Saturday, May 19, 2007

What Happened to Momentum

I admit there is no shortage of NBA bashing in this column, but the quality of play warrants it. Close to home, the Nets-Cavs series is setting back the league to the days of a few years ago, when breaking 80 was an accomplishment. The Nets scored six points in the entire fourth quarter on Wednesday and still won. That’s six, as in three baskets, the entire quarter. An average team should be able to score about twenty points, but if the opposition only scores six a playoff team with a supposed great offensive force should be able to capitalize. Not in this league.

Outside that quarter the Nets were strong, with the Big Three of Kidd, Carter and Jefferson carrying the load. After losing Game Four I figured the Nets were done. The Cavs showed they lack that killer instinct though. Then after Game Five I, and all the so-called experts, had the charters ready to head back to Cleveland for a Game Seven, but the Nets somehow laid an egg. If Vince Carter thinks he should opt out of his contract to get max money, his agent should sit him down and watch last nights game on tape. A team that gives Carter max money will wind up muddled in salary cap hell, ala the Knicks. He is not a big game player, he is not an all-around player, and frankly, having lost some athleticism with age, he is not a great player. Good, not great. We can save the off season changes for another day, but last night’s effort, down by twenty points at times, at home, coming off a big win, was embarrassing. If not for Jason Kidd, the Nets never even make this game close

The other side of the East draw saw the same inability to maintain any momentum. After jumping out 3-0 in dominating fashion, the Pistons stopped playing. They transformed into the Grizzlies for two games, while the Bulls finally played as they are capable, not only winning, but destroying Detroit. But once you thought the Bulls, coming back home after two convincing wins, would send the series to a deciding game, back comes Detroit. With the Cavs and Nets I simply think it was a lack of team ability and sense of the moment when they did not capitalize on the momentum, but with Detroit it was just complacency after burying the Bulls. They turned it back on in Game Six and ended any upset thoughts. If they do not dominate Cleveland I will be shocked. The Cavs are weak top to bottom, LeBron is showing holes in his game, and if any defense can shut down a great player this side of Bruce Bowen its Detroit. James is simply not an elite player yet, in the ilk of Kobe or MJ.

Out West, the infamous leaving the bench rule will be the talk of the playoffs. My view, it stinks for the Suns, but there is precedent, there is no debating the rule was broken, you have to suspend Stoudemire and Diag. Protecting the integrity of the series, ruining it for the fans, hurting the league; all these arguments are well and good, but try telling that to Knicks fans, who will never forget that series that the bench rule robbed them of ten years ago.

Suspensions aside, the Suns had no answer for Duncan. He was his usual methodical, unstoppable self offensively in the post, drawing double teams and either dishing to open shooters, or spinning away from the double for an easy bank shot, but he broke the Suns back with his work on the boards. Duncan will never be in the MVP discussion again because he coasts during the season, letting his team do the heavy lifting. Come playoff time, though, Duncan repeatedly shows he is right there in the discussion for best player in the league, whether its his unbelievable performance in a losing effort in Game 7 against Dallas last season, or dominance against the Suns to close out the series last night. Besides Duncan, the defensive effort of Bruce Bowen, dirty play or not, against Steve Nash warrants mention.

Until someone proves me wrong, I still think this series was for the title. Unfortunately for the NBA, the conference finals match-ups look more like mismatches than epic battles. Not exactly the way to draw fan interest and boost ratings. The league needs LeBron to take his game to the next level and challenge the Pistons, but I am not holding my breath. Look for San Antonio and Detroit to cruise into a Finals rematch.


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