Suspend you May Day celebrations to dive into what's playing out and who's being played out in the NBA playoffs.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): After a wild two weeks, the opening round of the NBA Playoffs is just about ready to wrap up. We're looking forward to a Game 7 between Boston and Chicago that is eagerly anticipated and the Hawks and Heat play on as well. In the West, the semifinals are set, while everyone else is starting to think ahead to 2009-10. Lots to talk about, so let's get started.
Jason (Phoenix): I have thoroughly enjoyed all of the OT action so far, but I am sick because much of it could have been prevented by fouling when up by three. Any chance a coach out there see the light?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): It seems like the momentum is starting to turn that direction. Ultimately, a lot of the reason coaches don't foul is because it potentially opens themselves up to more criticism. As fouling in that situation becomes conventional wisdom, the opposite becomes true.
I don't feel as strongly on the fouling issue as some people, because the risk of a three-shot foul is a real one, but whenever the ball comes inside the three-point line that should be an automatic foul--especially when timeouts are a factor. The end of last night's third OT showed how difficult it is to get a good shot without a timeout, especially on a miss.
Joel (GA): How unfortunate is it that one of the most exciting series of all time will inevitably be forgotten because it was in the first round between two teams unlikely to make significant noise beyond the second or third rounds?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): You think so? Obviously there's not a ton at stake compared to a later-round series or even the NBA Finals, but this series has gone so far beyond almost anything else in terms of overtimes and drama and late-game heroics that I don't think it will be forgotten any time soon.
krissbeth (watertown, ma): What do you make of the Josh Smith dunk incident?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Both sides were in the wrong. Smith shouldn't have done it, it was silly and unnecessary, but Erik Spoelstra complaining about it is a total joke. It's one thing to run up the score on some hapless opponent. This is the NBA postseason, and it's a 4/5 series. Teams are not supposed to get blown out (though we've seen it can happen quite often in one given game). Worry about coaching your team so you're not in that position, use it as motivation in Game 6, but don't come to the public looking for sympathy. That's pathetic.
ericturner29 (Chicago): Rondo has been great, but how much has he been helped by Chicago's poor backcourt defense?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I don't think it's a huge factor, since a lot of what he's doing have little or nothing to do with offense--his rebounding, his steals, even his turnover-free play. Even though I wrote last week about how Rondo is hardly reliant on his teammates, he has seen the benefit in this series because Kirk Hinrich is too busy defending Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to even think about Rondo. The theory between pairing two great wing scorers like Pierce and Allen is often that other teams won't have two good perimeter defenders and can only control one of them at a time. Add in Rondo and you can't stop everything, even with better defenders than Derrick Rose.
Fred (Houston): Are all the NBA "stat guys" who picked the Blazers reevaluating this morning the value of experience and leadership in the playoffs?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): First off, please don't refer to us as "stat guys." We're not mythical; there's no need for quotation marks. Second, let's keep things in perspective. I picked the Blazers in seven, not a sweep or something. This was obviously a close matchup, and while the Rockets had comfortable victories to bookend, the middle two games could have gone either way.
I also don't think Houston was a good matchup for the Blazers (something to watch for that I'll write about more extensively at some point--if Atlanta and Boston win, all eight series will have gone to a team that either won or split the season series).
Now, did the Blazers look inexperienced at times? Yes, especially in Game 1. Roy and Aldridge didn't seem particularly affected, but the role players came up short in this series. Of course, Steve Blake is one of Portland's veterans and the couple of guys who had been to the playoffs, and he was a part of that. In short, I don't think it's a refutation of experience being overrated.
Scott (Chicago): Not knowing much about progressive basketball stats (and +/- is hardly "progressive"), what do we make of Brad Millers +62 over the course of the series? Is there *anything* to be said about this? He's obviously not seeing the minutes that the starters are seeing, but he's playing the role of one damn good 6th man if nothing else, right?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): There's definitely something to be said. Miller gives a different look from the other Bulls' frontcourt players, in that he's got range Joakim Noah can't match and more size than Tyrus Thomas. If you're only going to have one big man on the floor, as Chicago often has when going small at the end of games, Miller is the guy. And by any measure he had a brilliant Game 6. I may look a little more closely at this for ESPN Insider and BP tomorrow to preview Game 7.
BK (Boston, MA): I'm sure the last thing you want is another Kobe food-fight, but one stats-minded person I know thinks this season has proven Kobe is not among the absolute best players in the league, and that Gasol is actually the most valuable Laker. (My personal feeling is that he's conserved his energy more based on the length of the season, and is less concerned with matching the numbers of his elite peers)
Based on your evaluation tools, where do you stand on Kobe's worth relative to other elite players (James, Paul, Howard, Wade). A notch below, or just as valuable?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): *Treading lightly*
I do think Bryant has been more valuable than Gasol this season, though the margin isn't anywhere near what the talking heads (who still want to call Gasol "soft") would have you believe. Here's the thing: When was the last time you saw James play as poorly as Bryant did in Game 3 of the Utah series? Even Wade, despite all the attention he draws with a lesser supporting cast and a bad back, has had few clunkers on that magnitude. Yet all the talk after the game was about how Bryant was going to bounce back and have a big Game 4, as he ultimately did. Anybody else, we would have been talking about how he essentially lost his team the game. Kobe got a pass.
That's ... interesting.
lbihced (Harvey Cedars, N.J.): As a 76 er fan, last nights game was the worst I can remember watching. You would think that with Howard and Lee missing from Orlando you might win the game or at least not lose by 25. Your thoughts please?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I figured they'd win. Again, if this postseason has shown us anything, it's hard to predict the outcome of a single game and series momentum means very little. Orlando finally was able to hit from the perimeter, which was a huge factor, and I think we've all seen series where the underdog runs out of gas. Ultimately, I don't think it should taint what was a pretty good playoff effort overall.
krissbeth (watertown, ma): Orlando's got to be liking their chances next round, right? I mean, Chicago's gone to a seven man team and Boston's really only got 5 effective players right now...
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Nobody was happier to see that series go seven than the Magic, and Dwight Howard will now be very well rested. At the same time, it's not like the Magic doesn't have its own issues with getting Hedo Turkoglu healthy and finding ways to score when the threes aren't falling.
Orlando's the favorites; don't write them in in pen just yet, though.
Justin (Normal, Illinois): The Celtics - Bulls series is just two evenly matched mediocre teams, so I'm having trouble getting excited up as much as most people. Is there something wrong with me?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): There have been a few gaffes, many on the sidelines, but for the most part the quality of play in that series has been very good. So I'm not sure how you'd tell the difference between this series and two evenly-matched elite teams.
Jacob (CA): Kevin, what's your diagnosis for Portland's awful offensive showing in these playoffs? Too much 1v1 play? Relying on offensive rebounding too much? Just a great job by Houston? Where does Portland go from here?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): The thing is, the Blazers' offense should in theory be much easier to translate into the playoffs than teams that rely on transition offense or something like that. That was the premise of a piece I wrote for Sports Northwest Magazine earlier this year. Dependence on outside shooting did make them somewhat vulnerable, but end games in the playoffs are all about 1-on-1 play (as one person remarked during Boston-Chicago Game 5, "We play a team game for six months. Then it's all about the individuals in the playoffs."), so ... . I think a lot of the credit has to go to the Rockets, who made the Blazers really like discombobulated at times in the series.
ericturner29 (CHicago): Garnett's return: actual possibility, or internet rumor nonsense?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Will Carroll had a good look at Garnett that unfortunately never ran. The gist was that if he is able to play, it will be under severe pain and with tremendous limitation. The talk of a return mostly seems to be wishful thinking.
airlifting (chicago): Also...not sure if you've talked about this in previous chats...do you own the Free Darko book? Pretty awesome analysis & wonderful art.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Yes, one of the great disappointments of the year is that my Almanac review never ran (maybe over the summer). The artwork was amazing and some of the statistical nuggets they dug up were stunning.
Cole (Portland): This sucks, Blazers are done. What do I do for the 5 months between now and football season?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Well, there is summer league, but might I suggest the WNBA?
Mike (Chicago): Derrick Rose is proving to me he could become something special. How many 20 year old point guards (the most important position) have been done what he's done in the playoffs? Sure he's made some silly turnovers. But when it comes down to it, a line of 20 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists is pretty damn impressive. The sky is the limit with this kid.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): He's shown in both his lone season and Memphis and with the Bulls an ability to really turn his game up when it counts. As for the turnovers, while they're frustrating now, those will eventually turn more frequently into good plays as he gains experience. Turnovers are actually something of a good thing for rookies, because they indicate a willingness to try to make big plays. Rose certainly has that.
Mike (Lowell, MA): I know there hasn't been a stat invented yet that can totally measure a defensive players ability but, my God, every Celtic game I watch without KG, makes me realize what a defensive force of nature he was. Have you guys looked at KG and no-KG comparisons?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Yes, we have, and they do show the enormous impact he makes defensively:
All of the stats we do have concur about Garnett's value on defense.
ericturner29 (Chicago): Who should the Cavs be most concerned about: Orlando, Chicago, or Boston?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Definitely Orlando.
Tim (Boston, MA): What are your thoughts on the Lakers-Rockets series? Will the Rockets be able to push the Lakers to 6 or 7 games?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I don't think it's a great matchup for Houston at all, which was the big problem with not winning the Southwest Division and getting in the non-Lakers side of the bracket. The Lakers swept the season series, and as I pointed out earlier, there's evidence that's meaningful going into a playoff series. The people I talked to who follow the Rockets generally feel the same way about this matchup, and raved about the job the Lakers have done defensively on Yao. My pick for the TrueHoop Stat Geek Smackdown was Houston in 5. I'll be a little surprised if the Rockets take it all the way to seven games.
Scott (Chicago): Should the Bulls win Game 7...what kind of threat do they pose to the Magic?...I think, obviously, any team that meets The LeBrons in the conference finals has a grape chance of getting 4-0'd...but could the Bulls run with the Magic?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I don't think that would be a great matchup. Chicago's struggled in this series to defend the three-pointer, and that's doubly a killer against Orlando, while the Magic likes to play more of a half-court game than the Celtics. Certainly, the Bulls don't have an answer to Dwight Howard in the post.
Rivers McCown (From Mom's Basement): Who has the best chance of the other three remaining West teams of knocking off the Lakers?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think Denver based on how well the Nuggets have played in the postseason and that Denver was the only team left in the West Playoffs to take a game off the Lakers in the head-to-head series this season, which is remarkable.
Joel (GA): Obviously this is looking ahead, but am I wrong in thinking that the Magic match up well enough with Cleveland to give them at least a competitive series? This is assuming Hedo isn't permanently gimped these playoffs of course.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Getting Courtney Lee healthy is a big concern right now, and Orlando will still probably have to work harder in this next round than the Cavaliers. That's a lot going in Cleveland's favor.
JasonC23 (Huntley, IL): Can you discuss some specific mistakes the coaches have made in the CHI-BOS series?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Not fouling, Doc Rivers matching up small with the Bulls (I was OK with that at first, but it hasn't worked for Boston), running out of timeouts, a relative lack of situational substitutions ... John Hollinger has done a great job of staying on top of those specific mistakes.
strupp (madison): Are the baby bulls stepping out this post season? Are we about to embark on five years of Lebron vs Bulls for the eastern conference titles?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Let's not get ahead of ourselves. If Derrick Rose is legitimately a superstar talent, then potentially. Orlando does have a pretty good young anchor too.
Cole (Portland): Do you give out MVC (Most Valuable Chatter? I feel like after 3 chats, I have asked the most questions, but they were defenitely quantity over quality. So I might be disqualified on those grounds
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Well, we'd have to come up with Value Over Replacement Chatter. There are some familiar names who have been with me all season. I think you're going to have to put in a full 82 next year to compete for the crown.
ericturner29 (Chicago): You've probably answered this is a prior chat, but: Lakers or Cavs? (I think the Cavs are a slightly better team, but think the Lakers will win because of the inside matchup advantage they'll have.)
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Lakers, though I reserve the right to change my mind if Andrew Bynum doesn't show more the next two rounds.
Bill (Philadelphia): The general prevailing opinion in Philadelphia of the 76ers is that they are more or less going nowhere (good enough to make the playoffs & avoid the lottery and a big-time player, but not good enough to win it all). What can the Sixers do to improve their team, short of letting all their bad contracts expire & tanking for a few years to get draft picks & free agents?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): This group has only been together a couple of years, so I think that's a little harsh. The Sixers need a legitimate shooting guard. If they can somehow turn Elton Brand into that player, the other pieces are there.
John (NYC): What do you think Portland does this summer? They are already a good team, but it seems like they are very much an "unfinished" product. The small forward spot, Oden's role on offense, backup pg, all seem pretty much in flux...
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Oden should be much better next season, and I wouldn't let Nicolas Batum's invisible postseason detract too much from the good rookie campaign he's had. In my opinion, PG is still the biggest area the Blazers need to address. Can Jerryd Bayless be that guy? I'm not sure.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): That's about all the time I have today, with a bunch of columns (not to mention my day job) beckoning. Thanks to everybody for the great questions, and we'll do it again this time next week and probably weekly all the way through the NBA Finals. Until then, keep checking out the daily Playoff Prospectus recaps on BasketballProspectus.com.