NBA Playoffs 2012: Who's Hot, Who's Not in the Second Round?
The second round of the NBA playoffs is here, and that means another edition of "Who's Hot and Who's Not."
Round 2 started off with a bang in the Western Conference. The two higher seeded teams look far superior over their Los Angeles foes. At the moment, the Western Conference Finals matchup looks etched in stone unless the Lakers or Clippers can rebound in a big way.
Over in the Eastern Conference, injuries have had an impact on the quality and the outcome of the games. The Boston Celtics are banged up with Ray Allen, Avery Bradley and Paul Pierce clearly hobbled. That does not bode well when they have to chase the young Philadelphia 76ers around all night. As for everyone's favorite team to hate, the Miami Heat, they are beginning to realize just how important Chris Bosh is to their success.
Here is this week's list of who's hot and who's not:
Who's Not: Ramon Sessions
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Ramon Sessions, the man that replaced Derek Fisher as the starting point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, looks lost out on the court. Sessions, who has been a liability on the defensive end of the floor, was nowhere to be seen on the offensive side of the floor either in the Lakers' Game 1 blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Sessions is new to the NBA postseason. That is what years of playing for the Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves and the post-LeBron James Cleveland Cavaliers will do to you. Sessions is not playing like someone who is the starting point guard for the Lakers. Say what you want about Fisher when he was the point guard for the Lakers. At least he wasn't scared of playing in big time games.
In the first round, Ty Lawson and Andre Miller repeatedly torched Sessions. Sessions is not even going to try to guard Russell Westbrook in this series. That will be Kobe Bryant's job, which will effect how Bryant plays on the offensive end. Bryant will not be able guard Westbrook, an athletic freak, effectively and dominate on the offensive end. He's only human, or so they say.
Sessions needs to find his offensive game or the Lakers chances of winning this series will be significantly diminished. Other than Steve Blake, the Lakers role players have not been hitting open jump shots. Sessions is shooting 39 percent from the field and 19 percent from behind the arc in the playoffs. That will not get it done.
Who's Not: Pau Gasol
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It's become too easy to pick on Pau Gasol.
The Lakers big man was once again ineffective in a big playoff game. The Lakers' strength is their size, but when Gasol does not play well, it eliminates their advantage. In the Lakers' Game 1 loss to the Thunder, Gasol finished with 10 points and seven rebounds. When you look at the Game 1 box score, Gasol's production does not look too bad. Especially since he outscored and out-rebounded Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka.
Here's why Gasol's Game 1 performance was so disappointing: Gasol knew he had to have a big game in order for the Lakers to win, and he didn't. He did not show any intensity or urgency that you would hope to see out of an NBA champion and one of the three best players on the team.
Gasol's lack of production should not only worry the Lakers in this series but in the future as well. If the Lakers were hoping to retool in the offseason by shipping Gasol away for some other pieces, they need him to play well, or it will kill his trade market. Why would any franchise give up valuable pieces for what, at the moment, looks like an over-the-hill power forward?
Who's Not: Miami Heat
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The Miami Heat started the week on a bad note—forward Chris Bosh strained a lower abdominal muscle in Game 1, and according to the Los Angeles Times, Bosh will likely miss the entire series against the Indiana Pacers.
Then in Game 2, the Heat were outscored in the second half by the Pacers 45-37. After getting dominated in the third quarter, the Heat fought back in the fourth only to stumble on their own feet in the end. James missed two free throws late, and Dwayne Wade missed a late layup.
James will take most of the blame for this loss, as he should. It's unacceptable to miss not one but two free throws late in a close game. But Wade didn't do much better. He also missed a late free throw. In the last possession of the game, neither Wade nor James took the last shot. That duty fell to Mario Chalmers, who finished the night 2-10 from the field. It was a questionable call, but Chalmers had a great look. He missed the shot, and now the Heat are tied with the Pacers 1-1.
The Heat missed Bosh in a big way, especially in the third quarter when they could not space the floor. The offense became stagnant, and they only managed to score 14 points. Without Bosh, the Heat only have two guys they can rely on to score—Wade and James. They might be super players, but neither one is Superman. Both are going to have to dig deep to get the Heat out of this series. After the finish to Game 2, it's clearly going to be a lot tougher than either player imagined.
Who's Hot: David West
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The Indiana Pacers beat the big, bad Heat in Game 2 in dramatic fashion. David West, the experienced veteran who signed with the Pacers in the offseason, was the backbone behind the victory.
West finished the game with 16 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks. Late in the fourth quarter of Game 2, West had a huge misdirection play where he faked out James and scored to prevent the Pacers from once again throwing away another fourth quarter. He stayed calm and executed like you hope an experienced veteran would in a big playoff game.
After the win, the Pacers began to celebrate like they had just won the NBA Championship. That is until West stopped his teammates and told them to get off the floor, stop the celebration and act like you have been there before. That's what a leader does. The Pacers cannot be satisfied with winning one playoff game against the Heat. They still have three wins to go if they plan on playing in the Eastern Conference Championship.
Who's Hot: Russell Westbrook
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Despite what ESPN First Take’s Skip Bayless may say, the Thunder are at their best when Russell Westbrook is doing his "thang."
In the Game 1 blowout win over the Lakers, Westbrook was a force. He scored 27 points on 10-15 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds. You can't even say he wasn't a "point guard" because Westbrook also managed to dish out nine assists.
No one on the Lakers can guard Westbrook, and he knows it. If he plays well, the Thunder could sweep the Lakers. When the Thunder lost to the Lakers toward the end of the regular season (the game James Harden got elbowed by Metta World Peace) Westbrook shot 3-22 from the field. He's the key to this series and the key to the Thunder's postseason success.
Side Note: Westbrook may have topped his Game 1 performance with his hilarious press conference outfit. Take a look.
Who's Hot: Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers did what nobody believed they could do—they out-executed the Boston Celtics in the fourth quarter of a close playoff game. It was so shocking that Grantland.com and famous Celtics' fan Bill Simmons tweeted:
"Young Sixers out-executed the crafty/experienced Celts down the stretch. And looked confident as hell. Did not expect that one."
Here's what we know about the 76ers—they play relentless defense, are well coached and they play their butts off. It should not be surprising that they beat the old Celtics in Boston, but it is. It's surprising because they beat the Celtics at what they do best—executing late in games.
The 76ers still have some fumes left over from their first round win over the Chicago Bulls. If they could beat the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference (minus Derrick Rose, of course), why can't they beat an old, beat up No. 4 seed? The Celtics are in a dangerous spot. They're playing a young team with nothing to lose. For the 76ers, there's always next year, but why wait? They smell blood and they are going straight for the jugular. What a dramatic series this is going to be.
Who's Hot: San Antonio Spurs
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What a well-oiled machine the San Antonio Spurs are.
The Los Angeles Clippers need to be worried about the fact that they held Tony Parker to only seven points on 1-9 shooting, and they still lost by 16 points. The Spurs simply have too many options. Tim Duncan must have gone in a time machine in his week off. He played fantastic in Game 1, scoring 26 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Duncan wasn't the only Spur that shined. Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green all had big scoring nights.
The Clippers didn't even play that terrible. The difference was the three-point shooting and the free throws. The Spurs made 13 three-pointers and 17 free throws while the Clippers made nine three-pointers and only nine free throws. The Spurs had seven different players make at least one three-point shot. One of their best three-point shooters, Matt Bonner, didn't even attempt a three. This is one of the deepest NBA teams in the last 10 years. As crazy as it may sound, this may be the best Spurs roster in the Tim Duncan era.
To beat the Spurs, a team is going to have to go toe-to-toe with their offensive production, which is easier said than done because the Spurs are also a good defensive team. They frustrated Chris Paul all night, never allowing him to get to his favorite spots on the floor. If you don't like watching the Spurs put on offensive clinics, than you simply don't like basketball. They play basketball the way it was originally intended to be played.