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April 19, 2010
Playoff Prospectus
The Blazers Steal One

by Kevin Pelton

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Portland 105, at Phoenix 100 (Portland leads 1-0)
Pace: 90.6
Offensive Ratings: Portland 114.4, Phoenix 112.0

The opening weekend of the 2010 NBA Playoffs were in danger of coming and going without a standout game before the Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns delivered a thriller on Sunday evening that ended with the undermanned Blazers becoming the first team to win a game on the road.

There was no shortage of heroes from Portland's perspective, but the win started with something simple but crucial: transition defense. The Suns, who averaged 15.8 fast-break points during the regular season per teamrankings.com, had four in this game. The 91-possesion pace split the difference between Phoenix's and Portland's regular-season rankings, but for the most part the game was played in the half court, which was crucial for the Blazers.

Portland relied heavily on the 30-something duo that has carried the team down the stretch, point guard Andre Miller and center Marcus Camby. Miller got where he wanted on the court all night long, finishing in the paint and even throwing in a rare three-pointer as part of a 31-point outing that also included eight assists. Camby controlled the interior defensively, holding Amar'e Stoudemire (18 points on 8-of-19 shooting) in check while also managing to block three shots and pull down 17 boards.

We had a pretty good idea Miller and LaMarcus Aldridge (22 points) would be able to score for the Blazers, but the team needed someone else to step up without Brandon Roy in the lineup. As it turned out, a pair of second-year players did. Nicolas Batum had an efficient 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting, providing a scoring threat throughout the evening. But nobody was more crucial than Jerryd Bayless. Bayless was awful late in the third quarter, taking three jumpers early in the shot clock. When the fourth period came, however, Bayless found the right mix of aggression and team play. His ability to get to the basket and to the free throw line off the dribble was devastating, and Bayless scored 10 of his 18 points in the final quarter.

No matter whether Miller or Batum was on Steve Nash, the Phoenix point guard was difficult to stop. He scored a team-high 25 points on 19 shooting possessions. Nobody else got off for the Suns, who enjoyed their most success with their reserves in the game during the late first and early second quarters. Phoenix wasn't bad on offense--and the Suns' three-point percentage looked a lot better before they shot 1-of-7 in an attempt to rally in the final two minutes, including Nash missing a shot that could have tied the game in the closing seconds--but wasn't great either.

Alvin Gentry may have to reconsider whether he can continue to start Jarron Collins at center. Clearly, Gentry doesn't want to mess with the rotation that has Louis Amundson and Channing Frye both coming off the bench up front, but Collins' presence hampers Phoenix's ability to start well on offense. The Suns were -4 in Collins' 11 minutes, including going down five early in the game, and in a matchup as closely contested as this was, those points matter. From the Blazers' perspective, no complaints. They got the one they wanted to get in the Valley of the Sun, and surely surprised people who wrote them off after Roy's injury. This same formula may not work again in Game Two, but Portland will hope for better efforts from Aldridge and Rudy Fernandez (largely invisible in 28 minutes) with the aim of stealing another road win.

at L.A. Lakers 87, Oklahoma City 79 (Lakers lead 1-0)
Pace: 80.8
Offensive Ratings: L.A. Lakers 105.8, Oklahoma City 99.7

If the Los Angeles Lakers are going to defend their championship, they're going to have to do it with defense. The Lakers showed just that kind of ability in the opening game of their series with the Oklahoma City Thunder, limiting the Thunder to less than a point per possession in an 87-79 Game One win that was played at a grinding pace.

The Lakers keyed their defense on Kevin Durant and did an excellent job of containing the Thunder's superstar. Despite Phil Jackson's pre-series protests, Durant did get to the free throw line for 11 attempts, but he was 6-of-16 on two-point attempts and 1-of-8 from beyond the arc, and it's tough to imagine Oklahoma City winning games in this series without getting far more production from Durant. The Thunder had more success in the second half posting Durant up near the elbow and having him operate from there, but Ron Artest followed him every step of the way and the Lakers were set up to offer help when needed.

As problematic for Oklahoma City was Jeff Green's 4-of-12 shooting. Green was typically the man left open when the Lakers brought a third defender over to help against the pick-and-roll, but he could not take advantage. Thabo Sefolosha was a complete offensive non-factor, leaving Kobe Bryant to roam on defense. Sefolosha was excellent defensively against Bryant, but the need to create more scoring and matchup issues in the frontcourt meant he sat on the bench the entire fourth quarter.

The only offense the Thunder found was Russell Westbrook. As expected, Westbrook was able to exploit the Lakers' weakness defending quicker guards and get to the rim. He was also problematic in transition, especially during the third quarter when both teams were bogged down on offense. The Lakers will surely emphasize stopping Westbrook in the open court, though he blew by Derek Fisher so easily in those situations it will be challenging to do.

The news was less positive for the Lakers on offense, where they were little better than Oklahoma City. The successful return of Andrew Bynum, who betrayed few signs of rust in his first game action since March 19, gave the Lakers a huge size advantage in the frontcourt--especially with the two starting lineups on the floor, which is why Green slid from the four to the three down the stretch. But Bynum and Pau Gasol were in and out of the Lakers' offense, and Bynum ended up using just 11 possessions--as many as Artest and fewer than Derek Fisher (12). Naturally, Bryant used a team-high 25 possessions, scoring 21 points on them.

It's good for the Lakers to know they can win an ugly game like this, and certainly their improved defense will be a big part of their ultimate postseason success or failure, but at some point they are going to have to get their offense figured out to get where they want to go.

at Orlando 98, Charlotte 89 (Orlando leads 1-0)
Pace: 84.6
Offensive Ratings: Orlando 117.5, Charlotte 103.8

Two different games: All Orlando Magic in the first half, and a scrappy Charlotte Bobcats comeback in the second half. The biggest difference was Dwight Howard's foul trouble. You'll remember from last spring that one of the keys to the Magic's run to the NBA Finals was Marcin Gortat's ability to step in and maintain if not elevate the team's level of play when Howard was sidelined by fouls. Not so in this game.

Orlando's lead was an even 20 points four minutes into the second half when Howard picked up his fourth foul and was replaced by Gortat. Charlotte's perimeter players had already been making a beeline for the bucket, hoping to draw Howard fouls but more often getting their shots blocked. With Howard out, the lane opened up, and the Magic's offense also stalled. The Bobcats went on a 17-4 run and were within 10 by the end of the third quarter.

The changes in the game went beyond Howard; his presence didn't make a huge difference either way in the fourth quarter, as Orlando largely traded scores with Charlotte to maintain the lead. The point guard battle was also a key factor. In the first half, Jameer Nelson torched the Bobcats, successfully operating against Boris Diaw after Charlotte switched the pick-and-roll. Nelson had 24 at halftime, carrying the Magic offense, but some of those same outside looks didn't fall in the second half and he was unable to get to the rim, finishing with 32 points. Felton didn't score until the 3:17 mark of the second quarter, but got rolling in the second half, making big shots and putting up 14 of his 19 points.

Orlando also got key contributions from Rashard Lewis and J.J. Redick. Lewis was successful off the dribble in addition to knocking down a trio of three-pointers and scored 19 points. Redick stepped in for Vince Carter when the Magic's starting shooting guard was in foul trouble and, frankly, was much better. Carter looked to drive but forced the action much of the night. His final stat line--12 points on 4-of-19 shooting--was reminiscent of what he did in the first half of the season. Redick made some big buckets in the fourth quarter and scored 10 points in 19 minutes.

For the Bobcats, Gerald Wallace was brilliant. He completely controlled the defensive glass, snatching 16 defensive rebounds, and had the most free throw attempts of anyone (13) in a game that saw both teams get to the line frequently.

The big question going forward for Charlotte is how Stephen Jackson will deal with the hyperextended left knee he suffered just before the halftime buzzer. He played 15 minutes in the second half, but Larry Brown held him out after pulling him with nine minutes left to play. The drop-off to Larry Hughes at shooting guard is considerable, but Jackson all but guaranteed he'd play in Game Two on Wednesday. Besides that, both teams can take positives from the way they played for extended stretches, and I'm not sure we'll see a lot of changes either way for Game Two.

at Dallas 100, San Antonio 94 (Dallas leads 1-0)
Pace: 88.4
Offensive Ratings: Dallas 114.5, San Antonio 105.1

I'll be honest. I figured the San Antonio Spurs could contain Dirk Nowitzki without a lot of double-team help thanks to Antonio McDyess' ability to play him physically and contest his shots. Certainly, that was not the case in Game One. Nowitzki shredded the San Antonio defense, scoring 36 points on 20 possessions. Nowitzki was about as accurate as possible, missing twice in 14 attempts from the field--all of them twos--and going 12-of-12 from the free throw line.

Nowitzki's outburst allowed the Dallas Mavericks to overcome a vintage performance from the Spurs' big three of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, who combined for 71 of the team's 94 points. Their production--and the limited contributions by other San Antonio players--was a throwback to the 2008 postseason, when the Spurs' big three carried them into the Western Conference Finals. But overall, San Antonio's offensive output was only average.

Richard Jefferson certainly figures to play a larger role for the Spurs in the future. He attempted just four shots in 32 minutes of action, scoring four points. George Hill started and played 18 minutes, but he was scoreless playing on a sprained right ankle. Matt Bonner couldn't get his shot to fall. DeJuan Blair lasted just eight minutes, during which San Antonio was outscored by six points. That left Antonio McDyess (10 points) as the only other offensive contributor for the Spurs.

On the other side, Rick Carlisle tightened his rotation to a group of eight veterans that did not include rookie Rodrigue Beaubois (DeShawn Stevenson, the ninth man to see action, played seven seconds as a defensive sub at the end of the first quarter). Carlisle limited Jason Terry's minutes in favor of heavy action for Caron Butler (40 minutes), and the bigger lineup allowed the Mavericks more flexibility in matching up with Manu Ginobili.

The other strategic aspect of the game worth discussing is Gregg Popovich's decision to intentionally foul Erick Dampier on three consecutive possessions late in the third quarter. Except as a way to change the flow of the game--and the Mavericks had recently scored seven straight points, but Duncan had just ended that run--"Hack-a-Dampier" is tough to justify. The Dallas center shot 60.4 percent from the free throw line, which translates into at least a 120.8 Offensive Rating, not counting offensive rebounds--better than the Mavericks managed even on a good scoring day. I'm dubious about the intentional foul in the best of circumstances, and it doesn't seem to make much sense with Dampier.

G1: L.A. Lakers 87, Oklahoma City 79 (Lakers lead 1-0)
OKC  13  26  17  23 - 79
LAL  27  20  17  23 - 87
THUNDER       Pace   oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA TO%  TCHS
First Quarter   20   66.3  .289  .231  .105  .153  2.96
Second Quarter  24  108.9  .676  .250  .176  .251  5.22
Third Quarter   21   81.8  .333  .100  .278  .144  3.17
Fourth Quarter  21  108.0  .389  .429  .500  .141  4.51
-------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF      43   89.7  .472  .238  .139  .207  4.09
SECOND HALF     42   95.1  .361  .222  .389  .078  3.83
-------------------------------------------------------
FINAL           86   92.3  .417  .237  .264  .175  3.96
=======================================================
LAKERS        Pace   oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA TO%  TCHS
First Quarter   20  137.6  .614  .375  .000  .102  3.96
Second Quarter  24   83.8  .295  .333  .318  .210  4.79
Third Quarter   21   81.8  .389  .273  .167  .144  3.66
Fourth Quarter  21  108.0  .563  .250  .313  .188  3.72
-------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF      43  108.1  .455  .350  .159  .161  4.38
SECOND HALF     42   95.1  .471  .278  .235  .089  3.67
-------------------------------------------------------
FINAL           86  101.7  .462  .308  .192  .164  4.03
=======================================================

G1: Orlando 98,  Charlotte 89 (Magic leads 1-0)
CHA  20  23  23  23 - 89
ORL  31  28  17  22 - 98
BOBCATS       Pace   oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA TO%  TCHS
First Quarter   20   99.0  .455  .333  .000  .149  5.51
Second Quarter  20  115.7  .500  .375  .211  .151  5.21
Third Quarter   22  103.6  .600  .200 1.100  .315  3.48
Fourth Quarter  20  112.8  .450  .182  .250  .049  4.22
-------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF      40  107.3  .476  .350  .098  .150  5.36
SECOND HALF     43  108.0  .500  .143  .533  .104  3.90
-------------------------------------------------------
FINAL           83  107.7  .486  .278  .282  .169  4.61
=======================================================
MAGIC         Pace   oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA TO%  TCHS
First Quarter   20  153.5  .643  .300  .190  .000  3.24
Second Quarter  20  140.9  .813  .000  .125  .101  4.24
Third Quarter   22   76.6  .286  .214  .238  .135  3.91
Fourth Quarter  20  107.9  .438  .222  .500  .098  3.70
-------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF      40  147.2  .716  .188  .162  .050  3.74
SECOND HALF     43   91.6  .351  .278  .351  .062  3.80
-------------------------------------------------------
FINAL           83  118.6  .534  .205  .257  .085  3.77
=======================================================

G1: Dallas 100, San Antonio 94 (Mavericks lead 1-0)
SAS  18  27  24  25 -  94
DAL  23  27  26  24 - 100
SPURS         Pace   oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA TO%  TCHS
First Quarter   23   78.0  .450  .000  .000  .173  3.47
Second Quarter  23  117.3  .735  .333  .118  .304  5.16
Third Quarter   23  102.2  .478  .154  .087  .128  6.31
Fourth Quarter  19  133.0  .472  .400  .444  .160  3.31
-------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF      46   97.6  .581  .118  .054  .239  4.31
SECOND HALF     42  115.9  .476  .333  .244  .078  4.83
-------------------------------------------------------
FINAL           88  106.4  .526  .200  .154  .192  4.56
=======================================================
MAVERICKS     Pace   oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA TO%  TCHS
First Quarter   23   99.7  .386  .286  .273  .130  4.55
Second Quarter  23  117.3  .500  .364  .227  .174  5.05
Third Quarter   23  110.7  .625  .125  .917  .256  5.53
Fourth Quarter  19  127.7  .583  .444  .167  .106  6.02
-------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF      46  108.5  .443  .320  .250  .152  4.80
SECOND HALF     42  118.3  .600  .227  .467  .098  5.82
-------------------------------------------------------
FINAL           88  113.2  .507  .310  .338  .170  5.29
=======================================================

G1: Portland 105, Phoenix 100 (Trail Blazers lead 1-0)
POR  25  19  26  35 - 105
PHX  24  19  29  28 - 100
PORTLAND      Pace   oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA TO%  TCHS
First Quarter   23  111.1  .543  .300  .000  .178  5.19
Second Quarter  21   90.7  .350  .364  .250  .191  3.91
Third Quarter   23  114.6  .525  .000  .250  .044  4.15
Fourth Quarter  24  143.3  .611  .273  .722  .082  4.51
-------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF      43  101.3  .453  .333  .116  .184  4.55
SECOND HALF     47  129.5  .566  .158  .474  .036  4.34
-------------------------------------------------------
FINAL           91  115.9  .506  .250  .284  .121  4.44
=======================================================
PHOENIX       Pace   oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA TO%  TCHS
First Quarter   23  106.7  .458  .333  .083  .133  4.85
Second Quarter  21   90.7  .475  .273  .000  .191  4.45
Third Quarter   23  127.8  .543  .273  .174  .044  5.87
Fourth Quarter  24  114.6  .438  .429  .292  .164  4.38
-------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF      43   99.0  .466  .308  .045  .161  4.65
SECOND HALF     47  121.0  .489  .360  .234  .060  5.11
-------------------------------------------------------
FINAL           91  110.4  .478  .333  .143  .132  4.89
=======================================================

Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kpelton.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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