3-Point Stroke

Does his shooting motion closely resemble that of a middle school girl? Yes.

Would your dad have scolded you growing up if you tried shooting the basketball this way? Yes.

But, the most important question of all is, "Does the ball go in?" Quite simply, yes, it does.

The "Red Rocket" is a 40% shooter from downtown this year, and has been cashing 'em in at about that same clip throughout his career. Bonner is a true X-factor for the Spurs, capable of stealing a playoff game all by himself on the strength of his unsightly long range release. With Roger Mason having an unusually ineffective year shooting the ball and Richard Jefferson morphing into a sad version of Sean Elliott, it will be more important than ever for awkward Matty Bonner to step up and knock down those shot put treys from 23 feet. Just be sure to cover your eyes when he does.

(Sidenote: Is Bonner the "pastiest" NBA player of all time? It's a close call, but I think the list looks something like this.)

5. Steve Kerr

A whiter version of Steve Blake.

4. Pat Garrity

Could shoot the pill from anywhere, but homeboy's complexion was far from "glowing."

3. Jud Buechler

Would it have killed Judson to get a little sun back in the day??

2. Chris Crawford

Rumored to have had an affair with head coach Terry Stotts during a very tumultuous 2003-04 Hawks campaign. Crawford never played in the league again.

1. Matt Bonner

Takes "pasty" to a whole new stratosphere. His official skin color in the San Antonio media guide is listed as "salmon."


The "NBA-TV" Series

Every year, one first-round playoff series gets treated like the ugly stepchild of the NBA postseason. Its games are scheduled at weird times. The worst referees get sent on the assignment. And Dick Stockton is usually prominently involved. Not surprisingly, this year the honor went to Milwaukee-Atlanta, which begins appropriately enough, at 5:30 Saturday evening. But don't fret, there are still plenty of reasons to get jacked up for this not-so-prime time battle. Here are five of 'em.

5. Old Guard (Mike Bibby) vs. New Blood (Brandon Jennings).

If there is any spot on the floor where the Bucks should have a decided advantage, it's at the point. Jennings is super-quick and can scoot by his defender pretty much anytime he wants. Bibby is 32 years old going on 75. His ability to move laterally on D is comparable to a one-legged elephant trying to keep up with a steroid-abusing cheetah that just chugged a case of Red Bull. Al Horford and company better be ready to help at all times.

4. Can Josh Smith continue to avoid the 3-point line??

In a recent Sports Illustrated article, Smith talked about his decision this year to completely abandon the long ball and instead focus on using his freakish athleticism to get easy looks around the rim. Smith's quotes regarding the 3-point shot made him sound like a recovering heroin addict trying to stay away from the needle. "I just don't put myself in that situation where I'm tempted to do it, because I probably will. If I find myself dangling around the perimeter, I'll move in a couple of steps." True to his word, Smith attempted just seven treys this season (making zero), most of which were end of quarter heaves in which he had no other choice. It was J-Smoove's best year as a pro, and the Hawks will need his continued long distance sobriety in order to make an extended run through the playoff bracket.

3. John Salmons...go-to guy?

It might sound strange, but it's the truth. After years of toiling away on benches in Philly and Sacramento, Salmons has finally found his true home in Brew City. After rescuing the under appreciated Sal-Muns from Chicago, the Bucks rolled off 12 wins in 13 games and finished the year on a 22-8 tear. And if there is anybody on the Milwaukee roster looking forward to meeting the Hawks, it is Salmons. The three times these clubs met since the trade, he erupted for point totals of 32, 32, and 28. And the unique thing about Salmons is that he doesn't possess the typical off-the-charts athleticism normally displayed by high-scoring NBA shooting guards. Instead, he does it with a clever in-between game, respectable range from 3-point land (38%), and an ability to draw contact and get to the stripe at crunch time. With Andrew Bogut's 16 points a night vanishing after that gruesome boo-boo to his elbow, the pressure on Salmons to light it up will be ratcheted higher than ever come Saturday night.

2. Gunners off the pine.

Jamal Crawford has been hugely important to the Hawks bench all year, and he will almost assuredly be taking home the 6th Man of the Year award next week. Despite not hearing his name called in the starting lineups once all year, Crawford still poured in 18 a game and hit countless 4th quarter daggers from well beyond the arc. Teaming with Joe Johnson, the Hawks have as good a combination of late-game snipers as any squad in the league. Also featured in this series will be the efforts of 14-year vet Jerry Stackhouse . Regardless of how you feel about Stack's sometimes erratic game, you can't knock the guy's competitive fire. Late in Milwaukee's home loss to Boston last week, Paul Pierce started jawing at Stack. Not one to back down from a challenge regardless of who's issuing it, Stack demanded the ball next time down the floor. He faced up on Pierce, made a quick first step towards the baseline, left his feet just outside the paint, and right when you thought you were witnessing a genuine turn-back-the-clock moment - Stack threw a horrendous cross court pass to nobody in particular that was picked off easily by Rajon Rondo, essentially icing the win for the Celtics. Stack may be light years away from his salad days in Chapel Hill, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's aware of it.

1. Mike Woodson is not exactly "familiar" with advancing deep into the playoffs.

As a player, Woodson played 11 years in the league, qualified for the playoffs five times, and not once escaped the opening round. As a matter of fact, his teams won just 2 of 16 playoff games overall. Bill Russell he is not. As a coach, the story hasn't been all that different. This is Woodson's sixth year at the helm in Atlanta (quietly tied for longest tenured coach in the East with Doc Rivers), and in that time, he has guided the Hawks to exactly one playoff series victory. If there was ever a year for Woody to make a run well into May, this is probably it. His team won 53 games and managed to grab the all-important third seed, which means no LeBron until the conference finals. Still, I think it's two rounds and out for Woodson and his boys, repeating last year's fate. This group remains too perimeter oriented, and needs to add a legitimate veteran big guy for next year to really be considered a championship contender. And no, Joe Smith and Zaza Pachulia do not count.


No Pistons Allowed

In 2001, Chucky Atkins was a jitterbug point guard trying to carve out a niche in the league and Ben Wallace was a powerful young forward just beginning to learn how to put all that strength and energy to good use. The Pistons won 32 games and failed to qualify for the playoffs. The next year, they added a couple pieces, won the Central division, and began a streak of eight consecutive playoff appearances.

Well, Chucky and Ben were back this year to try and recreate some of that old magic, but as it turned out, they were just old.

With the 'Stones missing out on the postseason festivities for the first time in a long time, let's take a look at the top five reasons why this season turned into the absolute train wreck that it wound up being.

5. Rip Hamilton quietly transformed into the Tracy McGrady of the North.

He'd play a few spirited games, turn an ankle, and proceed to sit out for the next month and a half. When he did suit up, he showed some flashes of the old Rip, but for the most part, his effort left a lot to be desired. It is painfully evident that Rip's mind has been elsewhere ever since November 3rd of 2008 when his backcourt mate and best friend Chauncey Billups was unceremoniously shipped off to Denver. Rip has had a tremendous eight seasons in Motown, but the time has come for both parties to move on. Plus, his "wearing a mask all the time" bit got old in like 2006.

4. As a unit, the big men for this team were simply atrocious.

Ben Wallace's offensive game has never looked nastier. Jason Maxiell is about two Cinnabons away from becoming Mike Sweetney. Jonas Jerebko blocked one shot in his final 365 minutes (he's 6-foot-10). Chris Wilcox spent most of the year in street clothes, wearing bizarre sport coats that made you wonder aloud, "Since when did they start putting buttons on shoulders??" And last but not least, Kwame Brown, the former #1 overall pick, is a guy with hands so slippery and unreliable that he probably couldn't even hold on to his you-know-what with a jar of Stickum and last month's issue of Everyday with Rachael Ray.

3. The crowds at the Palace were pathetic.

Most nights, the stands were half-filled, or worse. The fans that did show up were generally comatose. And those were the good ones. In a four-game stretch right around New Year's, the Pistons entertained the worst the Eastern Conference had to offer: Raptors, Knicks, Bulls, and 76ers. A good way to turn the season around with some easy home victories, right?? Umm, not exactly. The Pistons dropped all four games by an average of 17 points. Oh, and the Clippers won there, too.

2. They were the worst 3-point shooting team in the league.

That's right, somehow a roster filled with guards, swingmen, and big guys that like to shoot from deep managed to finish dead last (31%) in long range accuracy. And a special Mazel Tov to the not-so-bashful point guard combination of Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum - a tandem that fired 134 threes and converted just 30, good for a season-ending tally of 22 percent. Way to cash 'em in, fellas!!

1. Three words.

Hooper...On...Crutches.


The Good Doctor (No, not that one)

By day, my dad is one of the most respected internists in all of Metro Detroit. By night, he is one of the sharpest basketball minds in the Midwest, analyzing games on League Pass like he would a patient in the exam room with three different shades of yellow fever. Like any Hoops-Head, he's got players he likes, players he hates, and thoughts on everything in between. Here are five popular Doc High Socks comments pertinent to this year's post season.

5. "I've never seen Stephen Jackson make a shot."

Now, at first, glance this seems like a ridiculous statement. How can the guy never make a shot when he racked up over 1,600 points this season and is just short of 11,000 for his career? But tell me this. Does Jackson ever make a shot when you are watching? He seems to be one of those guys that does all this damage and makes all these huge plays in some fantasy world that nobody can see. When you actually get a chance to watch him play for yourself, he throws up a 3-for-14 with six turnovers and lots of angry faces. Ichiro is another great example of this. The guy rips off more than 200 hits every year, but always manages to roll out weakly to short whenever you happen to catch one of his ABs. Stevie Jax's exploits will be on full display when they take on heavily favored Orlando. The only way his club stands a chance is if he hangs a 30-spot every night while maintaining complete sanity throughout. Anything is possible...just as long as my dad's not watching.

4. "Dallas just isn't tough enough inside."

A simple, yet spot-on analysis regarding the hoopers from Dallas and their continued inability each spring to make that final leap and reach the summit. Dirk's been doing his thing for years. Jet Terry is always there to knock down big 3s from the corner. Mark Cuban remains the most passionate owner in professional sports. But one thing about this squad never seems to change; they just aren't big and strong enough inside. Erick Dampier is decent enough, but he's getting to be a little long in the tooth. Hell, the guy was in the Final Four 14 years ago, and he looked like a 40-year-old then. Eddie Najera brings his own brand of toughness to the table, but he's so pesky and bothersome on the court that his own teammates even seem to hate him. Brendan Haywood was added at the trade deadline, but is he really the kind of guy that transforms a contender into a champion? The aforementioned group of bangers are all capable of rebounding and defending, but none of them are really legitimate options in terms of operating on the low block. There's no doubt that the Mavs have the depth, athleticism, and variety of scoring weapons to beat most every team in the league, but it still might be that Achilles heal in the paint that keeps them from achieving their ultimate goal in June.

(Sidenote: I think Mavs-Spurs will be the best series in the entire first round, and would not be shocked in the least if Tim Duncan and friends get the job done. In fact, let's mark it down as the official HSL upset selection.)

3. "You hungry?"

Getting full enjoyment out of the NBA playoffs is only possible if you know how to work the snack rotation correctly. Now the key is you don't want to peak too early. Going for that bag of chips or scoop of ice cream in the nine o'clock hour could ruin your whole night. See, you have to wait for just the right moment. The first leg of games are winding down. Denver-Utah is about to tip on the West Coast and you start to hear that tummy rumble. Jackpot. Now your options are limitless. Set that toaster oven to broil and get a little hot dog action going. Grab a bowl of Rice Chex just because it feels right. Or go to the freezer and let DiGiorno be your date for the evening. My dad has made a living knowing how and when to make these decisions safely and accurately. If you want to get the most out of your playoff experience, I suggest you do the same.

2. "I would just back off LeBron and let him shoot all day."

Sounds a bit weird when talking about the soon to be back-to-back league MVP, but much truth lies in that statement. No matter how big of a LeBron slappy you may be, it cannot be denied that his inconsistent stroke from the outside (and the FT line as well) has been one of the major hurdles in preventing the King from ever cradling that precious Larry O'Brien trophy. Go back just two weeks ago. The Cavs were in Boston on a Sunday afternoon. It was on national TV. You could tell both teams wanted this game. And as is usually the case in spotlight contests such as this, LeBron went off. 42 points, 9 assists, and 7 boards in 45 pressure-packed minutes. But examine that box score a little deeper. LeBron jacked up nine three-pointers during the game; he made zero. He got to the line a mind-boggling 22 times; he made just 14. The Cavs wound up losing by four. Again, I understand and recognize that LeBron is one of the top two or three basketball players on the planet, but can you be the leader on a championship team shooting 33% from distance and 77 from the stripe? When Michael was winning titles, he was always over 80% on his free throws. Ditto for Kobe. LeBron will continue to be the bridesmaid at the end of the playoff season until he finally learns to master the purest form of basketball skill: shooting the rock. The Good Doctor says it best..."Just let him shoot."

(Sidenote: Either LeBron is the most careful player in NBA history or the refs are just terrified to blow the whistle on him. Mr. James played close to three thousand minutes this year. He committed just 119 fouls. Only eight times in the history of the league has such a foul-free season occurred. Amazingly, LeBron has currently gone 30 straight games spanning almost three months without picking up more than two personal fouls in a night. And in a strange oxymoronic twist, you won't find many players that complain more than #23 in the Wine & Gold. Go figure.)

1. "I just love the NBA playoffs."

Ok, so maybe my dad never actually uttered that corny sentiment, but let's be honest; it's the way we all feel. There is high drama on a nightly basis. Young stars (Russell Westbrook) burst on the scene in their first postseason showing while battle-worn vets (Grant Hill, Antonio McDyess) make what could be their final push towards that elusive championship ring. Some matchups will be instant classics (Spurs-Mavs, Jazz-Nugs) while others will end before you realize they started (Thunder-Lakers, Bobcats-Magic). Others (Blazers-Suns, Bucks-Hawks) would have been memorable if not for a couple of ill-timed injuries to vitally important players (Brandon Roy, Andrew Bogut). The other two series' out East (Bulls-Cavs, Heat-Celtics) are simply mandatory warmups leading to a sizzling second round affair.

Epic individual battles will play out right in front of our eyes: Chauncey Billups-Deron Williams...Kevin Durant-Kobe Bryant...Dwight Howard-Theo Ratliff...and the showstopping Joe Johnson-John Salmons duel (okay, I'm a little bit obsessed with Milwaukee).

Every night, fresh storylines will emerge and new heroes will be crowned. It is truly two months of unbridled joy for all hoop fanatics that adore and cherish Naismith's century-old creation.

So for all of you that will go to sleep tonight dreaming about Matt Bonner rainbows from the right elbow extended, know that you are not alone. You're most definitely sick, but you're not alone.

Enjoy the playoffs, people.


Drop your own playoff thoughts and predictions here, or reach me by E-mail at highsockslegend@gmail.com

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

Love the comments from the good doctor Yaz. I think he needs to take over Mike Abdenour's duties for the 'Stons, he looks tired!