By Chris Le
Thursday’s doubleheader pitted the Miami Heat against the Cleveland Cavaliers, followed by the San Antonio Spurs hosting the Phoenix Suns, and the proceedings may very well be indicators of how each team performs in the playoffs. I know, I know — it’s still the regular season, where teams have less time to prepare for opponents, but weaknesses were definitely exposed and strengths emphasized.
In the first game of the night, the Heat defeated the Cavs 94-90 in overtime despite a furious comeback in the 4th quarter. Currently, the Heat are the 4-seed, and the Cavs the 5-seed, meaning if the playoffs started today, they would meet in the first round. With the way Cleveland is playing right now, I would definitely favor Shaquille O’Neal and his Miami squad.
The Cavs simply don’t have a consistent offensive player other than LeBron James, and it showed in their loss to the Heat. At times, their offense was downright horrible, executing like a junior varsity high school team, and it’s partly due to LBJ. Take the last possession of regulation for example. The Cavs inbound the ball to James, who is quickly doubled with around 8 seconds left; LeBron simply dribbles away from the trap to no avail and is forced into shooting a low-percentage three-pointer.
This failed attempt indicates two deficiencies: 1.) poor coaching, and 2.) poor decision-making. Are you telling me that was the play coach Mike Brown drew up? If so, he needs to be fired. The play involved no screens or player movement and consisted only of everyone moving out of the way so LeBron could create his own shot. It just seemed so lazy and predictable, and the Heat definitely saw it coming as they disrupted the play with a quick double-team by Jason Williams, which brings me to the Cavs’ second Achilles heal: idiotic shot selection. Too often, they (mainly James) settle for off-balance fadeaways. Seeing how he’s utterly unstoppable when driving to the hoop, I cringe every time I observe LeBron pull up for a jumper after a high-screen. For a specific instance, look—once again—to the last play of regulation, when James received the ball with around 8 seconds left on the clock. That’s an eternity and plenty of time to dish it to a teammate who’ll be wide open since two Heat defenders were aggressively stuck on LeBron. Hell, with that much time, the open teammate could have shot a wide open jumper or pump-faked and passed it back to LeBron who would now only have single coverage. It’s mistakes like these that will be the demise of the Cavaliers in the postseason.
The second game of the doubleheader saw the Spurs hold off the Suns 92-85. With the win, the Spurs are only two games behind the Suns for the second seed in the playoffs, but it is likely the standings will stay where they are. And that’s bad news for the Suns, as it would mean they would face the Spurs in the second round.
As I’ve maintained since forever, the Suns are not a postseason team, and Thursday night’s game did little to prove me wrong. In the playoffs, the pace is slowed down, turning into a half-court game, and the team with better defense and half-court execution usually wins. The Suns do neither particularly well, and the fact that those two aspects are the Spurs’ bread and butter does not bode well for Phoenix. The Suns are known for fourthings: scoring (110.7 ppg), FG% (.497), assists (25.9 apg) and three-pointers (9.6 a game on .404 shooting), leading the league in each category. The Spurs were simply a nightmare for Phoenix, holding them to 85 points (their second lowest output of the season), .386 shooting, zero assists at halftime, 2-11 (.182) from behind the arc, and they will continue to be their perfect foil in the postseason.
Expect the Suns to be bounced in the second round.