Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Three random observations ...

... about the NBA:

1. The way Nene has played against Erick Dampier and the Mavericks, the Denver-Dallas series could be over in hurry. Nene and the Nuggets dominated inside for a second consecutive game, and Denver took a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Semifinals on Tuesday with a 117-105 victory. Nene followed up his 24-point performance in Game 1 with 25 points on 8-for-12 shooting and eight rebounds. Chris Andersen shot 4-for-5 for eight points and nine rebounds off the bench, abusing Dampier, who did little to counter his defensive shortcomings with four points and four rebounds. The Mavericks once more provided little support for Dirk Nowitzki, who delivered 35 points and nine rebounds. Jason Terry made three treys, scored 21 points and handed out six assists to pick up the slack for Josh Howard, who was lost with yet more ankle trouble in the first quarter. That was about it for Dallas, as no one else scored as many as Antoine Wright's quiet 10 points. The Nuggets had another 25 points from Carmelo Anthony, 21 from J.R. Smith, and Chauncey Billups drained four three-pointers on an 18-point, eight-assist night. Kenyon Martin added 12 points, seven rebounds and four assists as all the Nuggets had it all in gear. Nowitzki and Terry kept it close through three quarters, and thanks to a Jason Kidd desperation three at the buzzer they were down just 86-83 going into the fourth quarter. That's when the Nuggets clamped down on defense, forcing missed shots and turnovers, and Nene and Anthony went on a two-man 16-2 run. The Mavericks don't appear to be able to stop the Nuggets from scoring in the paint, so their only chance of getting back in the series is to hope Denver's defense begins to show flaws of its own on the road in Games 3 and 4. Don't count on it.

2. LeBron need not convince anyone of his stature in the NBA right now, given that he just hoisted the MVP trophy before the Cleveland fans Tuesday. He then went out and looked as if he wanted to prove that the award was indeed his, scoring 34 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, and coming up with four steals in a 99-72 win for the Cavs in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Atlanta. James was an even more dominant force in the Cleveland offense than usual, though Mo Williams still managed to make his presence felt as well. Williams drained four three-pointers and scored 21 points, while Delonte West took over much of the ball-distribution responsibilities, with nine assists and 12 points. Cleveland's inside players struggled, with Zydrunas Ilgauskas going 2-for-9 while Anderson Varejao was 2-for-8, but it didn't matter against the Hawks, who succumbed to the superior Cleveland defense and committed 17 turnovers compared to just seven for the Cavs. Atlanta was punished on the boards, too, as the Cavs held a 41-33 advantage thanks to Varejao, who had nine rebounds, and James. Josh Smith scored 22 points and had six rebounds, but Joe Johnson never got untracked offensively, scoring just 11 points on 10 shots from the floor. Mike Bibby had a hot shooting night, nailing five three-pointers for 19 points, and added eight assists, but no one else scored more than six points for Atlanta. The Cavs spent eight days just practicing in between the first and second rounds, but this series may simply be more tuning up for LeBron and company.

3. Game 2 is pretty early for a virtual must-win in a series, but that's likely the case in the Orlando-Boston series. The Celtics can seize control with a win tonight, capitalizing on the momentum they gained from their near-comeback from a 28-point deficit Monday, but if Orlando wins again, they'll be up 2-0 heading home for games 3 and 4. The key for the Celtics will be the continued stellar play of its bench, and in particular Brian Scalabrine, whose outside shooting has been on-point the last two outings. The Celtics could also use better shooting from Rajon Rondo, who has gone cold just as the bench has heated up. The Magic are counting on Rashard Lewis to regain the form he exhibited in the first half of Game 1, when he was the leading scorer on the floor with 14 points. He scored only four points in the second half, and none after the Celtics began their comeback. Lewis at his best is a vital secondary threat to Dwight Howard, and provides them with an inside-outside threat that gives the Magic the offensive diversification they so greatly need. Courtney Lee, a rookie who has continually improved throughout the season, is scheduled to return from his fractured sinus for Game 3 on Friday. Orlando would be wise to ask him to help them close out the Celtics as opposed to relying upon him to turn the tide after a loss tonight.

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