Projecting the playoff matchups (cont.)
Mike Taylor's late-season breakout. The Clippers' rookie point guard from Iowa State is drawing attention for more than just his electrifying pregame dunks. In games against the Knicks, Spurs and Rockets last week, Taylor averaged 23 points on 65.9 percent shooting "When we made the trade to draft him, he reminded me of a young Tony Parker -- lots of speed, not under control so much," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "What we've been trying to get him to do is be more patient ... and the last couple of ball games he's been settling down."
Joel Przybilla's importance. While Greg Oden has been in and out of the lineup, the Vanilla Gorilla has provided the Blazers a steady presence in the paint all season. Przybilla is averaging 10.2 rebounds in March, his highest output for any month this season, and he went toe-to-toe with Shaquille O'Neal verbally while his Trail Blazers blistered Phoenix for 129 points in a Portland win last Thursday.
Tony Parker's shoulders. The Spurs won three of four last week with Parker carrying the load: 27.5 points (on 67.1 percent shooting) and 8.3 assists. Parker is averaging 25.6 points and 7.8 assists this month.
Gilbert Arenas' blog. The return of Agent Zero to the court has brought to a close his popular blog. "At first people enjoyed just reading the blog for fun, but then they started trying to read into it and take bits from it," Arenas told the Washington Times last week. "So, it just seemed like it was turning into a double-edged sword. So, I'm retired." The Web will be a less interesting place without him.
Suns on cable. Phoenix is 0-10 on TNT this season, according to the Arizona Republic. And if you include the preseason, the Suns are 0-11.
Charlie Villanueva's shooting eye. The Milwaukee forward, who had been flourishing since becoming a starter in mid-January, slumped badly on the road last week. In games at Toronto, Orlando and Miami, Villanueva shot a combined 31.4 percent while averaging only 9.3 points.
The Spurs have quietly put together one of the league's better offenses, ranking seventh in shooting (46.5 percent) and third in three-point shooting (38.9 percent). An NBA scout assesses San Antonio's success, which extends beyond Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
"They have a great offensive system. Gregg Popovich might have the largest playbook in the NBA. They run something called motion weak and motion strong, that's the foundation of it. The ball changes sides of the floor, they know their spots, so they don't have to call it out. They just automatically flow into it.
"It's not easy to stop because it's not a pattern. When [an offense] is not a pattern, there are reads out of it -- if the ball goes to a particular place, then someone goes to the strong corner -- and that's not so easy to defend. Much of what they do is a read-and-react offense, like the triangle offense. It's freedom within structure.
"Clearly, having some of the same players there year after year helps them know it, but even new guys can adapt quickly. Roger Mason came in this year and learned it right away."
They said it
"They haven't quite figured out the NBA game, the length of it. They get all fired up in the beginning, and it's a marathon. It's 48 minutes of basketball. It's not like college, where you can come out and get a 10-point lead or 15-point lead and you can win the game."
"I'm better than Chris Bosh, I'd tell him to his face."
"I've played a lot of games against Allen Iverson when he was with the Philadelphia 76ers, and he is one of the toughest guys I've ever gone against. But having said that and knowing the information we know ... it's almost like [Iverson] is holding this team hostage because he cannot accept the responsibility of coming off the bench, and that's sad because he is one of the truly great little men we've ever had in the game."
"I don't like to talk trash, but in my eyes it's not a rivalry. I don't know if anybody else looks at it as a rivalry. People consider Cleveland a rival. We just went seven [games in the first round last season] with Atlanta. That's about it."
"I don't. I'm a Shogun. You can't ask me about a low-level ninja. I still have to worry about Yao Ming, Dwight Howard."
"You learn that you don't let a stupid dude take you out of the game because he's nobody. He doesn't have much [game]. He just goes over there and tries to get a contract."
Los Angeles Times: A tidy summary of yet another Clippers season best forgotten as soon as possible.
Basketball Prospectus: What better captures a player's value: individual stats or new data measuring his impact on the team?
We're not going to decry the late-season practice of "tanking," no matter how distasteful. Until the NBA changes the lottery or adopts the kind of solution that SI.com's Steve Aschburner wrote about a year ago, the best route for struggling teams to transform into contenders is by boosting their chances to get a top pick. Franchise-changing superstars don't come on the market often, and with the economy in the dumps, it's unlikely many teams would want to add one to their balance sheet anyway. So while it may be an intriguing story to see Gilbert Arenas back on the floor for the Wizards, every win he helps secure may cost them the type of prospect who will launch Washington back into the Eastern Conference conversation next season.
If I'm Chris Bosh, I'm having problems seeing a long-term future promising enough to keep me in Toronto. Beyond the Raptors' 14th-place standing in the East, I see a coach who gets along with the front office but can't squeeze the type of defense from which contenders are built. I also see a roster loaded with castoffs who aren't likely to fetch the kind of assets that the Raptors need to make a deep playoff run. A lot can change in a summer -- and it had better if the Raptors want to keep their All-Star power forward.
George Karl has recently taken his team to task for its lack of maturity, telling SI.com's Ian Thomsen that his ability to guide the Nuggets strategically has been compromised by the team's egos. "You think I'm happy about not coming up with a trick play or a cute substitution or a rotation that will help win one of those games?" Karl said. "Instead I've got to worry about Melo [Carmelo Anthony], you're not coming out of the game. You think that keeps my focus on being really good at the end of the game? It doesn't."
That may be true, but it's also true that coaching in the NBA hasn't been about pure X's and O's for a long time. Karl can pine all he wants for the discipline his mentor, Dean Smith, once demanded, but success in the NBA is as much psychology as strategy. That may mean compromising your ideals, but that also means your team will listen to most of what you have to say, rather than none of it, as Anthony demonstrated in earning himself a team-ordered suspension earlier this month.
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