Jones on NBA: Clash of the titans?

May 21, 2010, 1:15 AM

Los Angeles fans were chanting “we want Boston” as the Lakers were putting the finishing touches on a 124-112 win over the Phoenix Suns to grab a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Final on Wednesday night. Perhaps the Boston fans were chanting something along the lines of “Beat L.A.” as the Celtics also have a 2-0 lead on the Magic. To both sets of fans there is only one cautionary note, be careful for what you wish.

Yep, it seems like a right of late spring that the Celtics and the Lakers play for the NBA title, and it could be official in a few short games.

Out west, Steve Nash will do all that he can to get himself off a dubious list of six MVP’s never to win an NBA championship as he currently sits at the top of the list for most playoff games played without appearing in the Finals at 114. But right now it’s about how the Lakers are defending Nash and the Suns vaunted screen and roll game and how Phoenix who, are you sitting down, won the first two series to get to the Conference finals with defence, are unable to stop the Lakers.

“We are just having a hard time,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “We can’t slow them down but we’ll keep plugging away. We’ll keep trying. We’re not going to give up.”

Nash had a couple of key turnovers in Game 2 in the fourth quarter as the Suns looked like they might grab the lead. His screen roll partner Amare Stoudemire is having a difficult time as well. The problems for Stoudemire aren’t as much at the offensive end as they are on defense.

There is an adage that says old habits die hard and it seems that Stoudemire has returned to the guy who, in the past, has been criticized for a lack of defensive focus. In actuality, the entire Phoenix team seems to have returned to the run & shoot substitute squads from season’s past that could not get it done because they couldn’t stop anyone.

But then again, those are the Lakers on the other side of the court and Kobe Bryant can beat you in a myriad of ways. If you’re the Suns would you rather have Kobe get 40 points or have him get everyone involved as he did in Game 2 with 21 points and 13 assists? Tough decision but in the end, its not going to matter if the Suns don’t play defence as they have allowed the Lakers to shoot closer to 60% than 50% in the first two games of the series.

Prior to the start of the series it was hypothesized that if the Suns could get the Lakers to play at a fast pace they had a chance. The games have had lots of scoring but it is the high efficiency with which Los Angeles is playing that is presenting the problem for Phoenix. It’s simple, the Suns just have to play better defence by cutting down on easy catches, challenging more shots and making an effort to push the longer, taller Lakers further from the hoop. If they don’t, “Captain Canada” is destined for at least another year on two odious basketball lists.

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Can you imagine having to listen to Stan Van Gundy right now? To be truthful, he is very candid and refreshing with his honesty in post game new conferences and sideline interviews during the game. In fact he is so blunt that he takes the steam out of any question that is a lead up to another that may entice him to say something controversial. He blurts it out before you can get to the question. Lines like “They’re playin’ better than us” and “We can’t stop them and hold them under 25 points in a quarter” are frank and to the point when he describes what the Celtics are doing to his team.

Orlando defeated Boston last year in seven games but the caveat is, there was no Kevin Garnett. It’s very different this year as currently, the Celtics have the same look that they did when they won the title in 2008. They are playing staunch defence and their offence has been solid thanks to them continuing to share the ball and playing together, something that head coach Doc Rivers never misses an opportunity to reinforce.

The other factor they didn’t have in 2008 or last year is the improved play of Rajon Rondo. He has been terrific so far in the post season running the team, scoring when needed and most importantly guarding his position. Orlando’s Jameer Nelson looked like one of the best point men in the NBA in the first two series against Charlotte and Atlanta but so far in the conference final, Rondo has had the upper hand. Nelson has shot only 40% through the first two games and Boston’s strategy of guarding Dwight Howard one-on-one without double teams has helped hold the likes of Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis in check.

But Rivers has concerns. The fact that there is such a long break between games “we don’t play now for a month” said Rivers sarcastically in his post game news conference following the game two win, may allow Orlando to regain its legs. Right now Boston just wants to keep it going. It helps keep them in rhythm and doesn’t allow the Magic to gain any sense of tempo. Rivers other worries are Kevin Garnett’s offense, although he has made timely hoops, he is only 9 of 30 from the field, and the constant threat of Orlando’s dribble penetration.

The one thing that has to please Boston is the return to form of the 2008 Finals MVP Paul Pierce. Not having to guard the likes of LeBron James has freed him Pierce to torture the Magic with his offence. It’s not fast, spectacular or of the anti-gravity variety but Pierce’s footwork and combination of moves gets him anything he shots he wants.

Both Orlando and Phoenix are staring at huge deficits and unless they are willing to expend more effort and make full commitments to all the adjustments, their seasons are going to be over by the middle of next week.

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