Baked Alaska

I usually hate the sun, in fact, it places undue pressure on me to love life and makes me that much more determined to hide in the shadows. But fuck it, it's been gorgeous here for three days, there's only so much basketball on, and no one's checking their email. So I'm suddenly filled with spring fever—more like compulsion—and have to get to the water and get my tan on.

Before I run out the door, though, I did want to say a few things about last night's game. Sorry for the lack of frilly language, these are more notes that grew out of post-game conversation:

-I recognize that this Cavs loss somewhat mutes my latest spasms of LeBron-mania.

-That said, it is kind of sad to watch Bron go straight at Howard like the DPOY doesn't have shit on him. You wonder if an angrier Dwight might help here.

-At some point, I began to wonder if the Magic could only win, or at least impress me with a win, if they made a comeback that was . . . ummm, magical?

-Based on conversations with my friend Nate, Kevin Pelton, and my own two eyes, it's become obvious to me: Howard is a monster on offense provided he's in motion. Give him the damn ball, just make sure he's cutting, leaping, or in a position to make one step and then dunk. That's why, even though he could stand to diversity his offense, it is on SVG and other players to see this gives them a tremendous weapon right now. See also Game 1 of this series.

-Someone needs to tell Howard that him stationary in the post is a total dead-end. Unless he's got a total mismatch. When Amare was a raw killing machine in 2004-05, the trick to his success was that he avoided this situation like the plague. Now, Howard will never be able to expand his range, or ability to put the ball on the floor, like Stoudemire has done—the main way he's overcome the obvious limitation of not playing in the post. So who knows what the long-term prognosis for Howard is. But Amare was never as imposing as Howard. There's no reason he can't be used creatively so that, in short, the post is always the terms set by Howard's lateral or upward motion.

-Not surprisingly, Kevin just realized he'd said something like this several years ago:

For years now, Howard has drawn comparisons to Phoenix's Amaré Stoudemire because of how both players have a prodigious combination of size, strength, and athleticism. The comparisons break down at some point, because Howard is a far better rebounder and defender than Stoudemire, but the Magic clearly learned from how the Suns accelerated Stoudemire's development by pairing him with Steve Nash and surrounding him with double-team neutralizing outside shooters.

And also. . .

We're trained to recognize that those kind of outside shooters help beat double-teaming of a post player, a style so popular in the NBA in the 1990s that was perfected by the Houston Rockets around Hakeem Olajuwon. However, the Suns of recent vintage have demonstrated that deep threats can be just as valuable when it comes to running pick-and-rolls. Even though Magic point guards Carlos Arroyo and Jameer Nelson are not on Nash's level, the Orlando pick-and-roll is still difficult to defend because teams can't leave the outside shooters to provide help and because Howard is so good at going up and getting the ball on lobs to the rim.

-KP adds: "The point now is they realized this a long time ago, and then seemed to forget it in these playoffs, either because Nelson/sorta Turkoglu were hurt or because of ORTHODOXY."

-Tangentially related, Rafer Alston is so weird. He's at his best as a straightforward guard. Nothing outside-of-the-box or too improvisational.

-So yeah, despite Joey's earlier critique of Howard, the Magic could be making a lot more of the current situation. And maybe Dwight could stop making me feel so damn bad for him, as LeBron plays like him with perimeter skills.

-It's true, I wrote something claiming that a big game from J.R. was more important to the Nuggets than Billups stepping it up. That probably would've made more sense around these parts. But I would still like to forget it happened.


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At 5/25/2009 3:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't understand how the Cavs just aren't getting how to play the Magic:

1) run when possible.
--this means avoiding Orlando's excellent half-court defense and instead playing their underwhelming transition D.
--LeBron, West, Williams, and, to a lesser extent, Varejo make this a possibility.

2) keep Howard out of the paint.
--this means getting back on D, which may means using Z less and relying more on the quicker Varejo, Wallace, and Smith.
--stay above the free-throw line when the Magic are trying to get the ball from the top of the key.

3) do not double Howard.
--this works best if Howard is not getting position close to the basket.
--stay on shooters at all costs. do not give up open threes.

It may sound easier than it is to do, except the Sixers and Celtics were both successful at doing just this.

The hardest part about dealing with the Magic is when they involve Howard on the pick-and-roll. Switch, and Howard gets position. Show, and somebody gets a semi-open three. I think the Cavs need to show, because each time they switch they end up in a rotation lunchline that never works in their favor. Trapping seems to work intermittently as well, but you obviously can't make that your primary option in the NBA.

At 5/25/2009 4:51 PM, Blogger krossfader said...

"I don't understand how the Cavs just aren't getting how to play the Magic"

Perhaps because they're coached by Mike Brown?

At 5/25/2009 5:15 PM, Blogger djturtleface said...

Is Kendrick Perkins officially an elite defender? Or is Z this bad?

Note to Cleveland: Big Z can no longer even jump. This is a bad sign. You probably should secure a replacement. Mehmet Okur and Troy Murphy seem to be solid fits, but both will cost at least 10 mil.

Oh, and Varajeo is likely leaving. Ben Wallace and J.J. Hickson are not an imposing platoon here, especially given the fact that, again, your center cannot jump.

So good luck securing a starting power forward and center next season with around 10 million in salary-cap wiggle room!

At 5/25/2009 6:39 PM, Blogger Q said...

Hmmm... seems like JR Smith might have taken your claim to heart and gotten a little cocky/ier...


At 5/25/2009 8:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Z did look really bad last night -- as I said at the time, 90% of TNT's replays were somebody scoring on him. He was put in bad positions where he had to rotate across the court to smaller players, though, so that's both a coaching mistake and the Magic running their offensive sets to perfection.

I'd imagine the Cavs will be looking long and hard at Marcus Camby and Tyson Chandler this offseason.

At 5/25/2009 9:58 PM, Blogger knowing is maxo said...

"It's true, I wrote something claiming that a big game from J.R. was more important to the Nuggets than Billups stepping it up."

As I write this, JR has been murdering in the first half of the second quarter. The nuggets are up by 13. Chauncey is consistent to a degree. He will do Chauncey. If JR gets off, that's a potential 15-20 point swing.

At 5/25/2009 10:12 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Correction: If J.R. Smith plays like the best point guard on the Nuggets, then of course what I said holds true.

At 5/25/2009 11:37 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

I don't understand how the Cavs just aren't getting how to play the MagicMaybe the Magic just know how to play the Cavs? Other than LeBron, the rest of the Cavs are shooting about 33% in this series? The Magic are totally forcing LeBron to score 40 ppg, and still winning (really should be 3-0 right now) the games.

Mo Williams, you might want to clock in with a decent game at some point. 18-56 ain't gonna do it. Z? 13-34 ain't gonna do it. West? 13-31. It might take 50 ppg from LeBron for the Cavs to win. Which, actually, isn't out of the realm of possibility.

On the ongoing topic of Howard: Has it been discussed that, right now, we are probably witness the prime of Howard's career? Because, if Joey, Simmons, et al are correct (I agree with them all), and he doesn't develop a "game" (post moves, etc), then his prime will be until maybe 25, when his natural athletic abilities - his impressive leaping abilities, for example - start to fade. We expect most athletes to peak in the age 28-32 phase, but that's primarily because what they gain in smarts offsets the loss of their athletic abilities (which generally aren't that much above their peers). But some players, especially those who rely too much on explosive athletism (far more athletic than their peers), peak earlier. Penny Hardaway never replaced his lost (to injury) athleticism with "game". Howard probably won't, either. He might be one career-changing knee injury away from... being a future expiring contract. And that's what separates Amare Stoudemires from Dwight Howard right now... had Dwight been the one with the microfracture, I don't think he would even sniff an All-Star game....

At 5/26/2009 1:49 AM, Blogger tray said...

"He might be one career-changing knee injury away from... being a future expiring contract. And that's what separates Amare Stoudemires from Dwight Howard right now... had Dwight been the one with the microfracture, I don't think he would even sniff an All-Star game...."

Not really fair. By definition of 'career-changing knee injury,' every player in the league is one career-changing knee injury away from being a future expiring contract. Amare recovered better than most from microfracture; his knee injury wasn't, ultimately, career-changing. He's still an explosive athlete, although not as flat-out ridiculous as he used to be. Chris Webber didn't really rely that much on his athleticism late in his career, but after that injury he was done.

At 5/26/2009 2:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's also not fair to put the Cavs sub-optimal performance completely on the non-LeBrons not performing. they need to be put in the position to perform, and, despite how bad the offense looked last game, the defense is the bigger problem.

keep in mind that in efficiency differential, the non-Lebrons were +1 for the season and the non-Howards were -1, so no matter what you read in the media, the talent is there for the Cavs, they just need to be playing to their advantages.

At 5/26/2009 6:01 AM, Blogger Daniel said...


You know, I was wondering the exact same thing earlier about howard, and I think more than most people I've been hard on him for not having any post moves, or even a natural feel for one. But something has changed in howard. I can't say we can all trace it back to him calling out SVG, but in my humble opinion his post scoring has improved from the last two series more so than it did from last season to this. There was an ESPN article today detailing the (largely unknown tll now) work he's been putting in his FTs too, something we didn't see the fruits of arguably until the last game. I don't know now, at this point. Sometimes you watch a raw guy like Bynum, or even the tallest kid in Jr HIgh ball, and some guys you can tell just know how to move their bodies around in the post. The fakes, jabs, footwork, body positioning is all roughly there. Howard never showed any of that, until recently. Sure he's not McHale or Hakeem, and never will be, but if he ever develops a short jumper he could utilize his quicks to become a pretty devastating post scorer with what he has now. At least he can have more than the "lame-ass Pat Ewing jump hook" Shaq called him out for.

We really did forget during the Boston series that he is younger than even Lebron.

At 5/26/2009 8:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I give Dwight loads of credit. He was not playing well (I do believe Perk is a top five defensive center in the NBA who looks even better with a legit power forward playing next to him no offense Baby) in the Boston series, demanded the ball and put up. And that has continued. Perhaps his teamates gained some respect for Superman (that cape on the side of the Amway is to dam much...in a bad way).

Shoals, great point about Rafer. In the previous thread (I seem to be one behind these days) I said it was a surprise to see him play like a starter. It is some weird. Dude comes into the Ass. with as a playground baller and looks like a disaster any time he gets creativel.

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