Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mad Props Playoff Preview - Spurs v. Jazz


#1 San Antonio Spurs vs. Utah Jazz (Game 1, Sunday 1:00 PM, at San Antonio)

December 31, 2011, @ San Antonio – Spurs 104, Jazz 89: Coach Pop rings in the new year with win #800; a balanced attack, led by 23 from Manu, trumps Al Jefferson’s lonely 21 and 11.

February 20, @ Utah – Spurs 106, Jazz 102: 20 from Timmy, 23 (and 11 assists) from Tony and a clutch Richard Jefferson triple prove too much for a balanced Utah attack, led by double-doubles from Big Al (20 and 11) and Paul Millsap (16 and 11).

April 8, @ San Antonio – Spurs 114, Jazz 104: Manu and Tony Parker combine for 51 and Tim Duncan kicks in 13 and 16, as the Spurs cruise past (stop me if you’ve heard this) Al Jefferson (19 and 10) and the Jazz for their 11th consecutive win.

April 9, @ Utah – Jazz 91, Spurs 84: Pop punts an 11-game win streak in the second of a home-and–home, though the Jazz need 25 from Devin Harris to dispose of a spirited Spurs supporting cast.

Got It Made: Manu Ginobili has taken the floor just twice against the Jazz this season, but in that limited burn he has been an absolute terror. While New Year’s Eve was something of a statistical anomaly (9-of-10, with 5-of-6 from 3 doesn’t happen often), Manu nearly managed to replicate the that 24-minute, 23-point form on April 8, against notching 23 points, this time in 28 minutes, despite making just four of 10 shots. Checked by the likes of DeMarre Carroll, Jamaal Tinsley and Gordon Hayward, he earned an awesome 15 free throw attempts, making 14. It’s now playoff time, and, barring injury, he will be Euro-stepping around and through the same defensive contingent for at least half an hour (and, conservatively, 18+ points) per game. The biggest threats to Manu’s minutes now are Spurs blowouts.

Also worth a look for the Spurs is Tim Duncan on the boards. In three meetings with the Jazz, Timmy averaged nearly 11 rebounds per, though he only reached double figures once. As a scorer, Duncan will provide the 12-18 that his team needs, but forecasting when he’ll take a back and when he’ll be driving is a crapshoot. However, in the postseason Duncan has grabbed fewer than 9.9 rebounds per game just once since his rookie year and managed 10+ in five of six games in last year’s opening round series against Memphis. This year, against a similarly deep and hefty (though more athletic) front line, look for a similar performance against Duncan

On the other side, we’ve got Al Jefferson – whom I regard as a poor man’s Duncan – who has played extremely well against the Spurs, both this season (four double-doubles; 19+ points three times) and last (22-8 or better in two of three games, once in San Antone). Al’s lines will call for something on the order of 18-10 to hit on the over. I am (a bit more than) cautiously optimistic, though I’ll probably wait to see the early returns on in his return to the postseason before taking the plunge.

Meanwhile, we’ve got Devin Harris, who has played phenomenally of late (16.5, with 5.3 assists and 42% on 3-pointers in his last 12 games) and has performed well against the Spurs, averaging 16.5 and nearly 5 assists per game, hitting 42% of his 3s (weird, right?) and notching three of his top 15 scoring performances of the season. Harris strikes me as the type of player capable of ignoring stakes and shaking off a hostile environment and working his way to 15+. With Tinsley and Earl Watson behind him, the minutes ought to be there (though guarding Tony Parker, they will not be easy minutes), and Harris plays (~14 points) should be live.

Look To Fade: I no longer bet against the Spurs. I used to “try and avoid it.” I now simply no longer do it. If you’re feeling frisky, you might roll the dice with an under bet on Tony Parker’s points in Game 3 (he’s scored just 16, 18 and 12 points in each of his last three playoff road openers), in hopes that keeping up with Devin Harris will lead to foul trouble or an off shooting night. It’s worth noting, however, that only twice in the four regular seasons has Parker failed to score 20+ against the Jazz.

Tempt fate if you must. I’ll be staying away.

On the other side, if I encounter a Gordon Hayward line in excess of 14/15 points, the fade will be on. Hayward has proven me dead wrong by developing into an above-average (and improving) wing scorer. However, between his lackluster performance (10 points per game, on 14-of-37 shooting; topped 12 once) against San Antonio (namely Kawhi Leonard) this season and the prospect of having to check Manu (both fatigue and foul risk), I’m not terribly optimistic about Hayward’s outlook in this series.

The Call: Spurs in 4. Not to denigrate the Jazz, who’ve played some excellent ball to earn entry into these playoffs and look to have a very bright future, but they were unable to stay within double digits of the Spurs in San Antonio, and their lone regular win came with Duncan, Parker and Ginobili inactive. And even that was hard fought. Pop’s done fucking around.

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