Rumor has it that across the ocean, this basketball league called the NBA is about to begin its playoffs. With the 2010-11 regular season behind us, BallinEurope takes a present-and-future look at the playoff-bound Europeans in the American league series by series, together with musings, meanderings, YouTube clips and those Fearless Predictions™. Today: the Western Conference matchups.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Denver Nuggets
Could it be that someone in the Oklahoma City front office just lost faith in Nenad Krstic? The Serbian was dealt in a second when Kendrick Perkins arrived; now the Thunder has the huge presences of Perkins – now armed with reputation as clutch playoff performer – and Serge Ibaka plus Tibor Pleiß waiting in the wings. Meanwhile, BiE anticipates the possibility of another throwdown between Krstic and Sofoklis Schortsanitis in Eurobasket…
The real European plus for OK City in 2010-11 was Thabo Sefolosha. Averaging between 20 and 30 minutes per game depending on roster health, the pride of Switzerland enters the playoffs shooting 58.3% for April – could Sefolosha be the Goran Dragic of this year’s tournament?
That legendary thin air has surely been messing with Danilo Gallinari since joining Denver from New York in late February and the shooting touch he’d developed with the Knicks has slowly evaporated in the Rockies. Part of this can surely be blamed on the Stoudamire Effect, as the deadly Italian set-shooter is being depended on to create more of his own opportunities with the ball in Denver. Whether or not he ultimately re-finds the way, BiE bets it won’t happen in time for the playoffs.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies
Surely everyone noticed how all that Parker-to-the-Knicks-in-2011 talk stopped cold, perhaps at the behest of Spurs fans who doubtlessly cannot bear envisioning a San Antonio squad without Tony and with a degenerating Tim Duncan. Despite being painted as disgruntled while George Hill and Gary Neal are portrayed as the future, Parker was arguably the Spurs’ MVP for 2010-11, leading the team in points and assists while stoically leading scary San Antonio to the West’s no. 1 seed. “Ho hum,” mutter NBA fans as Derek Fisher may already be having nightmares of the Frenchman.
As for the Grizzlies, BiE is proud to see Marc Gasol give the underappreciated team a bona fide all-star, a deadly force with rebounding ability and a European big man’s range in the – dare I say it – Pau Gasol mold. BiE believes that Coach Hollins should send Marc on the floor at the same time as the criminally underplayed Hamed Haddidi against San Antonio (and Los Angeles, should they get there): That’s a lotta skilled height to counteract, even for the West’s bigger teams.
Marc does need a little work on his chest-bumping skills should Memphis plan to advance, though…
And hey, did you see old ACB stud Tiago Splitter get some quality minutes for San Antonio against the Lakers the other night? So much, incidentally, for BiE’s claim that Splitter would be the first-year international NBA player to make the most impact – who knew that Antonio McDyess would be good for so many minutes?
Los Angeles Lakers vs. New Orleans Hornets
While the Lakers stumbled through eight games in 13 April days, Pau Gasol contributed a fair enough month according to the numbers. To wit, see the numbers below.
April (per 48 minutes): 24.64 points, 13.83 rebounds, 1.3 blocks
Season (per 48 minutes): 24.4 points, 13.26 rebounds, 1.82 blocks
But the recent problems of the Lakers – coming from one who has watched every excruciating detail of the April games – have been in the intangibles department. Laker players describe the team as out of sync, not on the same page, discombobulated mentally … okay, so the latter is a BiE creation, but it certainly fits. The troubles appear to be manifesting in Gasol in that old timidity, the deference to give others the key shots (and the lane defensively); it’s no coincidence and not all attributable to Andrew Bynum’s presence, either.
The Hornets’ Continental representative is Italy’s Marco Belinelli, who did not disappoint in his first season as a full-time starter in the NBA. Long known for his shooting, Belinelli took his defensive prowess up a notch on the league’s fifth-stingiest team; whether or not New Orleans can contain the (often) deadly half-court offense of the Lakers remains to be seen, however.
Also remaining to be seen is with whom Belinelli is matched defensively: In two losses to Los Angeles this season, the Lakers exploited mistakes and lack of size while Fisher and Kobe Bryant continually found their man inside – especially Lamar Odom – in a tendency that must be solved for Belinelli and the Hornets to advance.
Dallas Mavericks vs. Portland Trail Blazers
In the most internationally star-studded series of this NBA playoffs, Mavericks-Blazers sees a full starting lineup of Europeans on the combined roster.
Often called the best European NBA player of all-time, Dirk Nowitzki further cemented his reputation by contributing an average 23 points and seven rebounds per game. And in 2010-11, the big German set a career high in field goal percentage at 51.7% while playing among the elite in terms of clutch play, putting himself among a top five with Bryant, LeBron James, Derrick Rose and Mo Williams (huh?).
Last season’s sensation for the Mavericks, Rodrigue Beaubois, only joined the team in mid-February this year, but in his limited run he again established himself as key whether starting or more familiarly coming off the bench. Beaubois could prove the X-factor in this series as the Mavericks bring remarkable backcourt depth to counteract the Blazers’ own deep rotations.
Here’s another X-factor: Peja Stojakovic. Can’t you just see the grizzled veteran applying a clutch dagger or two for the Mavs? BiE can.
With so much underneath, the 2010-11 Blazers were able to enjoy Nicholas Batum playing his game, exploiting the slower and the undersized (and at 6’8”, Batum just looks taller than most no. 3s out there – maybe it’s his sweet hops) with great range and pickpocket steals. In this series, Batum should enjoy favorable matchups against the likes of Peja, Shawn Marion and Caron Butler.
Starting the season off on a seriously negative note, Rudy Fernandez first starting getting quality minutes with the Trail Blazers in about mid-December; he then contributed double-digit points frequently through January. Sadly, The Man Who Would Be Rubio’s Teammate saw a serious curtailing of minutes thereafter as his outside touch mysteriously evaporated through 2010-11’s final months. (Seriously, 35.5% overall shooting in March? 32.6% in April?) Barring a miracle showing or two in the playoffs, call Fernandez “Most Likely to Return to Europe in 2011-12.”
Official BallinEurope Fearless Predictions™: Fearless predictions: Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Los Angeles and Portland in a six-game upset.