Things to Learn from the Conference Finals

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Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant celebrates after making a basket against the Phoenix Suns in the second half during Game 6 of the NBA Western Conference finals in Phoenix

You guys have no idea how much my dentist hates me for this. Actually you might...it's probably as much as you hate the fact that you can learn from my actions, huh? (Source: YardBarker.com)

No, this will not be me talking about how referees need to relax or how much I miss the TNT guys already, or how much Magic Johnson and Stuart Scott make my ears bleed. We’ll be talking about things that went both wrong and right in both of those series, that the  the Blazers can possibly learn from in future playoff runs.

  • The Regular Season Doesn’t Matter That Much: One of the things you have to love about Blazer fans is their unbridled passion for the team. It’s a reason why, deserved or not, Blazer fans are called some of the best fans in the league. However, it certainly seems that a lot of Blazer fans put too much emphasis on the regular season, giving it too much of a rollercoaster-esque feel. If we’ve learned anything from the Conference Finals, it’s that the regular season does not mean anything in the post-season. The Celtics looked like burnt toast before the playoffs and are 4 wins away from a championship. On the flip-side, the Magic looked like world beaters and have the same chance as MacGruber of winning the title.
  • Confidence in a Bench can provide Dividends: This is learned from the Suns, and Alvin Gentry deserves a ton of credit for this. He may be one of the few head coaches who gave his bench the time to grow during the regular season to the point that during the playoffs they peaked in moments they should not have. Dragic, Dudley, Frye, Amundson, all quality players, all played big roles and all helped their team win. The Blazers are a team that has an inconsistent bench, a team that needs more production from the bench to get to a higher level. On paper this is a team that has better talent on their bench than most teams. This is not to bash Nate, just to point out that if the bench had more confidence they would more than likely play better ala Phoenix. And that bench helped them get an Artest put-back away from who knows what?

More learning points after the jump…

  • First Quarters are just as important as 4th Quarters: People tend to talk about the NBA being a 4th quarter league when the post-season rolls around. Stan Van Gundy made an excellent point when he said that people overlook the 1st quarter. Let’s be honest, the 4th quarter does not mean much if you’ve already dug yourself a big hole. Van Gundy was able to make that point because the Orlando/Boston series showed just how much of an impact the first 12 minutes can have on the following 36. Whether it be one team setting the tone or flow, one team getting down big or foul trouble, both the Celtics and Magic saw games slip away before the majority of viewers had eaten their dinner. Portland can learn from this because they had some major issues in the Phoenix series in the first quarter. By the latter stages of the series, the majority of Blazer fans knew that if Portland could get off to a good start (aka not get killed in the 1st quarter) they could win the game. The Conference Finals only reinforced that point.
  • Ball Movement is Key: In the CF’s, teams played their best when the ball was just moving instinctively. Think about how good LA and Boston’s secondary breaks were and how easily they flowed into it. Whether it was by swinging the ball, random ballscreens, nothing ever felt forced. It seems like the times when Portland does want to run out, if they don’t get anything there’s an awkward moment, almost a “Ummm…what now?” Because of how good their secondary break is, it allows them to get good looks before the defense is set and that is key to success in the playoffs. If teams are allowed to set up defensively, they exact maximum damage. Think about it, you’re either facing a defense that is reacting or  facing a defense that is not only set, but prepared for whatever you are about to run. The Blazers have got to learn to get more of a flow during the playoffs, there are times when things break down and stagnation comes. There are going to be times in the post-season when you have to get a shot off late in the shot clock. You just don’t want those to be as self-inflicted as the Blazers make them to be some times. Stagnant offenses send you home fishing
  • Accountability from within: This is a lesson learned from the Celtics. Great teams police themselves. Ask any one of them and they will say the players run the joint. Credit Doc Rivers for the job he has done, but we all know he is just the driver or valet parker of this car, aka it’s his job to make sure it doesn’t crash into anything. If someone misses a defensive assignment or ignores a player with a mismatch, best believe someone is holding him accountable. This lesson also was learned from the Lakers. You know who the king of what I just stated above is? Kobe Bryant. Count how many times he flails his arms in the air, or is getting in someone’s ear for either missing him having a mismatch or one of his teammates not being in the right position. When your superstars have that kind of mentality and that kind of accountability they don’t want to let their teammates down. You’re no longer afraid of upsetting the coach, because truth be told at this level players can brush that anger off. But angering and upsetting your comrades is a different story. This applies to the Blazers because to tell the truth, no one has really taken that approach yet. Brandon Roy may be the unquestioned leader of this team, but I don’t feel like he’s felt comfortable enough to be that guy. Maybe next year he will who knows.
  • Confidence is key. I hate to say we can learn something from the Lakers but we can. Not once during this series did they flinch, not once during this series did they waver. Their confidence was bordering on arrogance to the untrained eye. In hindsight, that confidence is what they needed. They never panicked, never looked down on themselves, they just played it out and believed. The Lakers have a quiet resolve to get things done. The Celtics have that same resolve. They are both in the Finals. Phoenix never got down on themselves, despite everyone else in the world wanting too. Take a look at a team like Orlando who lost their composure and confidence for 3 games and by the time they got it back it was too late. At times with Portland, if things are going wrong you can tell and you can tell it’s only going to get worse. Remember that home loss to Dallas where the officials were ‘questionable’? Portland got rattled, lost their composure and lost a big game. In the post-season you have to have that belief because false confidence will not produce post-season victories.
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Tags: Conference Finals Nba Playoffs Portland Trail Blazers

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