More playoff basketball tonight, the night we find out the truth about these Golden State Warriors — was that Dallas series more about Nellie getting back at Cuban or is Baron ready to make a real run?
Before we get to that, Game Two of Bulls-Pistons is tonight. Yeah, yeah, the Bulls got trounced in Detroit in the first matchup because it looks like the Pistons have learned from last year’s mistakes and came to play from the get go. This poses a problem for the Bulls, who lost the opportunity to catch them off guard, but if they get back on track and steal one tonight, mission accomplished. After all, all you need to do is win 50% of games on the road and take care of business at home to win a seven game series — heck, theoretically you only need one road win.
Now back to this intriguing Warriors-Jazz face-off. GS fell a little short in the luck department when Utah won because they matchup then times better against the Rockets, but they were still fortunate enough to avoid the Spurs juggernaut (who I took over the Suns in five, we’ll get to that later). The Jazz can certainly play an up-tempo game with the Warriors, thought they are not nearly as chaotic. That style would diminish Boozer’s impact, however, who is the single largest advantage Utah has over the boys from Oakland. If Utah can slow things wayyyy down and establish Boozer in the post early on in each game, then we can probably say bye bye to the golden-shirts.
Defensively, the wild card is Kirilenko, as he always seems to be. If he gets his time and locks down Stephen Jackson — and perhaps even Richardson, he’s a good enough athlete to try — then things will be tough for Baron. Fortunately for Nellie, he has a number of guys with slightly different styles he can put in to throw AK-47, Okur and Boozer off on the defensive end — namely players who took a seat last series and who should be thirsty for hardwood time, Ellis and Harrington. I haven’t even mentioned Barnes or Peitrus yet either and that’s the thing about this team, they can plug-and-fill for whoever isn’t on their game and still have a dangerous lineup. The Jazz cannot say the same. Giricek and Harpring are fine shooters, yes, but do they look nasty enough to drain clutch jumpers when things turn into a whirlwind in the second half, I think not.
One person I am not so sure about is Nellie. I’m not saying he is a bad coach, but he knew that Dallas team inside and out. The Mavericks are not a squad that has had a great deal of changeover the last couple years aside from hmmm, lets see, Austin Croshere for Marquis Daniels, and I’m sure that made a difference. And while Avery Johnson has proven to be more than capable, Nellie isn’t going against a guy in his second year of full head coaching duties, he’s going against Jerry “I went to two straight Finals and lost because Malone screwed everything up and Jordan is a deity” Sloan. Jerry is going to know how to slow things down much better than Avery managed to do — not that everything was Avery’s fault, he was calling timeouts when he needed to, but the players weren’t responding. It’s Nellie’s job not to let his team get suckered in, but if there is anything Nellie does well, it’s turning players loose.
And while Steve might still be sweating the crowds at Salt Lake City, I’m giving the advantage to the fans in Oakland, by a landslide, and not just because of Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson. Those yellow-T-clad fans put last season’s “white hot” Heat “faithful” to damn shame. Watching those games I was reminded of the underrated Blazer crowds in the late-90’s and 2000 — just smart and passionate. It’s going to take a lot for Utah to take more than one is Cali.
People might be discrediting momentum lately, but when a team hasn’t been to the playoffs in as long as the Warriors have, and they successfully knock off the No. 1 seed and favorite to win the ‘Ship, they have momentum. Remember the Knicks in ’99? They rode momentum (and Camby) all up until they got lucky with LJ’s 4-point play.
Finally, the Jazz just have never stuck me as a dominant team this season. Have you ever looked at them on the upcoming schedule and said “Damn”? I didn’t think so. They are more beatable coming into this series than Dallas was in theirs. Hopefully the Warriors don’t get happy with what they’ve accomplished thus far, because if they don’t, we should see them getting taught a lesson by SA in the Western Finals. Warriors in 6.