On the eve of the NBA Playoffs, with all the jockeying for position done, we are down to sixteen teams. With the Hardwood Hype Eastern and Western Conference preview forthcoming, this seems like an excellent opportunity to examine the potential weaknesses of the NBA’s postseason participants.
For all of their talent and the variety of strengths they bring to the floor, each has a glaring flaw that could be exploited by a playoff opponent. What, if unchecked, could work against each of these playoff-bound teams? Lets take a look at the potentially fatal flaws facing each of this season’s NBA playoff teams?
Cleveland Cavaliers- Defending strong, athletic wing players. Between Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Joe Johnson, Dwyane Wade, Andre Iguodala and Kobe Bryant (to name a few), there’s no shortage of powerful wing players standing between
Boston Celtics- Backcourt depth. Despite some issues with the second unit earlier this season, the midseason acquisition of Mikki Moore and the progress of “Big Baby”
Atlanta Hawks- Consistency from the second unit. When healthy, the Hawks’ starting lineup of Joe Johnson, Mike Bibby, Josh Smith, Al Horford and Marvin Williams is among the NBA’s best. However, even when healthy, the bench boasts little more than the solid trio of Flip Murray, Maurice Evans and Zaza Pachulia, and, with all due respect to Acie Law, really no backup for Bibby at the point. Heading into the playoffs, Marvin Williams is working his way back from a back injury that cost him 16 games and forced Evans into the starting lineup. If the Hawks are going to have any playoff success, they’ll have to get the most out of whatever resources they do have, which means that Williams will have to regain his form fairly quickly.
Miami Heat- Consistent offensive support for Dwyane Wade. For virtually the entire regular season, Dwyane Wade’s been the Heat’s only legitimate offensive threat, with no one finishing a distant second, the likes of Shawn Marion, Jermaine O’Neal, Udonis Haslem, Mario Chalmers and Jamario Moon (among others) received significant minutes for the Heat, with mixed results at best. After a largely inconsistent and frustrating rookie year, Michael Beasley has raised his game of late, averaging almost 21 points, while shooting 55% from the floor and 50% from behind the arc in the month of April. If he is in fact putting it together and can extend this run into the postseason, Beasley, with his size and fantastic skills on the offensive end, could take enough pressure off of D-Wade to get the Heat into the second round.
Chicago Bulls- Strength on defense in the paint. Simply put, there’s not a single bruising interior defender on the Bulls’ roster- and, if the Bulls are able to upset the banged-up Celtics (this could really happen!) in Round 1, with Dwight Howard looming in the second round, that does not bode well. Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah are playing extremely well, but both seem physically better suited to guard Rashard Lewis than they do Howard. And while Brad Miller has the physical frame to bang down low, his reputation was not built as low post defender. If
Detroit Pistons- Consistent frontcourt scoring. Let’s pretend for a minute that
And in the Western Conference?
Los Angeles Lakers- Maintaining focus and intensity when playing with a lead. All season, the Lakers have done an excellent job of building large early leads, only to let them slip away, before salvaging harder-than-they-should-have-been victories (see 2/20 v. Hornets, among others). In four of their seventeen losses, however, the Lakers haven’t been so lucky, blowing a 15-point second half lead in Indiana (lost on a tip-in at the buzzer), 9 & 10-point leads in both games against Magic (lost by 3 in Orlando, and by 6 in L.A.) and a 14-point 4th quarter lead against Philadelphia on 3/17. When they’re focused, the Lakers are the NBA’s best team. Maintaining focus and intensity will be the biggest key for this team in the playoffs, when the intensity is turned up and there’s less margin for error.
Denver Nuggets- Perimeter defense. It’s rare that a team with so much experience and athleticism is able to climb to the #2 spot in strong conference, while at the same time being so inept at the defensive end, particularly on the perimeter. Who on this roster can match up against Kobe Bryant? Or Chris Paul? Tony Parker? Chauncey Billups has brought some much needed leadership and a championship pedigree to the Nuggets, but neither he, nor Carmelo Anthony or J.R. Smith is capable of locking down an elite offensive player on the outside. The Nuggets can score with anyone in the NBA, but somewhere along the line, a perimeter superstar (they face CP3 in Round 1) will carve them up.
Houston Rockets- Athleticism and explosive offense from the wings. This is where the Rockets miss Tracy McGrady. For all the talk about the defensive impact of Ron Artest and Shane Battier, not only has neither shown the speed or the athleticism to bother Kobe Bryant’s defensive game, neither of the two has the ability to fill the lane and get easy buckets on the fast break, or to create easy shots in the lane. There is a greater focus on halfcourt sets in the postseason, but there’s also a premium placed on maximizing fast break chances and getting high-percentage shots. When he’s anywhere close to 100%, this is where McGrady thrives. A lot of that pressure is going to fall onto Von Wafer,
Portland Trailblazers- Inside scoring. With all the preseason hype surrounding the Blazers, this is a young team that done an excellent job of competing with the NBA’s best and establishing itself in the top tier of the Western Conference. A major key to playoff success for anyone is the ability to get easy points in the paint. As a predominantly perimeter team, this could be a challenge for
San Antonio Spurs- Depth in the frontcourt. If we count Manu Ginobili among the Spurs’ frontcourt players, their situation with regard to depth up front is a full-blown catastrophe. Sadly, ignoring the loss of Manu doesn’t dramatically improve the outlook. The 4-5 spots are extremely thin, with Tim Duncan nursing a pair (a pair!) of sore knees and likely unable to carry his usual heavy load. If
Dallas Mavericks- Generating any defensive intensity. Jason Kidd comes up with plenty of steals, Josh Howard is a capable (but not lock-down) defender and Brandon Bass is a fantastic athlete who plays with lots of energy and intensity, but ever since they traded away DeSagana Diop, the Mavericks no longer have a big man who can legitimately defend the basket and set a defensive tone for the team- a problem that’s compounded by the absence of anyone on the roster that can shut down the opponent’s best player.
Utah Jazz- Playing away from home. This is a team with nine quality players and an abundance of strength and toughness. On talent alone, the Jazz should be contending for the Western Conference title- unfortunately they are asked to play half of their games outside the state of