American Basketball Coaches Should Take Note of Spurs’ International Flare

The Spurs' style of play had a strong international presence and that wasn't by chance.

I completely understand the dangers of the classic “ifs and buts” scenario but bear with me for a moment. The San Antonio Spurs were basically a few missed free throws in game six last year and a few missed free throws from game two this season from having both six titles and a sweep of the Miami.

Instead, the Spurs will have to settle for their fifth title in 15 years and while the argument over whether or not they are a “dynasty” can be had from all sides the bigger statement is in how this team won.

Since the rise of AAU programs across the country, basketball in the United States has become less about ‘team play’ and more about showcasing individual talent. Both college programs and the National Basketball Association have been impacted by this trend. If you talk to people who were fans of the NBA in the 1980’s and 1990’s but no longer call themselves fans, they’ll tell you the style of play is one of the biggest factors.

NBA offenses have become nothing more than isolation plays and pick and roll situations. The Spurs effectively destroyed this notion in this year’s Finals and there is no question that the international presence on the roster influenced their ‘team play.’

Frenchman Boris Diaw had a significant impact on the Spurs' title run this year.

Manu Ginobili is from Argentina. Boris Diaw and Tony Parker are from France. Paddy Mills is from Australia and Tiago Splitter is from Brazil. If you want to stretch things a bit, even Tim Duncan was born off the mainland in the US Virgin Islands. Duncan grew up thinking he would be a competitive swimmer rather than a basketball player.

It’s no mistake therefore that the style of play deployed by Spurs’ Coach Gregg Popovich was one with a tremendous international flavor. The game overseas relies less on individual talent and isolation-type plays and more on movement of the ball. The idea is really quite simple; movement of the ball forces the the opposition to actually ‘play defense’ rather than stand on one side of the court and watch four players go at it in a two-on-two game.

The idea also emphasizes looking for a ‘good’ shot and moving the ball to the point of where you find a ‘better’ shot. If the movie ‘Hoosiers’ comes to mind then that’s good because that’s the way basketball was supposed to be played offensively.

What Popovich and the Spurs have done is revolutionized scouting in the NBA and it’s hard to find fault with its’ success. They seek out talent on foreign shores and they mix that talent with solid, team-oriented American players to get the results they have had over the last 15 years. The roots of this idea go back to the 1980’s.

American basketball was the dominant force in international hoops play. Our collegiate players were better both athletically and skillfully through the decades of international play but then foreign countries caught up and in the late 1980’s our collegians were no longer good enough to bring home Olympic gold every four years.

That’s when the ‘Dream Team’ was born and since our pro players have been manning the Olympic team, we have not lost gold but with every passing Olympic Games, foreign teams get closer and closer and that’s because their athleticism is catching up with ours as many of their players now play in the NBA.

It’s my hope that high school and AAU teams have paid attention to this Spurs’ team because this is the wave of the future and if the American players don’t catch on it will be the 1980’s all over again.

Game Three Up Tonight in the NBA Finals

Parker and LeBron
Parker and LeBron
With LeBron James guarding Tony Parker, the Spurs will need to adjust things offensively.

To no one’s surprise the Miami Heat evened the NBA Finals with San Antonio at one game apiece. Only the 1990’s Chicago Bulls and the great Boston Celtics’ teams of the 1960’s have gone more NBA Playoff games without losing back-to-back games. Despite the loss, the Spurs actually played pretty well but they are still not getting consistency from certain players to make the difference.

Game three is tonight on South Beach and teams that win game three in a series tied at one go on to win about 80% of the time. That said, San Antonio followed this script last season but still lost. Will San Antonio follow the same plan? Lets find out.

San Antonio at Miami (-4.5), Series tied 1-1 – According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst and numerous other sources, LeBron James was seething in the hours following game one. According to Windhorst, James got very little sleep and it wasn’t due to the cramps he suffered from the day prior. Apparently James was incensed that people would question his toughness and physical stamina after he was forced to leave the game in which the Spurs went on to win.

It was that type of motivation in mind that left me with no other path but to believe that James would come out roaring in game two. I was only kind of right as James scored just two points in the opening stanza. He would however go on to score 35 total and assisted on the key basket to clinch the game.

With the issues of game one now in the past, Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich has work to do. First and foremost he has to address the team’s offensive gameplan since LeBron guarded Tony Parker in a very calculated move to disrupt the San Antonio offense. Popovich should be able re-position guys on the floor and force LeBron back down but they may only work if the Spurs are hitting open outside shots.

The Spurs could use more consistency from Kawhi Leonard at both ends of the court.

Coming off of game one, there were a couple of areas that I thought the Heat needed to address. They were outscored 34-20 in bench points in game one and I thought that needed to change. It changed alright but for the worse as the Spurs bench outscored Miami 37-12. While I still feel this is a factor in the series it obviously wasn’t in game two.

Points in the paint was another area the Heat had to change and in this case they did. Miami outscored the Spurs 44-34 and ultimately that was the difference in the game.

To this point, Popovich is getting good performances from Tim Duncan and Tony Parker but he needs more from guys like Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. They combined for 18 points in game two but are not consistently threats. That has to change.

The Spurs need to stop shooting themselves in the foot at the free throw line. They were just 12 of 20 for a horrid 60% and hitting just three more of those gives them a 2-0 lead.

A lot of things point to a Spurs win tonight but I’m not going there. I think the starters for Miami will score enough and the bench will provide just enough in the way of rebounding and a few points here and there. Until Duncan and some other Spurs show themselves in the fourth quarter my confidence in them is waning. Take Miami to cover and I love the OVER here which is set at 198.

Keep an eye on… San Antonio is 10-4 straight up in its last 14 games… Miami is 13-4 straight up in its last 17 games… San Antonio is 2-7 against the spread in its last nine games on the road… The total has gone OVER in seven of Miami’s last eight games at home.

Weekend Ramblings Include The Dolphins Don’t Get It, The Blazers On The Brink and More

Apparently Mike Pouncey didn't get the message from the Incognito mess as he tweeted more stupidity this past weekend.

Sometimes it takes a while for things to set in with certain people. Just months after an ugly bullying incident rocked the National Football League the origin of that incident is once again ground zero for more stupidity.

Twice during the NFL’s Draft weekend, Dolphins’ players proved that they learned absolutely nothing from the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin situation by tweeting idiotic comments about two different issues. First was Mike Pouncey who was named as one of Incognito’s chief minions in the final report issued by the NFL.

Following the Dolphins’ drafting of an offensive lineman Pouncey tweeted, “I can’t wait for our gifts he’s getting us.”

Poor taste doesn’t even begin to cover how ridiculous this comment was. Part of Incognito’s hazing rituals in Miami included the forcing of rookies to purchase extravagant gifts and trips. The Wells Report indicated this type of behavior as beyond the norm and encouraged all NFL teams to limit and monitor such activities.

Clearly Mike Pouncey didn’t get the message. He was called in to meet with Dolphins’ officials and has since deleted his social media accounts.

The Dolphins PR nightmare didn’t end there because second-year player Don Jones then tweeted a couple of poorly timed thoughts on the drafting of openly gay player Michael Sam by the St. Louis Rams. Jones tweeted “OMG” and then “horrible” in the moments following the selection of Sam.

If Jones happens to be against gay and lesbian lifestyles then that is his choice and I for one can’t tell him what to believe. What Jones has to recognize however is that he isn’t just a common citizen though. He represents the National Football League and needs to understand that the team and the League is watching everything these guys say and do.

Portland has had no answer for the great play of Tony Parker.Blazers on the Brink

By and large most people had the San Antonio Spurs advancing to the Western Conference Finals but I don’t think anyone saw that happening in this current manner. The Spurs went into Portland last night and defeated the Blazers 118-103 in a game that saw San Antonio lead by as much as 23 points in the first half.

Tony Parker continued his great series with 29 points, 20 of which came in the first half. It wasn’t just Parker though that led to another big win over Portland. The team had just seven turnovers and went an incredible 25 for 25 at the free throw line.

Another big key in this one was the effort from the respective benches. San Antonio outscored the Blazers 40-6 in bench scoring as the overall balance of the Spurs continues to be a major factor in their dominance.

LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard each had 21 points on the evening but this came on a combined 16 for 44 shooting as the two stars struggle to make the Spurs alter what they are doing defensively. I expect a tough showing from the Blazers as they attempt to stave off elimination but I don’t think it will be enough.

We Have a Series in the East

Miami went into Brooklyn looking for a 3-0 lead and left the Barclays’ Arena with a tough loss instead as the Nets pulled the series to a 2-1 Heat lead. The Big Three of Miami combined to score 60 points but the rest of the team could only muster 30.

Meanwhile the Nets started to torch the ‘nets’ from three-point range which was by and large the difference in this one. Brooklyn dropped in 15 of their 25 three pointers which was just too much for the Heat to overcome. I expect the Heat to address that situation and look for them to win game four.

Nets, Blazers Looking to Avoid 0-2 Deficits

Garnett and Pierce
Garnett and Pierce
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett cannot have a repeat of game one if they want to even up the series in Miami.

Well, I certainly couldn’t have been more wrong about the openers in Miami and San Antonio. Yes, I predicted a Spurs’ victory but I certainly didn’t see that butt-whooping coming that the Blazers took.

I was even worse in my prediction about game one of the Miami-Brooklyn series. I really thought the Nets would come in and play well and they did for a half… After that, the Heat, who I figured would be rusty, were anything but in big-time win.

So now I’m back for more and while going down 0-2 is not a death sentence, especially since both teams would be returning home, it isn’t a very ideal place to be. How do the Blazers and Nets even things up? Let’s examine that right now.

Brooklyn (+8) at Miami, Heat Lead 1-0 – Paul Pierce played 29 minutes and scored eight points. Kevin Garnett played 18 minutes and pulled a “Roy Hibbert” (too soon?) and scored zero points. Toss in the fact the Nets shot just 10 of 17 from the free throw line and you’ve got a formula for failure against the defending champions.

If ever there were a time the Nets missed having Brook Lopez on the court, game one was that time. The Heat outscored Brooklyn 52-28 in the paint as Miami players went virtually unchallenged. Do I really need to tell you that can’t happen again?

Brooklyn must force Miami into tougher shots as the Heat hit on about 58% of their field goal attempts in game one. We can also wonder if letting LeBron get his isn’t a better strategy after the balanced attacked of Miami was too much for the Nets. The Heat had five players in double-figures including Ray Allen’s 18 off the bench.

I fully expect a better performance from the Nets tonight simply because they’ll want to avoid the 0-2 hole. But I also expect more urgency which they lacked in the second half of game one. They know they cannot give up anything easy to Miami or else this series will be over before it has started.

Take the Nets getting the eight points but I like the Heat to win.

Aldridge needs some help if the Blazers are going to compete in this series.

Portland (+7) at San Antonio, Spurs Lead 1-0 – If you would have told me that LaMarcus Aldridge was going to go for 32 points and 14 rebounds and the Blazers would still lose by 24 points I’d probably tell you that you’re nuts. That’s exactly what Aldridge did in game one but he had very little support from his teammates.

Damian Lillard scored 17 points but the only other guy in double-figures was Robin Lopez with 10. If you look down at the other end of the court, the Spurs had six different players in double-figures and were led by Tony Parker’s 33 points.

The Blazers need to do two things in order to even this series. First, they must get back to running. Portland had just seven fast break points against a Spurs team that was obviously bent on limiting their high-paced action. Secondly, the Blazers just need to shoot the basketball better. Sounds rather pedestrian but they took poor shots in game one and need to do a better job of being patient against the veteran Spurs’ defense.

Portland can even this series and drawing even in bench-scoring would help to as they were outscored 50-18 by San Antonio but it won’t be easy. The Spurs have been great at home all year and Gregg Popovich and his staff are rarely out-coached so I look for another Spurs’ victory but I do like the Blazers getting the seven points.

So Much at Stake Tonight in Miami

LeBron and Parker
LeBron and Parker
I believe one of these two men will ultimately be the difference tonight in game seven.

I feel bad for ‘real’ Miami Heat fans. These are the ones who have been fans since the team arrived twenty-some years ago and have stuck with them through thick and thin. These fans have been unfortunately grouped in with what I like to call “LeHeat” fans. These are the people who couldn’t have jumped on the LeBron James-to-Miami bandwagon soon enough and were probably the ones who gave up on their team in the waning moments of Tuesday night’s game.

If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, with the Heat staring a Finals’ loss in the face, fans streamed out of the American Airlines’ Arena and then were videotaped trying to get back into the building when they realized the Heat had come back and had forced overtime. As Chris Bosh said to those fans, “Don’t come to game seven.”

Chances are that many of those fans will be at game seven tonight on South Beach and like the rest of us, they’ll be expecting a classic final game where either the San Antonio Spurs or Miami Heat will be crowned champions.

Danny Green
Green needs a hot-hand again for the Spurs to have a shot.

How the Spurs Win Tonight… This is easier said than done, but the Spurs have to put the game six loss in the past and I think they will because of their veteran leadership. It’s tough knowing the trophy is just seconds away from being yours only to see it put back in the case. I really believe the Spurs will put this game in the hands of Tony Parker and let him take it from there.

The gameplan was as expected in game six. With Danny Green hitting so many threes, Gregg Popovich knew the Heat would have to attack the perimeter and that left Tim Duncan more room to operate and he didn’t disappoint. As far as Green is concerned, he was just 1 for 7 from the field and 1 for 4 from three-point range on Tuesday night and must hit some more shots to keep the Heat honest.

How the Heat Win Tonight… My first thought is that they need to come out aggressively and hot right off the bat. They have so much momentum right now and they must capitalize on that and keep the Spurs on the ropes. Should they come out flat and let San Antonio gain the upper hand early then I have my doubts that they’ll be able to make the run they did in game six.

In part, that could be on LeBron to keep the fire lit. He has not started well in most of the games in this series and should he warm up early that could spell doom for San Antonio. Much like Parker can’t do it all, neither can James. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh don’t have to be brilliant but they have to contribute and knock down shots when they are there.

Typically in games like this we see a guy come through who isn’t always known as a superstar. Will it be a Norris Cole or a Mario Chalmers for Miami? Perhaps a Boris Diaw or Gary Neal comes up big for the Spurs? I’m not suggesting a massive amount of points from these ‘non-stars,’ but big shots and big defensive contributions could make the difference.

Prediction: Miami enters as a 6-point favorite tonight and I think that is going to be right on the spot. Looking at the overall health of the two teams, both are tired and worn down but Miami’s stars are a little younger and I think that will make the difference in the end. I like a big night from LeBron who desperately needs to win to avoid a 1-3 record in the NBA Finals and I think you’ll see a game of runs tonight but in the end, I like the Spurs to keep it within six, but look for the Heat to win the title.

Pivotal Game Three is at Hand

Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan
I expect Duncan to be much better in game three than he was in a 3 for 13 effort in game two.

The Miami Heat rebounded from their game one loss with a 103-84 win in game two that included a 33-5 run and an epic NBA Finals moment when LeBron James blocked a Thiago Splitter dunk attempt. The win followed the Miami trend of wins after losses dating back to early January, eleven in all. Ironically, their average win margin in those instances was right around 19 points which is what they won by.

If you told San Antonio Spurs’ Head Coach Gregg Popovich he’d leave Miami with a split I guarantee you he would take it, but he has to be a little concerned about the Heat improving their outside shooting significantly from game one and his team’s inability to take care of the ball as they did in game one. That will no doubt be addressed.

LeBron James
James isn’t scoring a lot but he is doing many other things well.

Obviously every game in a seven-game NBA Finals series is crucial, but historically, no game is bigger than game three. A staggering 92% of teams that win game three of the NBA Finals go on to win the title. Don’t think for a second that both the Heat and Spurs aren’t aware of that fact. Let’s get to the preview of tonight’s big game three.

Miami at San Antonio (Series tied 1-1) – The Spurs enter tonight as two-point favorites at home despite the beat-down they suffered in game two. The over/under tonight is 188 is it was in game two and I really like the over in that one but missed by two points. This evening I really like the under. I expect both teams to clamp down defensively and force guys other than each team’s big three to make big buckets.

The first thing San Antonio has to do is get Tim Duncan going early. Duncan missed his first five shots in game one and then shot a miserable three for thirteen in game two. With Tony Parker working as hard as he has in the first two games, Duncan has to get involved sooner to open up things on the outside.

Another area I think you’ll see more balance in is in the fast break department where the Heat outscored the Spurs 13-3 on Sunday. San Antonio is often mistaken for being a very defensive team, but actually the Heat play better defense statistically. Both teams will get back on defense better in game three and will force the secondary portions of the break to come through.  That means waiting for trailers or being able to find an open shooter along the arc.

I mentioned turnovers earlier and that might be the biggest issue heading into this game tonight. The Spurs turned it over just four times in game one and then fumbled it away 17 times in game two while the Heat turned it over just six times. Miami was able to turn those Spurs’ mistakes into 19 points San Antonio could only convert Miami’s errors into two points. There’s your game right there.

Prediction: A lot of people are suddenly in love with the Heat after their strong performance in game two. What worries me though is that LeBron James is not scoring the points he usually does. Yes, he is distributing the ball well, but the Spurs have done a nice job of limiting his buckets.

With Dwyane Wade less than 100% and Chris Bosh probably in the same boat, that puts pressure on James and those perimeter shooters who were good in game two but not so much in game one. Both teams are experienced in these situations but the finality of things for the Spurs’ big three has to be setting in a bit. I like a big night from Parker and Duncan to lead the Spurs to a victory tonight.

Spurs Take Game One; Karl Out in Denver

Tony Parker
Tony Parker
Parker scored 21 last night including the clincher with five seconds left.

When I took the San Antonio Spurs to win the NBA Finals in six games over the Miami Heat I did so thinking that the Heat would probably win game one. I surmised that Miami would take advantage of the Spurs’ nine day lay-off and although beaten up from their series with Indiana I figured they’d get by in game one.

Well, as Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast my friend.” The Spurs weren’t exactly ‘on their game’ early but they finished with just four turnovers in the 92-88 win over the Heat. Tony Parker hit a bumbling and stumbling 15-footer with just five seconds remaining to give the Spurs their margin of victory.

In the 2-3-2 format of the NBA Finals, game two suddenly takes on greater significance for Miami than other game twos might. Heading to Texas down 0-2 would be a severe deficit even for a Heat team with LeBron James.

Tim Duncan
Duncan started slowly but finished with 20 points and 14 boards.

San Antonio got 20 points from Tim Duncan who looked rusty in missing his first five shots but then recovered quickly to have a very nice game. He added 14 rebounds and three blocked shots as well. Parker finished with 21 points and Manu Ginobili finished with 13. LeBron finished with 18 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists to earn his second straight Finals’ triple-double but was held to just two of eight when guarded by the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard. Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh chipped in with 17 and 13 points respectively but Bosh had just two in the final quarter.

The biggest adjustment the Heat have to make going into game two is getting to the hoop. San Antonio clamped down in the second half and forced the Heat to kick out a lot more than they would normally like and the shots weren’t falling. Much like they struggled finding a consistent outside shot in the conference finals, they can’t afford the same scenario in game two.

If the Heat and their fans have anything to be happy about today it’s this; With the Big Three on board, when the team loses game one of a playoff series they come back to win the next four. This held true of course in the NBA Finals last year as well. While that isn’t impossible here, I just don’t see it happening against the veteran Spurs.

I do however look for the Heat to bounce back and grab game two by pushing the full-court game.

Coach of the Year Out in Denver –  How prophetic George Karl turned out to be… A month ago on the Dan Patrick Show he said winning the coach of the year award was very humbling but it also was known to be a kiss of death among NBA coaches. Karl got the kiss from Denver yesterday as the Nuggets chose not to extend his contract and let him walk.

Karl has been in Denver nine years and his teams have been in the playoffs in each of those seasons. The problem? Only one of those teams advanced past the first round of the playoffs and great regular seasons just don’t keep jobs anymore.

I look for Karl to spend very little time on the basketball coaches’ unemployment lines. There are openings in New Jersey and with the LA Clippers which is exactly where most think he’ll end up. His style of play could fit perfectly with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the rest of the Clippers who clearly like to get out and run the court. One way or another, I can’t see George Karl away from the sidelines very long.

NBA Finals Promise to Be Entertaining If Nothing Else

Duncan and Bosh
Duncan and Bosh
Will the Heat double on Tim Duncan like this or choose to double Tony Parker more often?

Do you recall back in the early stages of the 2012-2013 season when National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern blew a gasket over the San Antonio Spurs sending their top players home rather than to Miami for a game with the Heat? This was no ordinary regular season match-up though because it was the only game scheduled that night and was set for national television.

Spurs’ Coach Gregg Popovich made no excuses. He said they had a veteran team that was coming off several games over a few days and wanted to rest his guys for the long haul. Stern fined the Spurs $250,000 and was obviously embarrassed that a marquee match-up was reduced to a group of bench-warmers starting. While the NBA is a business, it’s also a business in which the top goal for coaches and teams is to win and Popovich felt resting his guys was the right move to achieve long-term success. Lo and behold, look who is in the Finals…

The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs could not be coming into the finals under more different circumstances. The Heat had to scratch and claw their way to a difficult seven-games series win over Indiana. The Spurs meanwhile, rolled past the Memphis Grizzlies in a four-game sweep leaving them with almost two weeks of down-time heading into game one tonight in Miami.

Common sense would tell you that San Antonio is coming off of way too much rest and will be rusty. Conversely though, Miami is the team that may have actually benefited more from such rest as they have several guys nursing nagging injuries with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade being chief among them. In essence, you have a team with too much rest against a team that didn’t get enough.

Three Keys I’m Looking at in This Series

1. Battle of the ‘Bigs’ – In their series with Memphis, the Spurs completely frustrated Zach Randolph to the point where his shooting was barely 30% for the series. The rotation of Kawhi Leonard, Thiago Splitter and Matt Bonner was constantly forcing Randolph into mistakes and poor shot selection. The Heat will pose a different challenge in the paint because Chris Bosh is much more liable to move out and hit the 15-footer. Udonis Haslem is the banger down low that will have to deal with the three-headed rotation as well as Tim Duncan.

The advantage here belongs to the Spurs with Bosh less than 100%, but if he and Haslem, who loves the baseline jumper, can hit steadily from outside, the Spurs will be in some trouble.

Mario Chalmers
Can Chalmers slow down Tony Parker at all?

2. Who Handles Parker? – Parker is the youngster amongst himself, Duncan and Ginobili and is having a phenomenal playoff run so far. With Dwyane Wade not 100% with a troublesome knee, the defensive assignment will have to fall to Mario Chalmers. The concern I have here is that Parker makes his defenders work harder than anyone else and Chalmers is often relied on to hit key threes during games. Will he have the legs to do that if he is chasing Parker for 48 minutes? Look for the Heat to throw lots of guys at Parker and double on him at times forcing him to give up the ball sooner than he wants.

3. What Kind of Advantage Does Pop Have? – Gregg Popovich is 22 years older than Miami’s Erik Spoelstra. That’s the largest difference between coaches in Finals’ history. I don’t think this will be the decided advantage some may think though. Spoelstra has learned to let LeBron James lead this team and do things as he sees fit. That’s something Popovich learned to do with Parker and Duncan as well. I give an advantage for sure to Popovich, but it isn’t as great as one would think.

Prediction: This is obviously a very different LeBron than the Spurs saw in the 2007 Finals when they blitzed the Cavs in four straight. There aren’t nearly the weaknesses in his game there were then. With that said, James will score but he’ll be challenged on every shot as the Spurs rotate as well as anyone on defense. I’ll be stunned if this series doesn’t go a minimum of six games and I like the Spurs to send Duncan into retirement with a victory in those six games.

Grizzlies Must Respond in Game Two

Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan
Duncan had plenty of help in limiting Gasol and Randolph in the middle.

No one in Memphis has hit the panic button  over the Grizzlies 105-83 loss to San Antonio in game one of the Western Conference Finals and there’s a good reason for that. In round one, the Grizzlies dropped games one and two to the Los Angeles Clippers and then won four straight to advance. In round two, Memphis again opened with a loss in round one to Oklahoma City but ran off four straight again to advance to this point in the season.

While it’s good that this team has been there before, it could also be some dangerous territory. The Spurs are certainly not the Clippers and falling behind two games to none to them is a far different scenario than it was the Clippers. Therefore, it is expected that the Grizzlies will come out with a significantly different level of energy tonight in the Alamodome.

Earlier this week, I predicted that the moment for this Memphis team was here and that they would win this series in six games. I’m still sticking to that after just one game, but there are serious concerns if I’m Head Coach Lionel Hollins.

Zach Randolph
Randolph will play better in game two. He has to quite frankly.

First, Tony Parker won the point guard battle over Mike Conley. The wily vet Parker finished with 20 points and nine assists while Conley scored 14 points with eight assists. It wasn’t a terrible performance by Conley, but with other guys not on their games, his became magnified. Another area I didn’t see an issue with was Zach Randolph. He was about as bad as bad can get in scoring just two points on one of eight shooting. I really felt like he and Marc Gasol could dominate the paint by neutralizing Tim Duncan even a bit, but it wasn’t to be.

The Spurs were successful in running three different guys including Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw at Randolph who clearly struggled to find position and comfort in the paint. Hollins will need to adjust to that as will of course Randolph.

Offensively, the Spurs have to be one of the NBA’s best-ever teams in terms of moving the basketball. They are currently assisting on 73% of their made baskets which is just incredible when you really think about it. To reach that percentage one of two things, or both has to be happening. You have to be finding guys for extremely high percentage shots which means within about 6 to 8′ of the bucket and/or you just have guys that can flat-out nail shots.

San Antonio was over 50% shooting from the field and was almost at 50% shooting from beyond the three-point arc. They were almost 10 percentage points better than Memphis in each of those categories. Amazingly, the Griz shot 20 free throws to just 14 for the Spurs which sends the message that the refs were letting them play but also that Memphis needs to get to and hit more foul shots.

So how do the Grizzlies bounce back? Memphis enters the game as five-point underdogs in Riverwalk City and to me that is telling. Normally the five-point spread says odds-makers have more confidence in the favorite than they do the underdog which is why you often see teams listed at +4.5.

I’m going to go ahead and stick with my original thought that the Grizzlies will win this in six games and they’ll bounce back tonight with a big win. To do that, they obviously need to get off to a better start and much of that will center around how Zach Randolph gets off as well. I believe Randolph will have a much better game, but it won’t matter if the defense can’t slow down Tony Parker which I believe they will tonight.

How Things Can Change in One Night in the NBA

Tony Parker

Yesterday I profiled the San Antonio Spurs and New York Knicks in my piece on the National Basketball Association. I spoke of the Knicks’ hot streak and the seemingly hotter one of Carmelo Anthony. In regards to the Spurs, my question was whether or not they could hang on to the top seed in the Western Conference heading into a huge game with Oklahoma City last evening.

In my closing segment, I revealed that I liked the Spurs to steal a win in OKC last night behind strong play from Tony Parker. For that to have happened of course, Parker would have actually had to play! The all-star guard did not play in the Spurs 100-88 loss to the Thunder last night and didn’t say much about why he didn’t play other than “I’ve got a lot of stuff going on.”

Parker is absolutely right about that as he just cannot seem to get healthy and with his struggles, the injury to Manu Ginobili and the Thunder within a half-game now, there is serious trouble in Alamo-town.

Oklahoma City is now even with San Antonio in the loss column but holds a tie-breaker with the Spurs by having the better record against the Western Conference. Four weeks ago, I really thought this Spurs team was going to make that final push to the NBA Finals and perhaps ride off into the sunset with a fifth and final title for Tim Duncan but now I have serious doubts.

The loss of Ginobili can be overcome for the most part, but if Tony Parker is not healthier than he is now this team has no chance to get past the Thunder and could easily struggle against Memphis, Denver or the Clippers as well. Head Coach Gregg Popovich has done his best to keep the veterans healthy and fresh all season but perhaps it has all been for naught.

For the Thunder, the win marks another notch in a redemption tour bedpost that started back when they were blitzed by the Heat in five games in the NBA Finals last summer. The team is certainly different with James Harden now in Houston, but the addition of veteran Derek Fisher has been paying dividends as it did last night with Fisher hitting for 17 points including five three-pointers.

Don’t dismiss that contribution going forward because obviously we know what Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook can do in terms of scoring but when you have guy, in this case Fisher, who knock down threes somewhat consistently, that opens the floor for Durant and Westbrook even more. Ultimately what you then have is a nightmare scenario for defenses in trying to stop that while keeping Serge Ibaka and company off the glass in the rebounding department.

Perhaps more than anything else, the NBA is league of hot versus cold and with the Spurs having lost three of four now and the Thunder riding a two-game winning streak and having gone 7-3 over their last ten, look out. Things can change rapidly in the Association as I found out over the last 24 hours but they can just as quickly change right back.

Games Tonight in the NBA

Cleveland at Boston – The good news? The Celtics are in the playoffs. The bad news? They need to keep winning to stay out of the 8th seed and a date with the Heat in the first round. Take Boston at home tonight.

Memphis at LA Lakers – LA has a half-game lead on Utah for the final spot in the Western Conference Playoffs. Memphis has won four straight and is one of the better road teams in the NBA. The playoffs have started if you’re a Laker and against better judgment I’ll take them at home.