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May 21, 2010
Playoff Prospectus
Down in a Hole

by Bradford Doolittle

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Celtics 95, Magic 92 (Celtics lead 2-0)

Lakers 124, Suns 112 (Lakers lead 2-0)

From a historical perspective, perhaps we should have seen this coming: Celtics versus Lakers in the Finals for the 12th time in NBA annals. Hasn't happened yet, but heading into the weekend, it sure feels like that's where everything is headed. The head-to-head championship showdowns between the league's most-successful franchises have tended to come in clusters. They met seven times in 11 years during a period ending in 1969. They met three times in four years ending in 1987. So maybe we should have known that 2008 wouldn't stand alone in the renewal of this epic rivalry. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. This year's conference finals aren't in the bag yet, but if the Suns and/or the Magic are going to spoil the Lakers-Celtics return match, the next two days are crucial.

Here are some takeaways from the last two games as we head into tonight's Game 3 in Boston and tomorrow's in Phoenix:

Lakers' ball movement has been fantastic.
I'm not going go too much into what the Lakers have been doing offensively because Kevin already has that topic thoroughly covered. However, I do want to take a paragraph to marvel at how well L.A. has passed the basketball in this series. Through two games, the Lakers are averaging just over six touches per minute, which is six percent better than the league-leading figure posted by the Jazz during the regular season and 21 percent better than the Lakers' mark prior to the playoffs. In the first quarter of Game 2, the Lakers were at 8.2 touches/minute--an outrageous figure--as L.A rolled up 11 assists on 14 made field goals. Touches is merely an estimate of how frequently a team moves the ball and is more a descriptive metric than an evaluative one. While touches correlate well with efficient offense, I'm not completely sold on the causality of one leading to the other. In other words, touches tell us about how a team is playing, but not necessarily how well. In the Lakers' case, their high touches figure indicates that they are more than willing to move the ball to their secondary scorers if Phoenix overplays Kobe Bryant or Pau Gasol. The Lakers rolled up 1.3 points per possession in Game 2 only partially because of Kobe and Pau. The Suns were in fact just as much done in by the ultra-efficient games posted by Ron Artest, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown.

Channing Frye has to get it going.
Lamar Odom's presence in this series has rendered Channing Frye useless. This comes on the heels of Frye being one the keys to Phoenix's sweep of San Antonio in the second round. Frye needs to become a positive factor for the Suns. He's 1-of-13 from the floor in the first two games. Moreover, he needs to do a better job of defending. He's not a lock-down interior defender by any stretch, but he does have length and athleticism and he's got to do a better job of covering the Lakers' big men.

Suns' bench has to outplay the Lakers' second unit.
One of the main advantages I saw in Phoenix's favor entering the series was in the matchup of second units. As it's turned out, the Odom-led Lakers bench has outscored Phoenix's backups in both games. Jared Dudley had a big Game 2, but struggled in the series opener. Goran Dragic and Leandro Barbosa were solid in the first game, but struggled in the second, and we've already covered Frye's foibles. These guys need to be clicking at the same time because it's tough enough for the Suns to contend with Kobe and Pau--if they're getting burned by Farmar and Brown as well, it's tough to see how the Suns have a chance in this series. One player who could be a bigger factor, if Alvin Gentry would dare to increase his minutes, is Louis Amundson. To me, the Suns have to try to go with more straight-up single coverage of Gasol and Andrew Bynum. It might backfire, but right now, the Suns aren't taking away anything. At least if Amundson could spell Stoudemire for longer stretches, he might be able to help beat on Gasol a bit more.

Suns need to stay at home against perimeter shooters.
The aforementioned thought on single-coverage of L.A.'s bigs is tied to the need for the Suns to stay at home against the Lakers' three-points shooters. The Lakers are 17-of-33 from three-point land in the first two games. That can't continue.

More Marcin.
It's apparent that the Celtics are not going to allow Rashard Lewis to become a big factor in this series. If that trend seems to be continuing in Game 3, I'd like to see Stan Van Gundy give more time to Marcin Gortat, who has been a spark whenever he's stepped on the floor in the first two games. I don't always love a Gortant/Dwight Howard pairing on the Magic frontline, but I do like it against the Celtics' starting unit. Orlando can dominate the glass and as long as Kevin Garnett is struggling with his jump shot, Gortat should be able to contend with him on the defensive end. So far, it's felt like Van Gundy has struggled to adjust to what Doc Rivers (or Tom Thibodeau, as the case may be) has thrown at him defensively. Going really big may force Doc to make some unwanted adjustments.

Magic need more from their threes.
Paul Pierce was dominant in Game 2, and has been productive and efficient in both games of the series. He talked in his postgame interview how he allowed his offense in the previous series because he had to contend with LeBron James at the other end. There is a message here: The Magic need one of their threes to make Pierce work on defense. Matt Barnes was 2-of-9 and Mickael Pietrus 1-of-3 in Game 2; Pietrus is the one you'd like to see step up his game. Orlando played Vince Carter a lot at three the as well, as J.J. Redick got 34 minutes off the bench in the backcourt. I just don't like a Pierce-Carter matchup for Orlando and am kind of surprised Carter has been matched against him as often as he has.

Howard got too deep on his post-ups.
There was obviously quite a difference between Dwight Howard's production between Games 1 and 2 in terms of production and efficiency. I though the big difference was that Howard was catching the ball on the blocks in better scoring position. The one back-to-the-basket move he has is that little right-hand jump hook and he burned the Celtics with that on Tuesday. Park of the issue was Kendrick Perkins' limited minutes because of foul trouble. Perkins needs to stay on the floor for more than 15 minutes, or Howard could really go nuts.

Rondo is whomping Nelson.
A lot of people pointed to the Rajon Rondo-Jameer Nelson matchup as being the deciding one in the series. I never really thought there was one matchup that was going to decide the series, but it's an important matchup, nonetheless. Even though Nelson outscored Rondo in the first game, I thought that in terms of actual impact on the game's bottom line, the two players were about equal and both needed to do better. Rondo did just that, but Nelson floundered. Now, entering Game 3, I have sort of joined the chorus in thinking that the head-to-head pairing of the two point guards needs to flip to Orlando's favor if they are going to be able to make a run in this series.

Had it with Carter.
I hate to continue my caterwauling about Vince Carter, but I just am not a fan of his game. With Ray Allen due for a big game on Boston's home floor, Carter is going to have to be on the attack. I know these two don't go head-to-head that often, but I still see the fates of the teams definitely tied to the results of these two players. And, frankly, I think that's bad news for Orlando.

BOS          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  23  116.3  .526  .333  .368  .215  5.03
Second Quarter 23  115.2  .455  .273  .273  .089  6.16
Third Quarter  21  117.4  .529  .286  .412  .094  4.12
Fourth Quarter 21   80.0  .469  .125  .125  .282  3.94
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     46  115.7  .488  .300  .317  .153  5.59
SECOND HALF    43   98.7  .500  .200  .273  .188  3.97
------------------------------------------------------
GAME 2         88  107.5  .493  .257  .297  .170  4.81
------------------------------------------------------
GAME 1         89  103.1  .486  .189  .270  .179  4.92         
SERIES         89  105.3  .490  .222  .284  .175  4.87
SEASON         89  111.0  .522  .228  .248  .157  5.21
======================================================
ORL          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  23  120.6  .476  .455  .381  .129  5.25
Second Quarter 23  101.9  .529  .333  .294  .221  5.21
Third Quarter  21   89.2  .294  .091  .529  .141  3.93
Fourth Quarter 21  103.5  .469  .125  .438  .141  4.27
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     46  111.4  .500  .400  .342  .175  5.23
SECOND HALF    43   96.4  .379  .143  .485  .141  4.06
------------------------------------------------------
GAME 2         88  104.1  .444  .256  .408  .158  4.67
------------------------------------------------------
GAME 1         89   98.6  .448  .326  .247  .202  3.68
SERIES         89  101.4  .446  .294  .324  .180  4.17
SEASON         90  114.3  .536  .246  .246  .152  4.79
======================================================
PHX          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  25   97.5  .500  .333  .200  .284  4.99
Second Quarter 25  128.4  .542  .167  .250  .040  6.73
Third Quarter  22  158.0  .705  .429  .136  .139  7.84
Fourth Quarter 24   92.9  .441  .125  .412  .253  4.87
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     50  113.0  .523  .238  .227  .161  5.86
SECOND HALF    45  123.8  .590  .267  .256  .199  6.38
------------------------------------------------------
GAME 2         95  118.2  .554  .250  .241  .179  6.11
------------------------------------------------------
GAME 1         92  116.9  .525  .250  .304  .142  5.56
SERIES         93  117.5  .540  .250  .272  .157  5.83
SEASON         93  118.2  .546  .276  .240  .151  5.33
======================================================
LAL          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  25  146.3  .646  .417  .208  .122  8.22
Second Quarter 25  116.4  .667  .250  .278  .201  5.44
Third Quarter  22  116.2  .556  .444  .278  .186  5.70
Fourth Quarter 24  143.5  .667  .125  .556  .084  6.46
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     50  131.2  .655  .350  .238  .161  6.83
SECOND HALF    45  130.5  .611  .313  .417  .133  6.04
------------------------------------------------------
GAME 2         95  130.9  .635  .324  .321  .148  6.45
------------------------------------------------------
GAME 1         92  139.8  .625  .333  .205  .098  5.61
SERIES         93  135.3  .630  .329  .259  .125  6.03
SEASON         91  110.8  .496  .277  .221  .142  5.00
======================================================

Data from My Synergy Sports was used to compile this report..

Follow Bradford on Twitter at @bbdoolittle.

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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Every Play Counts (05/21)

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