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NBA Playoff Three-Pointer and Open Thread

Note: For those of you who clamored for a playoff blog, here you go. Don't know how often I can chime in, but I'll keep opening an occasional new thread if there is sufficient interest.

1. Devil in the details The great thing about predictions is that they can be spun by whatever level lens you want to focus on. For example, on a macro level, I picked the Spurs over the Kings and the Nets over the Pacers, leading some to think I'm right on the former and wrong on the latter. But anybody who bothered to parse the details would see that I totally blew it when I claimed that San Antonio would take Sac lightly and wouldn't be geared up in full playoff mode; and that my guessing was more accurate when I called the Nets vastly overrated.

My error was in underestimating Indiana, particularly Jermaine O'Neal, who rose up for a strong 4th quarter. Also, despite being a jerk, Stephen Jackson had a strong game at both ends of the floor. I still think the Nets have enough to get by the Pacers, and I obviously no longer think the Spurs are going to need 6 or 7 to move past Sac, especially with Artest sitting tonight.

2. Nugs in trouble The first Denver-Clippers game didn't disappoint, but Game Two was pretty much a game of keep away for the entire contest, with LA going up 32-13 after one and then cruising home while the Nugs frantically chased the lead to just above double-digits. As someone who has seen all of both games (the only series I've followed that way thus far), I think the key has been Brand and Kamen outplaying Camby and (in lieu of naming a power forward) the pea-sized brain of George Karl.

Here's another macro-micro lens perspective on predictions. I called the series for the Nugs, which doesn't look terribly bright at the moment. But I also said the teams were evenly matched, cited all the ways the Clips could win and said that the Nugs needed K-Mart and Najera to deter Brand enough so that Camby could handle Kamen. So, what does Karl do? Starts Francisco Elson on Brand both games, with disastrous results. Brand has scored 20 points in the two first quarters, pushing the Clips to early leads both times. LA's wins about 70 pecent of the time when leading after one, so this pattern has been crucial.

According to the plus/minus totes on popcornmachine.net, Elson is a combined minus-18 in 24 minutes of action. K-mart, who posted a plus-7 in 27 minutes in Game One, was minus-11 in just seven minutes last night. But here's the real error--Karl didn't even get Najera off the bench in Game One, and only inserted him in Game Two after the contest was well out of hand. But anyone who has watched the feisty Mexican play, especially in the post-season for Dallas back in the day, knows that he is the one player who combines bulk and heart enough to give Brand problems in the low block. And he posted a huge plus-15 in 16 minutes of action last night. Another guy who plays with a lot of heart, Reggie Evans, is a combined plus-5 in 32 minutes of play.

So, coach Karl, just because Elson is a seven-footer doesn't mean he has the smarts, the below-the-waist strength, or the gumption to go mano-a-mano with a beast like Brand. I know you want to bump up the tempo and that Najera is a plodder (even before he fractured his leg not that long ago. But if you don't contain Brand, Camby is going to split his time between Brand and Kamen and you are going to get your ass handed to you once again. Play a rotation of Najera, Evans and K-Mart and keep Elson as a brief spare for Camby--match him up with Kamen, who is not quite as strong.

Other hit-and-run observations about this series:

The much anticipated matchup between Corey Maggette and Carmelo Anthony (well, at least I was excited about it) has been a bust, with Anthony again finishing a distant third to Lebron and Wade in their inevitable comparisons from that draft class and Maggette not being able to defend anybody. 'Melo is a great shooter but went goose-eggs from the field during crunch time in Game One, then committed a series of quick fouls that doomed the Nugs in Game Two. Maggette has the worst plus/minus of anybody in the series despite playing for the team that has won twice--defensive specialist Quentin Ross and mad-gunner turned unlikely team guy Cuttino Mobley have been far better options.

Also Sam Cassell provided excellent veteran leadership in Game One, but is beginning to take that role a little too seriously, regularly calling out teammates for any errors he perceives. Sammy is a marvelous asset in this series, but the more he yaks to his mates the worse he is going to look when Earl Boykins finds his shot and teams with Andre Miller (who had a great Game One) to dismantle Cassell's matador D as the series shifts to Denver.

By the end of this series, Kamen is going to be one of those guys who has been called underrated so often that he will actually not be underrated any more. And yes, he has been a stud--his outplaying Camby in Game One has been the single most important factor in this series thus far.

3.Apologies to Kobe Anyone who knows me and even casually reads my stuff, knows I am no fan of Kobe Bryant. So, to keep with the macro-micro prediction theme, while I was correct in the macro for thinking the Suns will eclipse the Lakers, I said LA would only make it competitive if Odom got off and Kobe enabled it, allowing the Lakers to play as a team... and that that wasn't going to happen.

Well, it did happen. Game One of the Lakers-Suns has been the most entertaining playoffs hoops thus far, in large part because wily Phil Jackson totally went against type and had the Lakers sharing the ball (all their starters were double figures). Odom crashed the boards and was vitally involved and LA very nearly pulled off the upset. Kobe? All the newspaper stories wanted to dwell on his "poor" shooting performance. And while it was true that he didn't have a great night putting the ball in the hole (save for a gorgeous, deadly trey from about five feet behind the arc in the last two minutes), he played a marvelous team game and get everyone gelling. If he can continue to play that way *and* find his shot, the Lakers have a much better chance than I anticipated. What I don't know is how big of an "if" that is. In other words, is Kobe most accurate only when he is most selfish? Some guys are just that way, and if it is true of Kobe, than the Lakers may be forced to revert to their star going off for 45-60 points and having their team go down in flames and everyone proclaims the greatness of Kobe.

I'm proclaiming the unselfishness of Kobe in Game One, and offering my apology. It was a pleasure to watch.

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