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Playoff Prospectus (04/29)

April 29, 2012
Playoff Prospectus
An Injury, a Blowout and an Upset

by Bradford Doolittle


at Chicago 103, Philadelphia 91 (Chicago leads 1-0)
Pace: 93.8
Offensive Ratings: Chicago 109.8, Philadelphia 97.0

It almost seems pointless to recap this game, because nothing that happened in it really matters. But we'll touch on it anyway.

The good news for the Bulls was that they looked fantastic, especially on the offensive end. All of my pre-series concerns about the first unit's lack of continuity appeared to be misdirected. Derrick Rose moved well and showed plenty of explosion when he had to. Rip Hamilton fit like a glove, scoring 19 points on seven shots and posting a team-best +15 plus-minus. The Bulls' bench outplayed their counterparts, and Chicago played with a comfortable advantage for the whole game. Every Bulls player that appeared in the game had a positive plus-minus total.

The Sixers' best stretch came on a late 13-4 that began when they were 20 points behind. But it was that run that convinced Tom Thibodeau to leave his starters on the floor, and that's when the Bulls' planned postseason narrative was wadded up and discarded like a bad first draft. From here on, we'll try to isolate what happened from Rose's effect on the game. That's not going to be easy, as he played 37 minutes and nearly had a triple-double.

The biggest concern defensively for Doug Collins was probably the distribution of Chicago's shots. Nearly a third of the Bulls' looks came at the rim. This was against a team that finished second in the league in limiting looks in the restricted area. A lot of the damage came on the boards. The Bulls converted 10 offensive rebounds into 20 second-chance points. For Chicago, that's business as usual. The Bulls are the best offensive rebounding team in the league. But the Sixers were the fourth-best squad on the defensive glass, and Collins had to be hoping for a better showing.

The Bulls got too many open looks from simple pin-down screens, and they were shooting well, hitting 50 percent from midrange. Thibodeau did a great job of calling plays that provided plenty of obstacles for the Sixers' defenders, and they didn't do a good job of getting around them. Philly got frustrated in the second half and started getting grabby on the defensive end. In one sequence, Andre Iguodala pulled Kyle Korver down to the floor on a play when the sharpshooter was supposed to curl around an array of screeners. Iguodala continued to put his hands on Korver even after he managed to receive the ball. He got away with it, too, so Korver desperately shuffled the ball to Rose, who drilled a 28-footer as the shot clock expired. That's the kind of day it was for the Sixers.

The Sixers fared pretty well on the offensive end, at least when Jrue Holiday wasn't on the floor. Holiday took a team-high 18 shots, half of them coming at the rim. Too often, he tried to force the action, though, taking some wild shots off of penetration. He hit just 4 of 9 at the rim, and just 3 of 9 on jump shots. That still doesn't explain his -25 plus-minus rating. The Sixers averaged .84 points per possessions with Holiday on the floor; without him, they averaged 1.28. Lou Williams, who shot just 1 for 6, at least managed to stay out of the way for the most part and had the only positive plus-minus on the roster.

Going forward, the Sixers are going to have to force more turnovers and run off them. The halfcourt is just too much of a grind against the Chicago defense, and that's not going to change even with Rose absent. The Sixers couldn't get good shots, nor could they finish in penetration. On the other end, if the Sixers don't clean up the defensive boards, this is going to be a short series.

at Miami 100, New York 67 (Miami leads 1-0)
Pace: 82.4
Offensive Ratings: Miami 121.4, New York 81.4

The Heat went into the series as heavy favorites, but it's doubtful anybody really expected Game One to turn into such a blood-letting. You can't trace such a dominant result to any one positional matchup, but you can't help but focus on the disparate performances of Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James. During the first three quarters of Saturday's game, James scored 32 points on 14 shots; Anthony had 11 on 15. The Knicks simply can't survive that kind of disparity. The Knicks were minus-35 with Anthony on the floor.

This was total domination. Miami had 34 free throw attempts to New York's 11. Only six teams attempted more free throws than the Knicks during the regular season. The Knicks committed a staggering 27 turnovers, leading to 38 Miami points. It wasn't the resulting breakouts that killed New York, it was all the extra opportunities. Despite the fact that Miami had so many more free throw possessions, the teams still finished with the same number of field-goal attempts.

Looking ahead, the Knicks are going have to find a way to into its offense so that Anthony can take advantage of his isolation skills and, ideally, attack James and get him into foul trouble. Almost a quarter of the Knicks' plays were on isolation on Saturday, and they averaged just .65 points on those sets. The Knicks shot just 11 for 39 outside the lane and just 4 for 21 from midrange, so they can chalk some of the rout to a bad-shooting day. Miami gets a lot of the credit for that, but it's not unrealistic to expect a bounce-back in that regard.

The turnovers are a bigger problem. The Knicks are right back where they were pre-Jeremy Lin, when the lack of point guard play killed them in the halfcourt. Anthony was terrific down the stretch this season after Lin got hurt, but James looked like he can pretty much shut Anthony down. Now that Iman Shumpert is out and Lin isn't ready to come back, New York will be relying on Baron Davis and, gasp, Mike Bibby. Good luck with that.

Orlando 81, at Indiana 77 (Orlando leads 1-0)
Pace: 86.0
Offensive Ratings: Orlando 94.2, Indiana 89.5

Could we be seeing the Ewing Effect in action? The Magic really had no business beating the Pacers on Saturday but it did just that, scoring the last 11 points of the game and holding Indiana scoreless for the last four minutes. Dwight Howard or not, Orlando has seized the homecourt advantage in this series.

The game was plodding, ugly, physical, whatever you want to call it. Both teams shot under 40 percent, but the Magic hit 9 of 24 from three-point range, including 2 of 3 during that closing run. Meanwhile, the Pacers went 0 for 9 to finish, missing four three-pointers and four shots at the rim. During the last minute, with the score still within possession, Indiana failed to get a quality shot.

The first possession came after a Frank Vogel timeout. They tried to run a side pick-and-pop with Danny Granger screening for Darren Collison, with Paul George curling around a pair of screens by the Pacers' big men on the weak side. Either Granger didn't set a good screen, or Collison didn't use it well, because the result was that Granger just kind of drifted to the corner, with nothing to prevent Quentin Richardson from sticking with him. Meanwhile, Jason Richardson did a good job of hanging with George through all the traffic, though either by design or lack of execution, neither Roy Hibbert nor David West really set much of a weak-side screen. In the end with no other recourse, Collison simply forced a contested two-point jumper and missed.

At least Indiana got a shot on that possession. After Earl Clark missed two free throws to give the Pacers another chance, Vogel took another timeout. Granger received the inbounds pass, with Glen Davis switched out onto him well out on the floor. Davis moved his feet, sticking with Granger, who was trying to get set to take a three. In doing so, he shuffled his feet and was called for traveling. J.J. Redick then iced the game with a free throw.

Despite a gimpy ankle, Davis was terrific with 16 points and 13 rebounds. He took 20 shots, but that's okay -- without Howard around, the Magic need somebody to do some work inside the arc to open whatever three-point looks Stan Van Gundy's shooters can muster. Davis shot 4 for 10 both from midrange and in the restricted area. You'd like to see him do better with the latter, but that's always been an issue for him. He's at a huge size disadvantage in his matchup with Roy Hibbert, who blocked nine shots on Saturday.

The offensive hero for the Magic was Jason Richardson, who hit five three-pointers, including two big ones down the stretch. Jameer Nelson chipped in with 17 points and nine assists.

It was a disappointing afternoon for the Indiana offense, which ranked ninth in the league during the regular season. Hibbert shot just 3 of 11 and just 3 of 7 in the restricted area even though the Magic don't have a shot blocker. (Though, Clark came off the bench and blocked four shots.) David West was efficient enough, but Granger and George both had off-days shooting. That's going to happen.

The bigger concern for Vogel is his point guard play. The position has become increasingly unsettled as the season has progressed and he has vacillated between Collison and George Hill. They split minutes fairly evenly on Saturday. Neither played especially well, combining to shoot 3 of 14. Neither player committed a turnover. It seems like as the playoffs progress, Vogel is going to have to commit to one player or the other for big minutes, for continuity's sake. Unfortunately, it's unclear which one would be better to commit to. On Saturday, they had virtually identical effects on both ends of the court. Whether it's Collison, Hill, A.J. Price or Lance Stephenson, the Pacers have to get better point guard play.

Follow Bradford Doolittle on Twitter.

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

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