Monday , May , 23 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis


Hi, all.

And then there were four. After weeks of blood, sweat and cheerleaders,
we’re left with the elite quartet that survived the first two rounds of the NBA
postseason, earning the opportunity to play for one of the most coveted prizes
in all of sport, the Larry O’Brien trophy. The seasons of four coaches,
forty-eight players, hundreds of team staff and millions of fans worldwide can
be destroyed by a dropped pass, foul or missed free throw. At this time of year,
a single steal, block or assist can put rings on fingers and players in the
history books. If this all sounds a little epic, it’s because it is.

<b>NBA Trash Talk</b>: <I>NBA PLAYOFF</I>“/></p>
<p><strong>Miami. Detroit. Phoenix. San Antonio.</strong></p>
<p><strong>  </strong>One of these four cities will soon be hosting a parade for the triumphant team, each player with a championship cap, a substantial cash bonus and a grin that would make Magic Johnson look like an Easter Island statue. Unfortunately, this year’s celebrations won’t include Mark Madsen’s stereotype-affirming dance floor efforts, but that’s unlikely to make the pudding any less sweet for the winners. </p>
<p>So, who’ll be riding the float, and who’ll go back to the drawing board? The outcome of the conference finals will narrow the field to two teams, and it is the matter of who is to make it through which concerns us now. </p>
<p><strong>Miami vs. Detroit</strong></p>
<p>Defence vs. defence. Both teams are renowned for guarding the paint with their life, which would normally make for low-scoring, post-oriented basketball. However, both Larry Brown and Stan Van Gundy are undoubtedly aware that they’ll need to put some points on the board to win games, which will make this series more than the war of attrition many analysts are expecting. </p>
<p> </p>
<h3>Let’s take a look at the match-ups by position:</h3>
<p><strong>Guards Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton vs. Damon Jones and Dwyane Wade<br />
<p>This is a tricky one to call. There’s no question that Miami has the best player of the four in Dwyane Wade, but Damon Jones may negate that on the defensive end. Though not a Dirkesque defender, Jones gives up nearly twenty pounds to Billups, who also has a noticeable speed advantage on the three-point specialist. Jones is useful as a spot-up shooter, and he knows how to capitalise on having two of the most potent scorers in the league on his side, but he is otherwise outclassed by his point guard counterpart. </p>
<p>As I noted last week, the man known as “The Flash” is playing the best basketball of his life this postseason, having put in dominant performances on both sides of the ball to lead his team through a pair of four-game series. Detroit is likely to try to cover him with the long-armed Tayshaun Prince, a stellar defender, but one who is known for having had troubles with smaller, quicker players in the past. While Wade shouldn’t have too many difficulties with Prince, it may be the Pistons’ smothering team defence which slows him down, especially given that they have never previously double-teamed Shaq for a significant period of time. His jumper is improving with each game he plays, but it is unlikely to compensate for the drives he is denied by clogged lanes and the Wallaces in the paint. Still, he is good for twenty-plus points a night, even if his offensive output doesn’t quite match that of the first two rounds. </p>
<p>The nature of Rip Hamilton’s game means that he does not suffer at the hands of a strong defensive squad as much as other players. It’s unlikely that Van Gundy will have Dwyane cover Hamilton, since that would leave his star player exhausted from having to run through or around what must amount to nearly a hundred picks a night. This leaves the Heat in something of a pickle, as putting Eddie Jones on Hamilton leaves the 6’4” Wade on a forward, most likely Prince, who has five inches on him. Van Gundy’s response may be to resort to periods of zone defence, although this would allow Detroit the three-point shot, which they are more than capable of hitting. </p>
<p><strong>Forwards Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace vs. Eddie Jones and Udonis Haslem</strong></p>
<p>Miami ‘s starting forwards give up a combined six inches to their opposite numbers, and this will be a major cause for concern for the Heat. In a series where every shot will be contested, second chances will assume an elevated importance, which means that a slight height advantage can make a big difference. Jones can hold his own against the majority of the league’s small forwards, but Prince is far younger and longer, giving him the immediate advantage. </p>
<p>Udonis manages to cope most nights through sheer tenacity, but that won’t be enough to hold a man three inches taller than he is, whose range extends right out to the three-point line. That said, Haslem has a slight advantage on the glass, and his dogged determination means that, though he is sometimes outplayed, he is rarely outclassed. Detroit has the upper hand at the forward spots, but it’s not as clear-cut as some would make out. </p>
<p><strong>Centre Ben Wallace vs. Shaquille O’Neal</strong></p>
<p>It’s Big Ben against The Big Everything, and, as the cliché goes, there can be only one winner. Even on a sore thigh, it can only be Shaq, the most dominant player ever and the man who abused Detroit in last year’s finals, hitting sixty percent of the few shots that Kobe permitted him. As previously mentioned, Larry Brown seldom chooses to double-team Diesel, allowing him to do his damage instead of leaving a member of his supporting cast free. </p>
<p>Simply put, O’Neal is the beast of beasts, the most imposing physical specimen in a league of Adonises. While there were whispers that he had lost some of his superpowers after a relatively poor showing against new Jersey and Washington , it was merely the result of his injury, which hampered him far more than he let on. Ben Wallace may have recently been named the league’s top defender, but if Shaq is at full health and decides to take over, there’s not much he can do to stop him. </p>
<p><strong>San Antonio vs. Phoenix</strong></p>
<p>The two deepest teams in the league finally face off in what promises to be one of the most interesting series in a long time, and my only regret is that they can’t both advance. Winners of their respective divisions, both teams have range, athleticism and an MVP on-board.</p>
<p> </p>
<h3>Let’s look at the head-to-head match-ups: </h3>
<p><strong>Guard Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili vs. Steve Nash and Jim Jackson </strong></p>
<p><strong>  </strong>These four are all inclined to score more than your average guards, even though they’re hardly lacking competent big men. The Spurs have the clear edge in terms of athleticism here, with Parker and the reckless Ginobili forming a breakneck partnership that rivals the speed of any in the league. While Jim Jackson may be stronger than Manu, that extra beef is no good if he can’t catch him. Similarly, Nash’s height advantage is counterbalanced by the fact that Parker makes Roadrunner look like Luc Longley. </p>
<p>However, while the foreign-born duo may be able to put up big numbers, they could still be outdone by Jackson and Nash, both of whom have been lighting teams up on the regular this postseason. Don’t be surprised to see something approaching a combined hundred points coming from these four guys in at least one game. </p>
<p><strong>Forward Bruce Bowen and Tim Duncan vs. Quentin Richardson and Shawn Marion </strong></p>
<p>A Tim Duncan with two healthy ankles would have meant that I needed to think for less than a nanosecond to give the Spurs the nod here, but even so I don’t see how Phoenix can hope to cope with The Big Fundamental. Expect to see Timmy D. hitting his usual array of bank-shots, jump-hooks and lay-ups while snatching a healthy crop of boards and taking up space in the defensive paint. Calm, calculating and consistent, Duncan might already have overtaken Karl Malone as the league’s greatest-ever power forward, and Phoenix will be at his mercy throughout the series. </p>
<p>Depending on his assignment, The Bowen Collector is going to be giving either Q or Matrix hell every night, grabbing, shoving, tripping, elbowing and generally aggravating his man from the second the ball goes up to the moment the clock reads all zeroes. His incessant efforts will seriously limit the attacker he covers, if not take him out of the game altogether, and that will be tremendously helpful to the Spurs, who would otherwise have had more problems than Ron Artest’s life coach. Richardson and Marion are among the league’s better forwards, but I don’t envision a strong showing from either this time around. </p>
<p><strong>CentreNazr Mohammed vs. Amaré Stoudemire </strong></p>
<p>Nazr Mohammed is going to suffer such a thorough thrashing that he’ll wish he had never taken up the game of the basketball. Fortunately for him, Pop generally tends to show some compassion, allowing him to sit for extended stretches. This, however, only means that Nazr will be watching Stoudemire’s manifold assaults on the rim from the sidelines, rather than being ignominiously force-fed yet another slamwich. Expect to see Amaré’s points in the forties, his rebounds in the late teens and Mohammed’s self-esteem lower than Kobe ‘s chances of being named godfather to Shaq’s next child. </p>
<p>That just about does it for this week. As always, if you have any comments, questions or suggestions, you can make yourself known by using the box at the bottom of the page or by emailing me at <a href=[email protected] .

Take it easy now,