One Adjustment Every Struggling NBA Playoff Team Must Make to Survive

Ben LeibowitzCorrespondent IIIApril 26, 2013

One Adjustment Every Struggling NBA Playoff Team Must Make to Survive

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    Sixteen teams fought their way through an arduous 82-game schedule for the chance at playing in the postseason. But now, struggling NBA playoff teams will need to make key adjustments to survive.

    Top seeds have proven their chops in 2013, as only the fourth-seeded Brooklyn Nets trail their series. All other top seeds are either tied (Denver and Golden State) or are in the driver’s seat.

    Most lower seeded teams will need more than a few minor adjustments to survive and play in the second round. However, the intensity of playoff basketball has shown fans that anything can happen on the big stage.

    The following teams have floundered in the first round, but if they make adjustments, they can fight their way back into each respective series.

Brooklyn Nets

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    Despite having a higher seed and home court advantage in the first round against the Chicago Bulls, the Brooklyn Nets could only come away with one win at home. Deron Williams and Co. followed the home defeat by scoring just 76 points in a road loss.

    The Bulls may not have Derrick Rose back, but Chicago’s grit and tenacity has earned the Bulls a 2-1 series lead.

    Nets fans are getting tired of the broken record, but without solid play in its backcourt, Brooklyn simply doesn't get enough contributions to win games.

    In the Game 2 loss, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson shot 7-of-27 from the field (25.9 percent). In the Game 3 loss, the two shot 11-of-28 from the field (39.3 percent).

    Considering that those two guards are making more than $36 million combined this season, that’s clearly not the production the Nets are looking for.

    Again, it feels as if this has been the narrative for Brooklyn all season long. D-Will is getting paid like an elite point guard, so he needs to start playing like it for the Nets to survive.

    Williams started putting up familiar “D-Will numbers” in the latter half of the regular season, but shooting 1-of-9 from the field in a playoff game won’t cut it.

    If Brooklyn doesn’t get production from its backcourt, the streak-stopping Bulls will march on to round two.

Milwaukee Bucks

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    The Milwaukee Bucks are staring a first round exit square in the face. Unless a young Lew Alcindor walks through Milwaukee’s locker room door, the Eastern Conference eighth seed won’t be around much longer.

    Of course, that’s no fault of Milwaukee’s, because Miami is simply too good. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has done an admirable job trying to defend LeBron James, but nobody has the skill set to neutralize the best player in basketball.

    The Heat won 27 straight games during the regular season, so with the Bucks drowning in an 0-3 first round hole, there’s truly no adjustment they can make to survive.

    The volume scoring backcourt of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings combined to shoot 2-of-13 from beyond the arc in Game 3. They’ll need to heat up in a big way if the Bucks are going to force this series to five games.

    It certainly appears that Jennings’ first round prediction was a pipe dream.

Boston Celtics

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    For all the Boston Celtics fans who thought the C’s were better without Rajon Rondo, think again.

    The team rattled off a seven-game win streak following Rondo’s ACL tear, but the NBA playoffs has exemplified how important Rondo is as Boston’s floor general.

    Without Rondo around to orchestrate the offense, create scoring opportunities for teammates and penetrate to the bucket, the Celtics’ offense is just flat out bad.

    In two first round losses to the New York Knicks, Boston has failed to eclipse 78 points. In Game 1, Boston scored a miniscule eight points in the fourth quarter. They had as many turnovers in the quarter as they did points.

    In Game 2, the Celtics shot a putrid 19.4 percent from the field in the second half, which provided for one of the most grotesque shot charts you are ever going to see (link via Dan Devine of Yahoo! Sports).

    If those two woeful offensive performances don’t dictate the value of Rondo, I don’t know what does.

    Ultimately, the Celtics need to get some offensive production off the bench while limiting their total turnovers if they’re going to survive.

    After two games, Boston has notched just 23 bench points and a whopping 40 turnovers. To compare, J.R. Smith has scored 34 points off the bench by himself for the Knicks. Also, New York has committed just 16 turnovers.

    The Celtics are getting outplayed on both ends of the court right now, but they’ve competed despite some glaring flaws.

Atlanta Hawks

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    The Atlanta Hawks have suffered ugly losses at the hands of the Indiana Pacers. Despite shooting a higher percentage from the field in both contests, the Hawks have lost two games by a combined 32 points.

    The Hawks have been out-rebounded in both games, and they’ve committed more turnovers in both games. The Pacers are simply playing their style of basketball and overpowering the Hawks.

    Indiana has prevented Kyle Korver from lighting it up beyond the arc, which has been a big x-factor thus far. Also, Paul George has been playing even better than he did during the regular season, which is truly saying something because George was an All-Star in 2013.

    The Pacers cause a lot of matchup problems for Atlanta. If the Hawks are going to fight back from an 0-2 deficit, they’ll have to take things one quarter at a time. I mean that quite literally, because the Hawks have failed to outscore Indy in a single quarter during this series.

    Of course, with Devin Harris playing 36-40 minutes a night for the Hawks, it’s no surprise that they don’t have enough weapons to compete with Indiana.

    The combination of Al Horford and Josh Smith will need to put the team on their shoulders if Atlanta hopes to survive.

Houston Rockets

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    James Harden is shooting 34.9 percent in this series.

    Jeremy Lin is shooting 28.6 percent and has scored just 11 total points in two games.

    Chandler Parsons is shooting 32.4 percent from the field and 26.7 percent from three-point range.

    Given the terrible efficiency from those three shooters, it’s no surprise that the Houston Rockets got blown out by OKC in Game 1. They lost by a whopping 29 points; an uninspired affair that even had Thunder fans heading for the exits early.

    Despite the Game 1 letdown, the Rockets lost Game 2 by just three points. Houston still has a chance at a first round playoff upset, but falling into an 0-2 hole doesn’t help.

    Patrick Beverly has provided a great spark for the Rockets by getting under Russell Westbrook’s skin defensively and chipping in all over the box score. Unless the trio of Harden/Parsons/Lin starts knocking down shots with more regularity, however, they won’t stand much of a chance against the Western Conference juggernaut.

    There’s a lot to like about Houston’s young core and potential-packed roster, but the Rockets’ inexperience is hurting them.

Los Angeles Lakers

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    Barring a miraculous Ewing Theory, the Los Angeles Lakers’ travesty of a season came to end when Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles.

    The Black Mamba will be out for the foreseeable future, and Metta World Peace is banged up.

    Age seems to have caught up to the ailing Steve Nash, and Dwight Howard hasn’t been his usual explosive self since returning from back surgery.

    And, on top of everything, Steve Blake is out indefinitely with a hamstring strain, while Jodie Meeks is doubtful due to a sprained ankle, according to Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times.

    The Lakers are suffering through a laundry list of injuries that never seem to end. It’s easy to blame the Lakers’ playoff woes on injuries, but Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times said it best via Twitter:

    So some are now pinning Laker lost season on injuries...huh?.. projected opening-night lineup was 0-7...they stunk long before they ached

    — Bill Plaschke (@BillPlaschke) April 25, 2013

     

    Lakers fans can blame injuries all they want for what appears to be a lost season. However, the truth of the matter is that the Lakers weren’t a playoff-caliber team all season long.

    Including two postseason losses against the San Antonio Spurs, the Lakers are 9-19 against Western Conference playoff teams during the 2012-13 campaign. Unless the Lakers magically morph into the 2009 Orlando Magic, their chances of beating the Spurs sit at about zero.

    All the fans clamoring for a 73-9 record and an NBA championship look very silly now.

Memphis Grizzlies

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    Let me preface this by saying that the Memphis Grizzlies aren’t exactly “struggling” in the postseason. However, there still are some adjustments they can make to evolve a highly entertaining series.

    The Grizzlies dropped the first two games to the Los Angeles Clippers on the road. Game 1 wasn’t close, but Game 2 came down to the wire and dropped Memphis to 0-2 when Chris Paul’s heroic buzzer beater banked in off the glass.

    When Memphis returned to the friendly confines of the FedExForum, the Grizz flipped the script with a 12-point win.

    Zach Randolph referenced it in his postgame interview, but the major adjustment the Grizzlies made (and will need to continue to make), was playing pressure defense on the pick-and-roll to slow down Chris Paul. Tony Allen is one of the league’s best perimeter defenders, but assisting him when Paul goes to work has to be a priority for Memphis moving forward.

    Paul finished Game 3 with just eight points on 4-of-11 shooting to go with five turnovers.

    Shutting down Paul can bring the Grizzlies nothing but good news, but the play of Randolph will be another x-factor.

    Z-Bo had a monster Game 3, finishing with 27 points and 11 rebounds (six of them on the offensive glass). He also made it to the free-throw line 10 times.

    With Rudy Gay’s offensive potential shipped north of the border, the Grizzlies big men need to step up in a huge way. Case in point: in the Game 3 victory, Gay’s replacement, Tayshaun Prince, had only two points in 30 minutes.

    If Randolph can continue playing like a man possessed on the interior, while Memphis makes the key adjustment on CP3, don’t count the Grizzlies out.