Welcome to the B/R NBA Round Table. Our four lead writers, Ethan Sherwood Strauss, Holly MacKenzie, Bethlehem Shoals and Rob Mahoney have answered three questions about the NBA. Read their responses to the questions below and chime in on the conversation.
If matchups are everything in the playoffs, and assuming the Heat and Thunder are the favorites now (according to Vegas), which conference foes match up best with each of those favorites?
Mahoney: Matchups may be everything, but in the West, I'm convinced that the Thunder's most compelling challenger is legitimately the best team in the conference—the San Antonio Spurs.
San Antonio employs the kind of ball movement that could pick apart the OKC defense, and in Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw, the Spurs have effective bigs who play in a way that could mitigate some of Serge Ibaka's defensive impact. The Thunder may have the slightly better defense, but ultimately, I see such a series ending in a shootout, and the Spurs' offense can simply be trusted more in its execution.
In the East, I'm just not convinced that any team in the playoff crop will put up all that much of a challenge for the Miami Heat. But, if forced to choose, how about the Indiana Pacers? Indy isn't playing spectacular ball at the moment, but they have a big who could attack Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh inside, a pair of skilled perimeter defenders in Paul George and George Hill and the potential to get hot from outside behind George and Danny Granger.
Strauss: While San Antonio is the best team to match up against anyone, I don't buy them getting past Miami—or OKC, for that matter. The issue is less San Antonio's current quality and more that I find that quality unsustainable in the playoff medium.
Tim Duncan looked feeble at the end of last year's playoffs—same goes for the year before. This is an assumption, but my guess is that ramping your minutes per game up from 28 to 35 is the kind of change that makes Duncan worse and gets Ginobili injured.
Shoals: The Thunder are pretty good at neutralizing matchup issues by moving their players around, though they can still get killed by an inside presence like, say, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. They also just might not be polished enough yet to match wits with what's looking like the quintessential Coach Pop War Machine—all gleaming guts and perforation.
The Heat, on the other hand, really are beyond matchups in this conference. The retooled Boston might give them a problem, except they've started slow, while the Heat are reminding us that more than anyone else, they know the value to save a little something in the tank—and in the playbook—for the playoffs.
MacKenzie: While I agree that San Antonio is probably the best team to match up with anyone, I still feel the Lakers can be a problem if Andrew Bynum decides to dominate on the defensive end of the floor. While I think San Antonio's balance and experience is a scary combination, I'm not sure if I see anyone getting past the Thunder, outside of a Lakers team with Kobe Bryant on his game and a Bynum looking to beast.
Besides the Derrick Rose injury, has anything else about the first few games of each series changed your mind about how the playoffs will play out?
Mahoney: Not especially, with the exception of the Boston Celtics' relatively unimpressive performance thus far. I had expected Boston to more or less sustain their elite defensive play, and although Game 1 could have been a bit of an aberration and Game 2 brought extraordinary, Rondo-less circumstances, we have yet to see the C's really play at anything resembling their previous form.
Strauss: Nothing. To be honest, the Rose injury didn't change my mind on any relevant topic, either. It's a sad happening, but I think it's more meaningful per 2013 than 2012.
Shoals: I had thought that Boston might be a dark horse in the East, but they seem to have hit their stride too early this year. And while it's a weird thing to say, seeing as their series with the Clippers is tied and they totally collapsed in Game 1, the Grizzlies continue to astound with their ability to just compete through sheer determination.
MacKenzie: Derrick Rose's injury was a punch in the stomach to anyone who watches basketball. Iman Shumpert's torn ACL gets lost in the shuffle here, but losing him was definitely a blow for the Knicks.
That being said, I didn't think New York had a hope in hell against the Heat this season. The Bulls, obviously, have been affected by losing Rose, but beyond that, I'd say things are progressing as I'd expected, save for Boston laying an egg in Game 1 against Atlanta.
Kendrick Perkins has been accused of playing dirty by Rick Carlisle. How do you define dirty play? And should we not expect things to get scrappier in the playoffs?
Mahoney: The classic Potter Stewartism is probably too easy, but I can't help that it applies; I know dirty play when I see it. There's no use drawing any lines when it comes to basketball grime because every situation is so highly contextual, but there's no doubt that Perkins is among the players who exploit every inch of room that the rules afford and plays as physically as the officiating crew will allow him to.
This kind of thing is par for the course when it comes to elite scorers. When Perkins is guarding Dirk Nowitzki, it makes sense that his play would be physical—just as we can and should expect Shawn Marion to defend Kevin Durant by grabbing, holding and bumping him whenever possible. Defense relies on the dark arts, so to speak, as every nudge could conceivably throw an opponent off their rhythm.
We should expect things to get scrappier in these matchups and under playoff circumstances, and surely, Carlisle does, too. But it's also his job to protect and lobby on behalf of his players, which is exactly what he's doing in this instance.
Strauss: I define dirty play as a Reggie Evans' throat chop or crotch grab. I haven't seen Perkins' chicanery, but I can say this: He stinks and he's starting. When someone's not that good, but staying on the court, the chances are high that they're dirtier than a pig in a landfill.
Shoals: The playoffs are more physical; certain players do rely on muscle and intimidation. Dirty, to me, is cheap shots and questionable tactics that can cause injury, like messing with people's ankles or going for the head.
MacKenzie: During the playoffs, you're going to have dirty play. If it happens in a normal game, it's going to happen in the postseason, where the best of the best are fighting for a championship. Dirty play is a part of the game, whether we like it or not, and it's not going anywhere.
Pulling, holding, cheap shots to rough up the scorer who continues to find his way to the rim; all of this happens and will continue to happen. And yes, as the stakes get higher as the weeks go on, it will get worse.