NBA Playoffs 2012: Who's Hot, Who's Not?
The first round of the NBA postseason has almost come to an end. Compared to last season's first round, this year has been kind of a blunder. That has not taken away from the exciting plays and the individual marvels of the league's superstars.
In the past few days, Chris Paul did Chris Paul things, the No. 1 seed Chicago Bulls fought off elimination and the defending NBA champions got drop-kicked out of the playoffs.
Round 2 is approaching. That's when the NBA becomes unpredictable. Any team that makes the second round can win their respective series. But for now, hopefully there is still some exciting first-round action.
Here is this week's list of who's hot and who is not.
Who's Not: Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz finished the regular season winning nine of their last 14 games. They ended their first playoff run in over a year by getting swept by the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
The Jazz have nothing to be ashamed of. The future in Utah looks bright. Anytime a roster has four post players that can chew gum and walk at the same time means they will be a force to reckon with in due time.
Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap will be unrestricted free agents in 2013. This means if Derrick Favors emerges next season as a go-to guy, the Jazz can trade Millsap to bring in some backcourt help, which they desperately need.
In the offseason, the Jazz need to improve their depth and their backcourt. In Game 4, the Jazz's bench combined for 10 points. The San Antonio Spurs bench outscored them by 47 points.
Gordon Hayward, who improved his game considerably in his second year, was nowhere to be seen in the last three games of the playoffs. In Games 2 through 4, Hayward shot 4-for-27. He shot 18 percent in the entire series. Hayward is a nice player, but he may be better served coming off the bench. He was more than an Achilles' heel for the Jazz in this series.
Interesting stat: According to ESPN.com, the Jazz shot 20 percent from the three-point line, which is the third-lowest three-point percentage in a series in the last 15 postseasons. Another reason why the Jazz need to improve their backcourt.
Who's Not: Dallas Mavericks
Grantland's Bill Simmons tweeted Saturday: "Worst title defenses past 50 yrs: 1999 Bulls, 1970 Celts, 2007 Heat, 2012 Mavs, 1981 Lakers, 1984 Sixers (in that order)"
It's hard to argue with Simmons here. The Mavericks were punked by the Oklahoma City Thunder. The series seemed like a metaphor for the passing of the torch in the Western Conference.
The Mavericks of the funky 2012 regular season turned out to be the same Mavericks in the 2012 playoffs. They could not elevate their game to an extra level. The Mavericks were who we thought they were.
It's easy to say the Mavericks lost the NBA title when they chose not to re-sign center Tyson Chandler. GM Donnie Nelson doesn't agree. On the Skin and Wade show in Dallas, via ESPN Dallas, Nelson said: "If Tyson was all that, New York wouldn't be down 3-1 now. We're not talking about Michael Jordan here."
If the Mavericks still had Chandler, they would not have been swept out of the playoffs like they were by the Thunder. The Mavericks probably would have finished the season with a better record and would have avoided the Thunder in the first round.
But not having Chandler isn't the reason the Mavericks got swept. The Mavericks got swept because they weren't that good of a team this year. Of the nine players that played in Game 4 against the Thunder, six of them were over 30 years old.
It's time for the Mavericks to reload. If any franchise can, it's one that is owned by Cuban.
On a side note: Why is it news that Lamar Odom will miss out on the Mavericks' $14,000 playoff share? If Odom expected to receive a playoff share after packing in the season, then he must be delusional.
Who's Not: Memphis Grizzlies
Are these the same Memphis Grizzlies from a season ago? They look an awful lot like them, plus Rudy Gay.
On paper, the Grizzlies are better than the Los Angeles Clippers. If this were NBA 2K12, the Grizzlies would be the better overall team because of their depth and tenacious defense.
But this isn't NBA 2K12 or college football. We play these playoff games for a reason.
The Grizzlies' biggest issue is that their best player at the moment is Mike Conley. Conley's been great, but in order for the Grizzlies to come back in this series, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol need to step up.
Gasol, who was an All-Star this season, took only four shots in Game 4. He's been getting pushed around by Clippers forward Reggie Evans, who has prevented him from getting the ball near the hoop this entire series.
Randolph is clearly not the same player he was a year ago. He looks slower, out of shape and has let Blake Griffin's flopping get the best of him. Randolph can play Griffin physically, but he can't afford to get technical fouls in order to prove a point. A veteran like himself should know that.
After bumping Griffin in Game 4, Randolph didn't come off tough. He came off as the immature bully that was a problem with the Portland Trail Blazers.
As for Gay, when is he going to prove that he's a go-to guy? He likes to pretend that he's a go-to guy, but he's done nothing but fill a stat sheet his entire career. Great players make the plays when they matter most.
For most of the series, Nick Young and Randy Foye have guarded Gay. Gay should destroy those guys, but he has yet to score more than 25 points this entire series.
Who's Hot: Los Angeles Clippers
In a NBA playoff series with two teams that are closely matched, the one with the best/hottest player usually wins. Just look at last year's playoffs with Dirk Nowitzki.
The Grizzlies may feel like they have the better team, but the Clippers have the best player: Chris Paul. In close games with three minutes left between two closely-matched teams, wouldn't you rather be the team with the best player?
Where the Grizzlies' top players have failed to step up, Paul and Griffin have. Along with Evans, the two have overcome the Clippers' lack of depth and bad coaching to push the Grizzlies on the brink of elimination.
On a side note: Barring a massive collapse, the Clippers will play the Spurs in the second round. It's hard to imagine the Clippers winning that series unless Paul absolutely dominates Tony Parker, which is easier said than done.
Griffin, despite playing well offensively in the first round, has been foul prone and has forgotten how to rebound. Six rebounds per game will not cut it against the Spurs.
The Clippers have won close games against the Grizzlies because of Paul's brilliance, but they have failed to display an effective late-game offense. Against the Spurs, Paul won't be able to win games late by himself. Head coach Vinny Del Negro will need to step his game up considerably.
Who's Hot: San Antonio Spurs
The stupidest thing you'll hear about the NBA at the moment is "The Spurs are not a fun team to watch." If you don't think the Spurs are a fun team to watch, then you don't watch the NBA.
The Spurs are an offensive machine. They outscored the Jazz by 64 points in their first-round series, which ended in a sweep. The Spurs also showed off their extreme depth in the first round.
In Game 4, the Spurs bench scored 57 points. None of the Spurs starters finished with more than 11 points or played more than 30 minutes. The Spurs still led by 10 points at the end of the third quarter.
There has not been a NBA team this deep in a long time. The Thunder, who are top-heavy in terms of talent, will have a battle in their hands if they meet the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.
Who's Hot: Oklahoma City Thunder
James Harden may have made the "leap" in Game 4 on Saturday against the Mavericks. Harden scored 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter, including nine of the Thunder's 12-0 run after they trailed by 13 points with 9:44 left.
The Thunder's three-headed monster is getting hot at the right time. The best part about sweeping the Mavericks is now the Thunder can rest up and prepare for the series they will have with the Los Angeles Lakers/Denver Nuggets in Round 2.
The Thunder aren't the deepest team left in the playoffs, but they can always count on getting at least 60 points from their top three players alone.
Despite being a sweep, this series against the Mavericks was a good test for the Thunder. Games 1, 2 and 4 were decided by a total of 10 points. The Thunder could have easily been down 0-2, but they made the plays when they needed to and won the games.
That's what you want to see out of a NBA championship contender. The Thunder showed poise, resiliency and late-game chops.