It’s been two days – one weekend – and the NBA Playoffs have already thrown some twists our way. Derrick Rose is done, Nick Young and Reggie Evans spearheaded what might’ve been the greatest comeback ever and Andrew Bynum is setting records. Who would’ve thought? It only promises to get better from here as the Eastern Conference is now a complete disaster, and in the West, everyone outside of San Antonio has question marks.
I had the chance to catch up with NBA TV/TNT analysts Chris Webber and Steve Smith to talk about the playoffs, who can beat Miami and the best closers in the game.
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Is there some team in the East lurking out there that could be the surprised upset of say a Miami or Chicago?
Steve Smith: “Earlier when we did our midseason report, I predicted that if the Knicks did matchup with Chicago, that’s the one team other than the Miami Heat they could beat. Obviously because of talent, they can be a surprise. The New York Knicks now that they got Amar’e back they could beat maybe a Chicago. I think, though, a team everyone is overlooking is the Indiana pacers. Frank Vogel is probably the Coach of the Year. Along with his entire staff, Brian Shaw and Jim Boylen, they’ve done an excellent job. I think the way they have managed minutes and incorporated Barbosa [was done] extremely well. That team because of their depth and size has a chance. They could be the sleeper team that could get a chance and get to that Eastern Conference Finals.”
Chris Webber: “I agree with Steve totally. I think that the New York Knicks could be a factor in the first round. And also Indiana, with their coaching staff, their style of play, their size, and defense. But I also think that team that plays Chicago they have a chance. If, in the second round especially, the way the schedules are, if you don’t have home court or a Derrick Rose. So I think health will play a lot into it. So maybe yea, Knicks and Indiana could be sleepers.”
Who are your top three closers going into the playoffs; meaning most clutch players and what is their importance to their teams for a deep playoff run?
CW: “For me I think that the top three closers in the playoffs are the usual suspects. I think they’re the three top scorers in the league. And that would have to be Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and you’ve got to go with Carmelo Anthony. I think they are the best scorers from where they get their position. Kobe is probably the best, toughest shot-maker. Kevin Durant is probably the best pure shooter. As far as Carmelo Anthony, he is just scorer and does what he wants. So those three players you can’t check them at any point in the game, especially late in the game.”
SS: “I totally agree with Chris. You gotta keep Kobe Bryant on this list. What he did this entire season and what he did to OKC recently. Kevin Durant, even though he’s a younger superstar, he’s shown it over the last three or four years. Carmelo. And just to add one more player, Chris Paul. Just being able to make plays and those type of plays at the end of the game; with Chris Paul being 3B. And just being able to make unbelievable basketball plays to win games and closing them out.”
Is it possible to advance deep in the playoffs without one of those guys?
SS: “You know I think it’s possible. I think the reason why is if you have a team together that’s been there done that and have some veterans. And the two veteran teams I’m talking about are Boston and San Antonio. They may not have the top three. But I think because of familiarity of being there, being able to close out teams, and won championships. And you have an old grumpy vet like those two have. I think San Antonio and Boston without one of those top three closers, those teams could easily [get there], and Miami. Those three teams could get there without a top three closer.”
CW: “I agree with Steve. I think only those two teams because they rely on defense and the other team really is gonna rely on their scoring. Even though OKC is pretty good in defense, they basically have three scorers on their team. So I agree totally that San Antonio because of their defense principles is capable without one of those type of players.”
Can you speak a little bit on how the last lockout affected your playoff runs that year because I think your Sacramento team lost in the first round? Steve, you guys went to the second round and lost. What were your bodies like? Was it normal playoff atmosphere basketball or did you feel the effects of that lockout season?
SS: “I think for me, speaking of the Atlanta Hawks team, we had played extremely well in the regular season. But I think it was our lack of depth when we got to the playoffs. We got to the first round, which was a dogfight. And then we ran up against the eighth-seeded team, which was the Knicks. And we had a couple of injuries. Not to make any excuses, but we only went six and seven deep during the regular season. And I think it really caught up to us, whereas if we had a deeper team we could’ve went deeper because we could have gotten our starters right, ala what Boston has done and San Antonio. We could’ve been fresher but also give credit to the Knicks. They were hot and we all had to remember they were an eighth seed that got all the way to The Finals. So you never know. It’s a little bit with a team with more depth and experience who has the better chance.”
CW: “I think experience definitely matters. I also think it matters where your team is at that time. For us in Sacramento, making the playoffs was an accomplishment. The team hadn’t been to the playoffs since so many years. For us, we wanted to make the playoffs and our bodies felt pretty good because we were a young team. The 66 games or whatever it was, 50 games that season, guys were just getting in shape going into the playoffs. So for some teams it depends on their goal and our goal was just to be in the playoffs. So for us, just the success of that overcame anyone having tired bodies or anything like that. That’s basically what it was for us.”