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April 28, 2009
Playoff Prospectus
What Was That?

by Kevin Pelton

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Atlanta 81, Miami 71 (Series tied 2-2)
Pace: 77.6
Offensive Ratings: Atlanta 103.6, Miami 92.1

Long-range shooting has been the difference-maker for the Miami Heat in this series. In Game One, Miami was 4-for-23 from beyond the arc and scored 64 points. In Games Two and Three, the Heat shot a combined 27-for-49 (55.1 percent) and cracked the century mark both times. Game Four saw Miami's three-point shooting run dry once again. The Heat shot 4-for-16 and struggled to score again.

Of course, a lot of that had to do with Dwyane Wade, who battled back spasms and the Atlanta defense. They combined to make a long night for Wade, who missed 17 of 26 shot attempts and was 1-for-8 from three-point range after making a combined 10 triples the previous two games. Miami's supporting cast didn't have enough to pick up for Wade. James Jones (19 points on eight shooting possessions, thanks in large part to a pair of four-point plays within a span of 11 seconds) was the only shooter to find the range, and Jermaine O'Neal continued his strong play with 20 points on 7-for-11 shooting. That was basically it; the rest of the team scored 10 points in 123 minutes. Ouch.

Atlanta's balanced scoring neatly contrasted the Heat's distribution. Six Hawks scored in double figures, and the team scarcely missed Marvin Williams as he missed his second straight game with a sprained right wrist. Al Horford got in foul trouble and was ably replaced by an inspired Zaza Pachulia, who put up 12 points and 18 rebounds, the latter mark tying his career high for any game.

Denver 121, New Orleans 63 (Denver leads 3-1)
Pace: 85.6
Offensive Ratings: Denver 139.7, New Orleans 74.5

Where did that come from? I ended up missing this entire game, and saw a score flash on ESPN later in the evening. I figured for a second it must be a misprint as I did the subtraction in my head, incredulous that the margin could really be what the screen said it was. Alas, this was all too real.

For the host Hornets, this was a perfect storm of ineptitude. Denver harassing Chris Paul into his worst night in recent memory (four points, six assists and six turnovers) would be bad enough by itself. The same goes for 2-for-15 three-point shooting, David West's invisible series (was this guy really an All-Star two months ago?), Peja Stojakovic's continuing effort to erase the good memories of his time in Sacramento with repeated bricks and Tyson Chandler's foul trouble. When Sean Marks--Sean Marks!--fails to make an impact in his seven minutes, the net result is an outcome that ties the largest loss in NBA postseason history.

Give Denver credit for giving New Orleans the necessary push to fall off a cliff of the Hornets' own creation. The Nuggets have been locked in throughout this series and now find themselves a win away from advancing for the first time in a decade and a half. (As a die-hard Sonics fan who was 12 at the time, I dare not speak of their last series win.) Carmelo Anthony had his best game of the postseason, another encouraging sign, and everyone else played well.

I think we must be careful about reading too much into one game, even a result as historic as this one. The talk about Byron Scott's job security is incredibly premature for a guy who was the toast of the city after leading New Orleans within a win of the Western Conference Finals a year ago. This series isn't quite over yet; as Ernie Johnson (half-jokingly) noted on Inside the NBA, when the Hawks lost to the Lakers by 58 points in the previous postseason beatdown of this magnitude, they rallied to win the next game. Only, as a reminder of how long it's been since we last saw this kind of result, that was the St. Louis Hawks and the Minneapolis Lakers. Yes, the road leads steeply uphill for the Hornets, and nothing we've seen in this series suggests they're ready to climb it.

L.A. Lakers 107, Utah 96 (L.A. Lakers win 4-1)
Pace: 92.8
Offensive Ratings: L.A. Lakers 115.6, Utah 103.2

I hope you did not try to adjust your TV sets during this game. You were not seeing a replay of Game Two, or even to a lesser extent Game One. The deciding game of the Lakers/Jazz series followed a script that has been well worn by this point: Lakers pull away to comfortable advantage, Utah rallies, Lakers make just enough plays to win. The point of contention is whether this is a concern for L.A. Charles Barkley asserted on Inside that the lackadaisical finishes will "bite them in the ass" as the level of competition improves. I'm not quite as worried. The Lakers have made an art form of doing enough to win, and they still managed to finish off this series in a comfortable five games. Now they'll sit back and cheer for the Blazers to extend their series with Houston and force the winner between those two teams to expend more energy.

Do give Utah credit for making things interesting in the fourth quarter. As the Jazz has often done under Jerry Sloan, Paul Millsap and Ronnie Price in particular showed how much can be done with pure effort. In this case, the result was a 16-2 run that got Lakers fans sweating. If Utah hadn't missed a couple of chippies, the effect of fatigue on the reserves obvious, who knows what might have happened. As it was, for the vast majority of this series the Jazz simply was a step behind the Lakers in a way that wasn't so dramatically true a year ago. Injuries? Personnel? I still don't have a good answer, but Utah will have to come up with one in navigating a tricky summer with Millsap scheduled to become a free agent and Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur having the ability to join him.

For the Lakers, Lamar Odom had 26 points and 10 rebounds to cap what was quietly a phenomenal series. Odom finished up with three straight double-doubles and averaged 17.8 points and 11.0 rebounds, shooting 62.7 percent from the field in the five games. Odom's play was a big reason Andrew Bynum's disappearance in this series was a non-story. That figures to change with the matchups going forward, especially if L.A. has to contend with Yao Ming in the next round.

Lastly, Bradford Doolittle wrote about Hot Rod Hundley's retirement in Unfiltered, but I wanted to quickly add a thought. Having done stats for Sonics radio broadcasts a couple years ago, I've interacted with most of the league's broadcasters at one point or another, and away from the mic they don't come any better than Hot Rod, who projects an air of unpretentious openness that belies his standout career as a player. He will be missed, and I wish him the best in a well-deserved retirement.

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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