Monday , Mar , 09 , 2009 C.Y. Ellis

Playoff Talk: From Winning Streaks to Sleeper Teams

Playoff Talk: From Winning Streaks to Sleeper TeamsWith a little bit over a month to go in the regular season, teams are initiating their own runs, while the standings for both conferences will begin the process of shaking out towards playoff finality. 

Streaking teams in the West

Recently, saying the West is competitive would be an understatement. The Lakers are the clear favorite to take the number one seed because of an eight game lead, but seeds two through seven are separated by only three games. It may be harder to identify the more dangerous teams because of the quantity of high competition, but it certainly won’t hold back any of my opinions. 

New Orleans Hornets
– Ever since the rescinded trade of Tyson Chandler, the Hornets have been pretty much unstoppable. Winners of seven in a row, Chandler has returned with no evidence of a “turf toe” injury holding him back. It’s shown individually and collectively. Chandler’s value to the team means a lot in different areas:

-The most intimidating presence defensively for New Orleans. David West is a nice piece offensively, but he’s not going to scare anybody from the lane defensively. Chandler’s height, length, and athleticism makes opponents either alter their shots or pass the ball when they shouldn’t be doing so. 

-How many alley opps have we seen Chris Paul and Tyson Chandler connect on? This is all on the pick & roll. Considering how effective the two are together, it forces defenses to collapse on Tyson’s roll to the basket, which you can begin using as a decoy to kick the ball out to the three point line. Effective plays turn into effective counter plays. With that being said, it’s imperative for players such as Rasual Butler and Peja Stojakovic to knock down shots. With Peja’s back flaring up once again, James Posey’s role becomes more vital. 

Forgetting about Chandler’s value for a second, lets turn to CP3. How is Paul going to be defended in the postseason? Hell, how is he always defended? 

Teams are going to make Chris Paul a scorer, not a passer. This is where Paul has to be up to the challenge. Is Paul capable of carrying a team on his back throughout a post season? Yes. Chris Paul being aggressive on the offensive end for his own sake, means a lot for opening up his teammates. 

When I say “being aggressive”, for the most part I mean be willing to shoot. Teams are not going to give Paul the lane unless they are partially brain dead. 

Also, in the playoffs last year we saw the San Antonio Spurs trap Paul on the pick & roll which proved to be effective. The Spurs took Paul out of his rhythm. This type of defense makes it crucial for the Hornets to move the ball with Paul not necessarily being the main facilitator. Sure, he makes the first pass, but it must be quick because of the trap, and the ball must move from side to side. 

To sum it up for the Hornets, I look at it this way, How nasty could Paul in the postseason after the experience gained last year? Something to think about. 

Utah Jazz-The Utah Jazz have currently won eleven games in a row. A lot of this parallels what the New Orleans Hornets have been going through. It’s all about getting healthy again. And with health, the Jazz teams makes you ask, How deep can you be?

Carlos Boozer has had a minor setback in his return from injury,(ankle) but it hasn’t made a difference because of Paul Millsap. Millsap has emerged as a player in this league, showing the ability to be a double-double man. 

The Jazz are deep in a lot of areas. In the front court, It’s Boozer, Okur, Millsap, Kosta Koufos

Can the Jazz, if healthy, get over the hump in the West?

Listen, I’m not going to sit here and promote the Jazz for a championship because they are currently on a decent winning streak. The Jazz know they will have to overcome their own demons to get to the promised land. But what is their biggest demon? 

The Road

We all know the Jazz can win at home. Energy Solutions will always be one of the tougher venues to play in. But the biggest source of kryptonite for Utah has been on the road. Come playoff time, even with the current winning streak, the Jazz aren’t guaranteed any home court advantage. 

The Jazz must defend, and get balanced scoring. Williams and Boozer can get you to a certain point, but the Jazz will need Memo Okur if they have any realistic chance to get to the Western Conference finals. In past playoff performances, Okur has lost his confidence and disappeared. It’s an understatement to call him a wildcard. 

Who should you avoid in the East?

In the East, of course it’s not up to par with the West in terms of competitiveness from  top to bottom. The East is more of a top heavy conference, with Cleveland leading the way, followed by Boston and Orlando. After those teams, you must look a little bit harder. Most of the records will not impress you, but I’m sure the top teams are aware of talent, and more specifically the kind of talent that forces upsets in the playoffs. 

Miami Heat-I wonder why the Heat would scare you? If my team were playing in the post season and had to play the Heat in the first round, then I’d be a little bit worried. We’ve all seen how Wade can dominate a series and the referee’s decision making. 

Most may not think much of Jermaine O’Neal’s presence in the middle for Miami, but in a playoff series with Wade possibly dominating, it could mean a lot. From having a guy who could get you a bucket on the block, to a guy that could finish on a hand off from D Wade’s penetration, O’Neal could put his stamp on a series if healthy. 

I don’t know how much time Luther Head would get in the post season, but others besides Dwayne Wade will have to make shots. James Jones and Daequan Cook, are you listening?

Detroit Pistons-
We’ve been through this before haven’t we? If Joe Dumars and Michael Curry forget about stroking A.I.’s ego for a moment, then at least Detroit has a shot in the playoffs. 

The recent play of the Pistons has been on the right track as Richard Hamilton was inserted into the starting lineup after the back injury to Allen Iverson. 

The Pistons are seen as a team that could make some noise because of experience. If Allen Iverson comes back, sit him on the bench and use his scoring to fuel your second unit. 

As far as the starting lineup goes, experience stands out to me. But I need to observe certain things to give Detroit a chance to upset somebody:

Stuckey has to step up. Rodney Stuckey does have some special qualities in him. Last year against Boston, I saw a young player become a man, while knocking down shots with twenty thousand breathing down his neck in Boston. Better game plans against Stuckey this year? Sure, but I still have the utmost confidence in Stuckey. 

Rasheed Wallace. I may be wasting my time by discussing this, but for the Pistons to have a advantage, Sheed must be in the post. I know he can hit three’s with his left AND right hand, but that’s not what the team needs. Rasheed Wallace is a game breaker when he takes people down on the block. Somebody in the Pistons organization needs to write that message in the Pistons lockeroom. 

A.I. is saying all the right things, but he must mentally buy in. If A.I. were to get hot during the post season, then it would be difficult to divvy up the playing time between himself and Stuckey because they do not play well together. Most likely though, A.I.’s presence should be felt as a second unit game changer. We all know how quick he is, and he’ll seem a step quicker if the player in another jersey is a little bit winded. 

What teams do you see making some noise in the playoffs? Did I miss the boat on one of your teams? Hit us up down below with your thoughts.