Both Chicago and Miami are up 3-0 in their respective first round Eastern Conference series. Tough to say they've been equally impressive though. Let's take a closer look at what both teams are doing through the first week of playoff action...
We'll start with Chicago and their Thursday night win over Indiana.
If you were just scoreboard watching tonight, or you only saw the final score, you might be thinking that the Bull's 88-84 Game Three victory was a replay of the 96-90 Game Two nailbiter. Nip and tuck the whole way. Chicago knows how to close and Indiana doesn't. Yawn. Believe it or not, the two games had little in commmon!
Here's a brief listing of the extreme differences.
Game Two: Rose/Boozer 46%, Others 33%
Game Three: Rose/Boozer 21%, Others 50%
Maybe the other Bulls got tired of hearing about how Derrick Rose was carrying the whole load. And, maybe Rose finally showed some fatigue from carrying the whole load. Rose had a mostly horrible game (4 of 18 shooting, 5 turnovers) until the final minutes when he once again flew at the basket and got the necessary points for a victory. Boozer was just 2 of 10 himself with 3 turnovers in 32 minutes. Everyone else leapt from 15 of 46 in Game Two to 22 of 44 in Game Three.
Game Two: Chicago 5/14, Indiana 6/17
Game Three: Chicago 9/20, Indiana 1/10
It's kind of amazing that Indiana lost a heartbreaker in the first game while going 10 of 18 from long range...then lost another heartbreaker in the second game with a 6 of 17 performance...then lost another heartbreaker in the third game with just 1 of 10. It's like Chicago does just enough to win regardless of whatever challenge is facing them. The Bulls had their first good game from long range this evening.
SCORING ON 1'S AND 2'S
Game Two: Chicago 81, Indiana 72
Game Three: Chicago 61, Indiana 81
It figures that this would reverse if the treys reversed. Indiana didn't shoot well, but gave themselves a lot of extra opportunities with 15 offensive rebounds.
Game Two: Chicago 57, Indiana 33
Game Three: Chicago 42, Indiana 42
And, those offensive boards help neutralize what had been a big problem in the first two games. Indiana is so close to making this a first round shocker. They just can't get the puzzle pieces to line up at the same time.
So, the final margins were similar. If you were watching Miami/Philadelphia on your TV and just monitoring the margins here at the bottom of the screen, you might think Game Three of Chicago/Indiana presented a continuation of earlier themes. Not the case. Many of the guts were turned inside out. But, in the end, the better team still found a way to score points when it mattered most.
It's a good sign for Chicago that they have workable options late in close games. Indiana hasn't figured out what to do yet, and probably won't in time to make a difference this year. You have to wonder though if Chicago will be able to get those same late points in later rounds vs. tougher opposition. Derrick Rose is going to get the calls vs. Indiana. Will he if he's running into Dwight Howard in the next round, or the South Beach Stars in the Eastern finals, or the Lakers bigs in a championship round?
Current problem areas for Chicago...
Game One: Chicago 14, Indiana 10
Game Two: Chicago 21, Indiana 17
Game Three: Chicago 15, Indiana 11
It may be fun to watch Rose scoot through the land of the giants. It's a very sloppy way to attack an opposing defense though. This may be at the heart of why the Bulls are having so much trouble putting distance between themselves and opponents lately...even borderline or non-playoff caliber opponents. This is likely to matter when they step up in class.
TWO-POINT SHOOTING (compared to Miami in a segue warning!)
Game One: Chicago 48%, Miami 47%
Game Two: Chicago 39%, Miami 54%
Game Three: Chicago 42%, Miami 44%
Indiana's defense is comparable to Philadelphia's in terms of efficiency for the season. Chicago isn't measuring up to Miami against a similar challenge in an important stat or in a few others. Let's run the numbers from Miami's victory tonight for some contrast.
MIAMI 100, PHILADELPHIA 94
Two-Point Percentage: Miami 48%, Philadelphia 44%
Three-Point Shooting: Miami 4/12, Philadelphia 9/21
Free Throw Shooting: Miami 24/30, Philadelphia 13/19
Rebounding: Miami 50, Philadelphia 34
Scoring on 1's and 2's: Miami 88, Philadelphia 67
This is a much simpler series to explain than Chicago/Indiana. Miami dominates 1's and 2's every game. Philadelphia has to make a lot of treys just to be in the neighborhood. And, the Sixers aren't much of a trey team.
SCORING ON 1'S AND 2's
Game One: Miami 85, Philadelphia 68
Game Two: Miami 85, Philadelphia 55
Game Three: Miami 88, PHiladelphia 67
Games One and Three were virtual replays in this stat. Philly started cold and never got their heads on straight in the tweener. Trey edges of 7-4, 6-3, and 9-4 for the Sixers (a surprise given Miami's 6.7 to 5.4 edge in the regular season) kept us from having three blowouts.
Game One: Miami 52, Philadelphia 39
Game Two: Miami 46, Philadelphia 40
Game Three: Miami 50, Philadelphia 34
This is obviously a significant contributor to the edge in 1's and 2's. Miami's been giving themselves a lot of second chances (15-8-20 in offensive rebounds per game), while denying those on the other side of the floor.
The strikes against Miami so far are in the area of forced turnovers (just 8, 12, and 6---suggesting that they're focusing defensively on clogging the paint and boxing out rather than swiping at the ball), and three-pointers (11 of 44 so far for a poor 25%). Miami's winning by an average of 11.7 points per game, and has been below par from long range. That's a scary thought for the rest of the East. Chicago's winning by an average of 5.0 points per game, and is 20 of 54 on treys (near norms for makes and percentage).
It's not a sure thing that Chicago and Miami will meet in the Eastern finals. It's the best expectation though, so we might as well start thinking about it now that we're seeing both teams under the playoff spotlight. Miami's been more impressive out of the gate and has some additional upside potential. Chicago's grinder style looks to have less upside, and will place a lot of pressure on Derrick Rose in the final minutes of close games.
Dallas-Portland was a very late starter Thursday. Will compile some notes for that in Friday's report. Here are some thoughts from the Lakers win late Wednesday over New Orleans.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS 87, NEW ORLEANS 78
*Kobe Bryant only took 10 shots. He was 3 of 10 Wednesday after going 13 of 26 in Sunday's loss. He took some criticism in the media for shooting so much Sunday. Every so often he gets in the mindset of "fine, watch what happens when I don't shoot." As is often the case then that happens, the Lakers played a lot better!
Lamar Odom was 8 of 12 instead of 3 of 6
Andrew Bynum was 8 of 11 instead of 4 of 7
You also got a much better sense of camraderie on defense for the Lakers too, as they held New Orleans to 40% on two-pointers after allowing 54% on deuces Sunday.
Kind of amazing how often Kobe has to re-learn this lesson.
*Pau Gasol was a disappointing 2 of 10 after shooting 2 of 9 in the opener. He may not "need" to get on track in this series. The Lakers will be even more dangerous when he starts making some shots.
*The Lakers forced 16 turnovers instead of just three. It's interesting that New Orleans shot 4/11 on treys in both games, and had similar free throw results with 23 of 33 and 20 of 32. Yet, they plummeted from 109 points to 78 points because the Lakers were so much more effective defensively after making adjustments and realizing they had to actually show up and play the game!
*Los Angeles has been +8 in rebound differential in both games. This is a "defense and rebounding" team when things are going well. It's important to watch those categories for the Lakers throughout the playoffs as we determine if a potential three-peat is imminent or not.
Back late Friday with notes from Dallas/Portland and the early evening action...