Weekly Countdown (cont.)
1. Dwyane Wade (Heat) vs. Joe Johnson (Hawks). "I don't look at Johnson as a shutdown defender, but on the other side of it, I think Wade's going to have his hands full because of Johnson's size. Somebody's going to have to defend that guy, and it's probably going to have to be Wade, which means he's going to have to play big at both ends.
"Atlanta is such a Jekyll-and-Hyde type team. They can beat anybody and then just look miserable and stupid the next time out. But I think Atlanta can win this series. They've got more weapons -- even Flip Murray coming off the bench is a big option for them. I think [Al] Horford can stifle [Jermaine] O'Neal, and [Mike] Bibby can make a big difference if he's hitting shots. I look at Johnson being a consistent threat offensively, which is going to put even more pressure on Wade to get shots. With his size, Johnson will go down and post Wade up, and if Wade has to use fouls, then his time on the floor will be in question."
3 views of three-pointers
According to Denver coach George Karl and New Orleans GM Jeff Bower, the prevalence of three-point shooting has led to new frenzy scenarios that we'll see in the fourth quarters of tightly contested playoff games over the next two months.
3. On defending the three. "I've heard the question, 'Coach, why do you let them have the three at the end of the game?'" Karl said. His answer is that he tries to close down the three-point line, but that the priority is to defend inside. "We get sucked in, we get tricked into hitting a screen, and it's hard to teach [players to defend the three-point line] when 99 percent of the time you're protecting the basket and 1 percent of the time you're protecting the line," Karl said. It's hard to change."
2. On rebounding the three. These often turn into all-or-nothing rebounds. "The rebounds are coming out longer nowadays, out to the dotted circle, and that generally is a more contested area between big guards coming in and forwards stepping back," Bower said. "Those are the rebounds that are starting your transition game and getting out into the open floor."
It's true that three-pointers lead to long rebounds that can be turned into easy baskets at the other end. But what if the defense can't control the rebound?
"The longer the shot, the more it's a 50-50 rebound," Karl said. "The further it bounces out, the more it becomes a toss-up. What I find is if you have five guys intently rebounding the three -- you're not thinking about [maintaining floor] balance, you're not thinking about get back [on defense], it's just all five looking to rebound -- then it's close to a 50-50 rebound.''
1. On setting up for threes. This is why so many coaches like their chances at the three-point line: You can usually create an open shot, and you have a better chance of recovering the offensive rebound -- which, in turn, leads to a shot at another three.
"That scramble rebound when you rebound the three makes it easier to find another three," Karl said. "When you rebound the three, everybody's thinking rebound -- they're not thinking, 'Cover your man' -- so if you get the offensive rebound and you move it quick, you can find another open three."
When you see players chasing long caroms that lead to unpredictable threes, understand that it's all part of a larger strategy.
"If you rebound the three offensively at, say, 40 percent,'' Karl said, "it's by far the best shot in basketball."
2 playoff teams
2. All-Derrick Rose Team. These guys are playing for tomorrow:
C -- Greg Oden, Blazers ... An opportunity to show how much he's learned this season.
1. All-Kobe Bryant Team. These guys are playing for today:
C -- Yao Ming, Rockets ... Desperate to win a playoff series.
1 ultimate prediction
1. The Lakers will win the championship. Bryant didn't have enough help last year in the Finals. This time he'll have a fully integrated Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, whose interior presence will create open shots for Lamar Odom, Derek Fisher and others. Gasol has been playing with more confidence in his first full year with the Lakers, and the addition of Bynum in the middle makes things easier on everyone at both ends.
It isn't a no-brainer -- the Cavs tend to elevate their play in the postseason, which would be especially impressive coming off 66 wins -- but right now I like the Lakers.
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